Good news: you’re one of the greatest athletes of all time! Bad news: you peaked in the same year as someone just a little bit better.
- Roger Maris set the single-season home run record of 61 in 1961, a record that would stand for more than 35 years. In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled each other to break Maris’s record…and both did. Sosa’s 66 obliterated Maris’s 61, and he would’ve held the single-season record had he played in any other season. That’s because McGwire finished the season with 70. (Barry Bonds would hit 73 just three years later…and, along with McGwire and Sosa, was linked to performance-enhancing drugs.)
- Sham was one of the fastest thoroughbred racehorses of all time. He could’ve even won horse racing’s Triple Crown…had he not had the misfortune of competing the same year as Secretariat, the fastest and most famous racehorse of the 20th century, if not all time. Sham finished second in the Kentucky Derby with a time of under two minutes, a feat not equaled until 2001, not counting the slightly better time of the horse that beat him, Secretariat. In the next branch of the Triple Crown, Sham again finished second (behind Secretariat). And at the Belmont Stakes, Sham burst out to a quick lead, only to lose once again to Secretariat.
- In baseball, the lower a pitcher’s ERA or earned run average, the better he’s doing—allowing fewer runners to score. Rarely does a pitcher’s ERA fall below 2.0, but in 1968, pitchers in both leagues threw their way to historically low levels. Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians finished the season with an ERA of 1.603, the lowest since Eddie Cicotte got to 1.532 in 1917. But Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals achieved an even lower ERA that same season: 1.123, the lowest ever in baseball’s modern age (a record that still stands).