My 12th-grade math teacher, who I'll call "Coach Mac," was a phenomenally smart man who could solve any NY Times crossword puzzle in under 20 minutes. Back in the day, we used to go back-and-forth with baseball trivia and threw around the numbers that mean so much to baseball fans -- 714, 755, 511, 1.12, 61, 31-3, and 56.
As hard as I tried to stump the guy, I couldn't do it. I even remember walking in one day, and just dropping this one on him: "What was George Brett's batting average in 1980?" Without even flinching, he shot back, ".390." Wow.
One day he asked me what the hardest record to break in all of baseball was. My guess was Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"No way," he said, starting to get into probabilities (although DiMaggio's will be one of the toughest to break). He explained how a lot of records based on sheer numbers over time could easily fall, with his reasoning being that if it's possible for someone to hit 755 home runs over many years of playing, just adding "1" to that huge number really isn't much of a stretch. He started getting into the different variables and probabilities to the point where my head was starting to spin and I was losing him.
"Okay, I give up," I said -- what's the answer?
"It's Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no hitters."
"Yup, that's the toughest record. Because to break it, you've gotta pitch three straight."
He followed that one up with some heavy-duty math based on the probability of anyone pitching a no-hitter, threw in some other variables, cubed it, and came out with something I can't recall.
So I forgot the math but I remembered the point.
And the other day, a buddy and I went into Monkeys (new ice cream shop on Merrimack), where I planned to earn my place in frozen dairy foods lore by taking down two helpings of "10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" each of which consists of ten scoops of ice cream and a very healthy smattering of additional toppings. I had almost done it the day before, but stopped after one helping because my friend and his wife had to take off back to Logan.
The first 10 scoops went down pretty easy, but I had a brief moment of doubt midway through the second 10. However, I pulled myself together and powered through to finish strong with a final count of 20 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.
For a moment, I thought about going for 30, but I waved it off.
A woman inside asked me why I was stopping at 20 and I thought back to Coach Mac.
"Not many folks can take down the initial ten scoops with toppings on their own. I'm sure that even less can do the 20. But for someone to break this record, they can't just top it incrementally. They'll have to order 3 helpings for a thirty-scoop total."
Someone may rise to the occasion. If they do, I'm going to make sure I come back with some heart paddles and a defibrillator in tow. Why?
Because that means I'll need to take down 40 to regain the title.