Each time one of baseball's glamorous records is shattered, a river of belittling arguments and niggling asterisks seems to engulf the new hero.
Lou Brock is in no danger of drowning. When he breaks Ty Cobb's stolen base record - perhaps within a few hours, certainly with a few days - no one will dare demean his achievement.
Look at the numbers any way you will, they always say the same thing: Brock, the St. Louis Cardinal left fielder, is the game's greatest base stealer and no one, not even Cobb, is a close second.
The staggering margin of Brock's superiority in his speciality over legendary players like Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Maury Eilis is just coming into focus.
The stolen base countdown now reads: Cobb 892, Brock 891. That apparent equivalence is deciving.
Those with a nack for nagging always harped on the fact than Hank Aaron hit his 755 homers in 12-364 at-bats, while Babe Rith needed only 8,399 at bats for his 714 clouts.
Aaron never made the silly claim that he was a greater slugger than Ruth. He simply pointed out that his longevity had brought him a great record in his own right.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Cobb contingent that will have to document the claim that the Georgia Peach was in Brock's class as a thief.
Cobb played in 3.0333 games while Brock has been in only 2,373.
Far more dramatic is the disparity in the chances Cobb and Brock had to steal. A slugger's opportunities are measured by his times at bat. A base stealer can only ply his trade if he reaches base.
With his incredible 4,191 hits and 1,249 walis, Cobb reashed base 1,918 more times than Brock, who has 2,802 hits and 720 walks.
Collins, Max Carey and Wagner - the only men within 305 career steals of Brock - all played mote seasons than Brock (17) and reached base from 200 to 1,300 more times.
No one has found an area of larceny in which Brock is prominent. His record of 12 straight seasons with 50 or more steals puts everyone in the shade. Brock's seven years with 60 steals is also the best, and his 118 steals in 153 games at age 35 seems almost unbelievable.
By comparison, Cobb stole 50 bases only eight times, and in his last 10 seasons - when he was amassing the 982 mark that Brock has had to chase - Cobb never managed more than 28 steals in a year and four times fell to fewer than 10 thefts.
In truth, several players - Bert Campaneris, Collins, Carey - approached Cobb as pickpockets in their prime. Companeris stole 50 bases seven times; Collins and Carey did it six times.
Perhaps Brock's bitterest experience in his current record pursuit has been the new experience of getting thrown out often. After succeding 76.5 per cent of the time before this season. Brock has been caught 21 times in 47 attempts this year.
"I'm proudest of my percentage," says Brock, who was a mathematics major at Southern University. "It's the purest measure of my art."
Brock, an oil painter by hobby, a meticulous dresser by obsession, certainly has some of the artist's flare on the field.
But his true breakthroughs in the task of base stealing have had more to do with sound scientific method than with flashing spikes.
Brock's speed has always been less than great.
"I was only the third fastest guy on my high school team," he grins. His lead off first base is absolutely the shortest among top thieves.
Adding to the paradox, Brock loves to point out, "I usually get down there (to second base) in 3.5 seconds, you'll be thrown out 99 per cent of the time."
Clearly a man who takes a short lead and has merely good sped must have a hat full of sly secrets.
Brock's advantages are as much in his brain as in his feet. The gift for precise observation and instant judgement are better than an extra step any day. No player has ever surpassed Brock as a student of pitcher's elbows and feet.
Brock prefers to steal against lefthanded pitchers because "I can see everything they are doing." While others break for second with the pitch, Brock is often on his second or third step by then.
Since Brock's lead is so riduculously short, few pitchers try to pick him off more than once or twice What's the point? Brock can step back safely.
The consequence, however, is privotal. Because he worries little about being picked off, Brock can concentrate on telltale mannerisms that show when the pitcher is throwing to the plate.
While others foot fret about spotting the pickoff, Brock is thinking only about the green light and second base. Once Brock take his "power step" toward second, he has marvelous judgement in deciding whether his "jump" is good enough.
Brock's many false starts are not cute "fakes." They are legitimate attempts to steal that were aborted on the second step.
While Cobb was famous for sharp spikes and Maury Wills was a man with a thousand slides, Brock has eliminated the complex problems of arriving at the desired base.
"I want to leave my feet and start the slide at the last possible moment," he says, "and I want no indecision."
Consequently, Brock uses just one slide - the straight "pop-up."
"I'm not trying to avoid the tag," he says. "I beat it."
The total effect of Brock's method is that he terrifies and confuses the opposition. Pickoff throws do not tire him out. He does not wait to steal on curve balls, since he thinks his power step and pop-up slide can beat any fast ball to home and throw to second.
Brock exaggerates by claiming that "everybody knows I'm going to steal on the first pitch 90 per cent of the time."
While others confound the teammate who bats behind them, forcing the poor fellow to devote half his mind to "helping the runner," Brock gets his business done on one or two pitches.
The result is he spends a maximum amount of time in scoring position.
Of all the great base stealers, Brock has had the most unorthodox theories. Long leads, intuition, raw speed, fear and fancy slides, guesswork - he has shunned them all.
Brock the thief could be seen clearly in Brock the child. Born in El Dorado, Ark., but raised in Mer Rouge, La., Brock developed the legs that became a gold mine by running five miles to school.
"I grew up in the back end of the hard-core ghetto," says Brock, who was always the good-boy type. "I ran for a reason."
An outstanding student in math and chemistry in high school, Brock was always a genuine student-athlete by nature.
Contrary to public impressions, Brock's athletic talents are far from superhuman. In his pursuit of 3,000 career hits (198 to go), Brock instead may end up as the all-time strikeout champ behind Harmon Killebrew's 1,710).
Brock's batting averages have increased with the years as his studies of hitting have become more subtle. Six of his seven .300 years have come in the '70s.
In addition, Brock's once abysmal fielding also, has improved. Once the most error-prone outfielder in baseball history an all-time record seven seasons of leading his league in errors), Brock posted his best fielding percentage (.983) last year at age 37.
When Brock steals his 893d base, the ovation will make him feel no better than he does every day. "Self-esteem," he says, "is something you earn . . . from yourself."
And stolen bases, as Brock has proved, are an imaginative marriage of brains and feet, a meeting for 35 seconds of science and art.