Take Hank Aaron, whose 755 home runs seem so monumental that his early years as a fleet base runner who contended for batting titles and fielded with aplomb are rarely mentioned.
No player could be more familiar with this phenomenon than Hall of Famer-elect Cal Ripken Jr.
By making it through five innings Sept. 6, 1995, Ripken etched an indelible memory in the mind of every living baseball fan. He became the "Iron Man," a player who, by dint of toughness, perseverance and luck, played nearly 16 seasons without missing a game.
But what did he do during those games?
It became almost trendy during Ripken's later years with the Orioles to note his pedestrian batting averages and slowly declining power numbers. He reached 3,000 hits and 400 homers, sure, but he did so because he took the field with astonishing consistency for 20 years, not because he was a great player at any one time. Or so the argument went.
Even fellow players tend to talk about dependability, determination and consistency when asked what struck them about Ripken.
"I think The Streak in many ways became my identity," he said. "Not unfairly - it's just a part of who you are, going out there and playing."
But is it fair that 2,632 will take precedence in almost every summation of Ripken's career? Will future generations think of him as dogged more than dazzling? Was he a true great before his work ethic ever became iconic?
Contemporaries, past greats, historians and statistical analysts agree it's a mistake to think of Ripken only in terms of The Streak.
Fellow players respect him as the herald of a new generation of super-sized, homer-busting shortstops. Stat lovers argue that, given his underrated defense and unusual production at his position, the young Ripken was one of the most valuable players in baseball history.
"Cal was really the one who made it an offensive position," New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "And he sort of set the standard for taller guys as well. Growing up, if anyone said you were too tall to play shortstop, your first line of defense was Cal Ripken."
Orioles second baseman might look like the smaller middle infielders of the past, but as a baseball fan, he appreciates Ripken's transformative effect.
"I think he'll be remembered for changing his position," he said. "He basically created what the shortstop position is now. You just have these incredible athletes who are bigger, faster, stronger all the time. But he was really the first."
Said Orioles outfielder , who played with Ripken in 2001: "I'm not sure people appreciate how big a man he really is. And to think how he was able to play that position at his size. He's one of the first big, power-hitting shortstops. I can't think of anybody before him."
Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson certainly hadn't seen anything like Ripken when he called the young shortstop's games as a television analyst.
"I thought, 'Hey, boy, this is the prototype third baseman, big and strong, hits the ball with authority,'" Robinson recalled. "You have to give [manager] Earl Weaver credit for seeing him as a shortstop. When he got out there, you could see, 'Hey, this guy's got the hands to play the position.' But I was pretty amazed he could accomplish the things he did."
Ripken, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, sounds delighted to be remembered as a forefather to Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and their peers.