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List of Major League Baseball records considered unbreakable

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Johnny Vander Meer's elusive record of back-to-back no-hitters has been described as "the most unbreakable of all baseball records"[1] by LIFE
Johnny Vander Meer's elusive record of back-to-back no-hitters has been described as "the most unbreakable of all baseball records"[1] by LIFE

Some records may be regarded as "unbreakable" due to having been initially set by either freak occurrencess or during the early decades of baseball when certain rules, techniques, and fundamentals were in place that have since drastically evolved, making it almost impossible to replicate such feats in today's game. Others due to changes in the game over time, shifts of focus one way or another over a generation or decades in some cases and much shorter spans in others, which make it seem unlikely the marks will be broken when viewed through today's lenses. Outliers, however, can appear at any time, and do, accounting for many previously regarded as "unbeatable" records being broken - and in some cases re-broken.

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Contents

Pitching

Cy Young's record 511 career wins and 749 complete games have never been approached since he retired in 1911.[2][3][4]
Cy Young's record 511 career wins and 749 complete games have never been approached since he retired in 1911.[2][3][4]

Most career wins – 511

Set by Cy Young, 1890–1911.[2][3][4] Highlights include five 30-win seasons and fifteen 20-win seasons.[5] The next closest player is Walter Johnson with 417; he is the only other player to have reached 400.[6] The most wins by a pitcher who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era is Warren Spahn's 363.

For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 25 wins in 20 seasons just to get to 500. Since 1978, only 3 pitchers (Ron Guidry in 1978, Bob Welch in 1990, and Steve Stone in 1980[7]) have had one season with 25 wins.[8] Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leader finished each year with an average of 21. Only two players expected to be active in the 2020 season have even 200 wins, both of whom were born in 1983—Justin Verlander with 225 and Zack Greinke with 205.[9]

Most wins in a season – 59

Set by Old Hoss Radbourn, in 1884,[10] with Jack Chesbro's 41 in 1904 historically regarded as the modern mark. Most pitchers in today's game of five-man rotations start fewer than 35 games per season, and thus do not start enough games to break the record. The most games started by a pitcher in the 2019 season was 34, accomplished by seven pitchers, and only three pitchers in the 21st century have started more than 35 games in a season (Tom Glavine in 2002 and Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux in 2003, each with 36 starts).[11] Although relief pitchers often appear in more than the requisite number of games, they rarely record ten wins in a season. However, the use of relief pitchers increases a starter's chance of a no decision, further limiting the ability to break the record. To put this record in further perspective, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season was Denny McLain in 1968 and the last pitcher to win 25 games in a season was Bob Welch in 1990. Also, the most wins in a season by any pitcher in the 21st century is 24, by Randy Johnson in 2002 and Justin Verlander in 2011.[12]

Most career complete games – 749

Set by Cy Young, 1890–1911.[3] Highlights of this record include: nine 40-complete-game seasons, eighteen 30-complete-game seasons[5] and completing 92 percent of his total career starts (an all-time record of 815).[3] The next closest player is Pud Galvin, who has 103 fewer complete games at 646. Among pitchers whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, the most is 382 by Warren Spahn.

For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 30 complete games over 25 seasons to get to 750. Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leaders in complete games averaged eight per season, and only two pitchers in the 21st century have had 10 complete games in any season (CC Sabathia with 10 in 2008 and James Shields with 11 in 2011).[13] In addition, only two pitchers other than Young have even started as many as 749 games—Nolan Ryan (773) and Don Sutton (756).[14] Among pitchers expected to be active in the 2020 season, Justin Verlander has the most complete games with 26, and only four others have 20 or more.[15]

The quest for any complete-game records, either over a career or over a single season, is further complicated by the drastic change in philosophy embraced by virtually all modern managers and pitching coaches, motivated in roughly equal parts by more advanced modern-day medical knowledge of the cumulative damage that pitching does to a hurler's arm, combined with a team front office's reluctance to see a pitcher in whom they have invested considerable financial capital in the form of a big contract getting hurt. Another factor, arguably, is the greater reliance of managers and pitching coaches on sabermetrics—in this case, statistical data and analysis that generally show leaving a starter in longer leads to diminishing returns in terms of opposing batters allowed to reach base safely and score runs.[16] While even a few decades ago, a starting pitcher was expected to go out and attempt to pitch a complete game, with the manager going to his bullpen only if the starter ran into trouble or was injured or visibly tiring, the present-day norm is the starter is expected to give his manager six, or perhaps seven "quality innings," at which point the manager—who, along with the pitching coach, has been tracking the starter's pitch count—will normally lift him and bring in one or more middle-relief specialists to pitch the next several innings and form a bridge to the team's closer.[17] There are exceptions—a manager will leave a starter in who is working on a no-hitter or, sometimes, a shutout, or will let a starter continue if he is pitching particularly strongly and has not run up a high pitch count. But managerial caution is now a more dominant mode, particularly if a pitcher is coming off a recent injury or has had Tommy John surgery or any other major procedure done on his pitching arm.

These changes in philosophy have reduced the number of complete games in today's game to an even greater extent than in the first decade of the 21st century. Since Shields amassed 11 complete games in 2011, no pitcher has had more than 6 complete games in a season. In 2018, all of Major League Baseball combined for 42 complete games, with no pitcher having more than 2. The 2019 season was similar in both respects, with 45 total complete games and no pitcher having more than 3.[18] In a 2019 story, Sam Miller of ESPN went so far as to say, "In your lifetime, you might very well see the last complete game."[19]

Most complete games in a season – 75

All-time record of 75 set by Will White in 1879; modern-era record of 48 set by Jack Chesbro in 1904. Sports Illustrated has said about this record, "Even if the bar is lowered to begin with the live-ball era (which began in 1920), the mark would still be untouchable." The most complete games recorded in a live-ball season is 33, achieved three times in all—twice at the dawn of that era by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 and Burleigh Grimes in 1923, and also by Dizzy Trout in 1944, a season in which the player pool was severely depleted by military call-ups during World War II. According to SI, modern starters can expect to start about 34 games in a season.[13]

Most consecutive complete games in a season (since 1900) – 39; Most consecutive games without being relieved – 202

Both records were set by Jack Taylor, who pitched 202 consecutive games without being relieved from June 20, 1901 through August 13, 1906. The streak includes a total of 187 career starts (all complete games) and 15 relief appearances. The streak of 39 consecutive complete games (uninterrupted by a relief appearance) is a subset of the longer streak, lasting from April 15 through October 6, 1904.

Most career shutouts – 110

Walter Johnson's 110 career shutouts are 47 ahead of anyone who has played since 1965.[20]
Walter Johnson's 110 career shutouts are 47 ahead of anyone who has played since 1965.[20]

Set by Walter Johnson, 1907–27.[20] Highlights include: eleven 6-shutout seasons and leading the league in shutouts 7 times.[21] The next closest player is Grover Cleveland Alexander, who has 90. As is the case for career wins and complete games, Warren Spahn, who retired in 1965, holds the record among pitchers whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, with 63.

For a player to tie Johnson's record, he would have to pitch 5 shutouts every season for 22 years.[20] Between 2010 and 2019, the Major League leader in shutouts finished each year with an average of 3, and no pitcher has recorded more than 2 shutouts in a season since 2017. Also, adding the MLB-leading shutout totals for each season from 1992 through 2019 results in a total of 106, still short of Johnson's record.[22] The closest active player is Clayton Kershaw with 15.[23]

Most shutouts in a season – 16

Set first by George Bradley in 1876 and equaled by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1916; live-ball era record of 13 set by Bob Gibson in 1968.[24]

The aforementioned Sam Miller had this to say about a rhetorical suggestion that the live-ball record of 13 could be broken: "This is the stupidest suggestion yet. Thirteen shutouts clearly belongs in the anachronism pile." He pointed out that neither the National nor American League had 13 combined shutouts in the 2018 season, and no pitcher had more than one in that season.[25]

Most consecutive no-hitters – 2

Set by Johnny Vander Meer on June 11 and 15, 1938.[1] Despite holding this record, he finished his career with a 119–121 win–loss record.[1] The prospect of a pitcher breaking this record by hurling three no-hitters in a row is so unimaginable that LIFE described this as "the most unbreakable of all baseball records."[1] Ewell Blackwell came the closest to matching Vander Meer after following up a no-hitter with eight no-hit innings in 1947.[26] In 1988, Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays had consecutive no-hitters going with two outs in the ninth; both were broken up by singles.[27] Between 2010 and 2019, 35 no-hitters were pitched (not including five combined no-hitters involving multiple pitchers), and the closest anyone came in the 21st century is Max Scherzer, who in 2015 threw a one-hitter and no-hitter in consecutive starts, respectively losing out on perfect games in the seventh inning and on the 27th batter.[28][29][30]

Nolan Ryan was a dominating power pitcher who holds career records in strikeouts, no-hitters, and bases on balls - all by large margins. His record 27 years on the mound also may be safe.[3][31][32]
Nolan Ryan was a dominating power pitcher who holds career records in strikeouts, no-hitters, and bases on balls - all by large margins. His record 27 years on the mound also may be safe.[3][31][32]

Most career no-hitters – 7

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Sandy Koufax is second with four.[3] Larry Corcoran, Cy Young, Bob Feller, and Justin Verlander have all thrown three. Only Verlander is active.

26 pitchers have thrown two, including active players Homer Bailey, Max Scherzer, Mike Fiers, and Jake Arrieta. 16 active pitchers have thrown one.[29] Between 2000 and 2009 there were 20 no-hitters.[29]

Most career strikeouts – 5,714

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93.[32] Highlights include: six 300-strikeout seasons, fifteen 200-strikeout seasons, and leading the league in strikeouts 11 times.[33] To accomplish this record, Ryan played the most seasons (27) in MLB history.[6][31]

The next closest player is Randy Johnson, who has 839 fewer strikeouts at 4,875.[6] Johnson also had four consecutive 300-strikeout seasons at the turn of the 21st century (1999–2002);[3] the only pitchers with a 300-strikeout season after 2002 are Clayton Kershaw, who had 301 in 2015; Chris Sale, with 308 in 2017; Max Scherzer, with 300 in 2018; and Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, respectively with 326 and 300 in 2019.[34] For a player to approach this record, he would have to average 225 strikeouts over 25 seasons just to get to 5,625. Averaging 250 strikeouts over 23 seasons would enable him to surpass the record with 5,750. Between 2010 and 2019 the Major League leader in strikeouts finished each year with an average of 279, and even that average is skewed with the aforementioned large strikeout seasons late in the decade. No pitcher exceeded 280 strikeouts between 2005 and 2014. Since then, only seven 280-strikeout seasons have been recorded—the five aforementioned 300-strikeout performances, plus Scherzer's 284 in 2016 and Verlander's 290 in 2018.[34] With CC Sabathia having retired at the end of the 2019 season with 3,093 strikeouts, the closest active player is now Verlander, with 3,006 strikeouts.[35]

Most career bases on balls – 2,795

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Ryan ended up with 50 percent more bases on balls than any other pitcher in history.[32] The next closest is Steve Carlton with 1,833. No pitcher expected to be active in the 2020 season has issued even 900 career walks; the active leader, Justin Verlander, ended the 2019 season with 850.[36]

Most career saves – 652

Mariano Rivera holds one record that may or may not be broken – the career save mark – but set another after his playing days were over that will never be topped: becoming the first player in history to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame[37]
Mariano Rivera holds one record that may or may not be broken – the career save mark – but set another after his playing days were over that will never be topped: becoming the first player in history to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame[37]

This record is only six years old, which broke a record only two years old, so it is difficult to argue its longterm durability. The present mark of 652 was set by Mariano Rivera, 1995–2013,[38] who eclipsed Trevor Hoffman's 601 earned 1993-2010. Highlights of Rivera's career include 15 consecutive seasons with 25 or more saves,[39] 9 consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves and 15 seasons with 30 or more saves (all three are records). After Hoffman the next-closest pitcher in saves is Lee Smith, with 478.[40][41]

For a player to reach Rivera's record, he would have to earn an average of 35 saves for 17 consecutive seasons just to get to 595 saves[42] or 40 saves for 16 consecutive years to reach 640.[43] As of the end of the 2019 season, the closest active player is 31-year-old Craig Kimbrel with 346 saves, slightly more than half of Rivera's total.[44][45]

Most innings pitched in a season – 680

Set by Will White in the same 1879 season in which he set the record of 75 complete games noted above (at this time the distance from mound to plate was 45 feet). The record pitching from the distance used since 1893 (60 feet 6 inches) is 482 innings that first year by Amos Rusie, which had been exceeded 85 times by pitchers working from 45 or (starting in 1881) 50 feet, including by Rusie himself the three previous consecutive seasons, but has never been approached since (Ed Walsh in 1908 was the last to pitch 400 innings in a season). The most innings pitched in a live-ball season (since 1920) was Wilbur Wood's 37623 innings in 1972.[46]

No pitcher has even thrown half of White's record total for innings in a season since Phil Niekro in 1979, with 342. The last 300-inning season to date was by Steve Carlton the following year, with 304. The highest single-season innings count in the 21st century was Roy Halladay's 266 in 2003, and the three most recent seasons of 2017, 2018, and 2019 saw the three lowest innings totals for an MLB leader in the sport's history (apart from the strike-shortened 1981 and 1994 seasons)—Chris Sale with 21413 in 2017, Max Scherzer with 22023 in 2018, and Justin Verlander with 223 in 2019.[46]

Most career wild pitches thrown – 343

Set by Tony Mullane, whose career spanned from 1881 to 1894. Mullane pitched through a staggering 4531.1 innings (24th all-time) throwing a total of 343 wild pitches and averaged an errant pitch in 7.56% of those innings. Nolan Ryan is second on the list of most wild pitches with 277. The active leader in wild pitches is Félix Hernández with 156, less than half of Mullane's total.[47] With modern pitchers throwing fewer innings as well as wild pitches, this record is safely unbreakable.

Batting

Pete Rose topped 200 hits 10 times and averaged nearly 180 a season over his 24-year career to amass a record 4,256 hits[48]
Pete Rose topped 200 hits 10 times and averaged nearly 180 a season over his 24-year career to amass a record 4,256 hits[48]

Most career MLB hits – 4,256

Set by Pete Rose, 1963–86.[48] No active major league player is at this time considered to be close to breaking Rose's mark. The only active player with 3,000 hits is the 39-year-old Albert Pujols (3,202).[49] To get within 6 hits of tying Rose, a player would have to collect 250 hits for 17 straight seasons,[50] or more than 200 hits over the course of 21 seasons. In the past 81 years, only Ichiro Suzuki, whose first season in Major League Baseball was his tenth in the top professional ranks, following nine incandescent years in his native Japan, has topped 250 hits in a season (with 262 hits in 2004).[50] Ichiro ended his playing career with 3,089 MLB hits[49] and 1,278 hits in the Japanese major leagues[51] (averaging just 106 games and 142 hits a year in much shorter Japanese seasons) for a combined, unofficial total of 4,367, 111 more than Rose's record; however, Ichiro's hits from Japan's major leagues are not counted toward his MLB total. At the end of the 2019 season, Miguel Cabrera (36 years old) had 2,815 hits after 17 seasons; he would have to average 181 hits over 8 additional seasons (or 207 over 7 seasons) to break the record. No player younger than Cabrera was within 200 hits of his career total at the end of the 2019 season, and among players younger than 30 at that time, only Starlin Castro had even 1,600 career hits (1,617).[49]

Most hits in a season – 262

Ichiro Suzuki only began his Major League career at 27 after nine record-setting seasons in Japan.  He holds the mark for most hits in a season (262) and may well have set it for most career hits had he played entirely in MLB.
Ichiro Suzuki only began his Major League career at 27 after nine record-setting seasons in Japan. He holds the mark for most hits in a season (262) and may well have set it for most career hits had he played entirely in MLB.

Set by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004, breaking a record that had been set in 1920 by George Sisler (257),[52] this record is only fifteen seasons old and thus its longterm durability is in question in spite of changes to the game and how it is broadly approached. Outliers such as Ichiro — who broke what had till then been considered a likely unbeatable record — can still appear. Writing shortly before Ichiro retired, the aforementioned Miller noted that the only active player who had collected more than 225 hits in any season was Ichiro himself,[25] who exceeded that total three times in all.[52] Other than Ichiro, no player has since surpassed Darin Erstad's 240 hits in the 2000 season.

Miller added that in today's game, "few elite hitters are as walk-averse as Ichiro was permitted to be", which he argued was a necessity for a player to be able to approach the record. The MLB leader in at-bats in 2018 was Trea Turner with 664; a player with that number of at-bats would have to hit .396 to reach 263 hits—a batting average that Miller himself had argued in 2018 was unapproachable in the modern game.[53] He added,[25]

The outer limit for at-bats -- say, a leadoff hitter for a high-scoring team who plays every game and has a 10th-percentile walk rate -- is perhaps 725, nine higher than the all-time record. And even the 725-AB guy would need to hit .363, a mark not met by any hitter in this decade.

Most consecutive seasons with 200 hits – 10

Set by Ichiro Suzuki, who attained this from 2001–10.[54][55][56] Ichiro's honors since joining the Seattle Mariners from Nippon Professional Baseball at age 27 include winning the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, claiming the AL batting title in 2001 and 2004, leading the AL in hits in seven seasons (2001, 2004, 2006–10)[55] and breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old single-season hits record in 2004 with 262 hits.[57] The closest player is Willie Keeler who had 8 consecutive seasons with 200 hits that occurred almost a century prior in the dead-ball era.[58] The 2018 season was the first since 2013 in which no player reached the 200-hit mark; only Whit Merrifield and Rafael Devers reached that mark in 2019.[59]

Most career triples – 309

Set by Sam Crawford, 1899–1916. Highlights include: five 20-triple seasons and sixteen 10-triple seasons.[60] The next closest player is Ty Cobb, who has 14 fewer triples at 295. Because of changes in playing styles and ballparks that began around 1920 and have continued into the present from the dead-ball era to the live-ball era, the number of triples hit has declined noticeably since then. Among hitters whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, the leader in career triples is Stan Musial, with 177.

For a player to threaten Crawford's record, he would have to average 15 triples over 20 seasons just to get to 300. Between 2010 and 2019 the Major League leader in triples finished each year with an average of 13, and no player in that decade had more than 16 in a season.[61] The closest active player is Curtis Granderson with 95.[62]

Most triples in a season – 36

Set by Chief Wilson in 1912.[63][64] Only two other players have ever had 30 triples in a season (Dave Orr with 31 in 1886 and Heinie Reitz with 31 in 1894),[64] while the closest anyone has come in the century since Wilson set the record is 26, shared by Sam Crawford (1914) and Kiki Cuyler (1925).[64] Only six hitters have had 20 triples in the last 50 years: George Brett (20 in 1979), Willie Wilson (21 in 1985), Lance Johnson (21 in 1996), Cristian Guzmán (20 in 2000), Curtis Granderson (23 in 2007) and Jimmy Rollins (20 in 2007).

The aforementioned Sam Miller also added that Chief Wilson was playing his home games in Forbes Field, which in 1912 had a 460-foot center-field distance, noticeably longer than any current MLB park. In his record-setting season, Wilson hit 24 triples at home, a total that has not been surpassed in an entire season since 1925. Additionally, Wilson himself never hit more than 14 triples in any other season. On top of this, no minor-league player has ever had more than 31 triples in a season, despite that level of the game having less capable defenders, many quirky ballparks (more so in past decades than today), and in some historical cases much longer seasons.[25]

Most home runs in a game – 4

Lou Gehrig was a prolific home run hitter who retired in 1939 with the second-most in a career, behind only retired teammate Babe Ruth
Lou Gehrig was a prolific home run hitter who retired in 1939 with the second-most in a career, behind only retired teammate Babe Ruth

In all, 18 players have hit four home runs in a game. A five-homer game would require not only that a player get five plate appearances in a game, but that he receive hittable pitches in each appearance. Only two players to have hit four in one have ever made a plate appearance that could have resulted in his fifth homer of a game—Lou Gehrig in 1932 and Mike Cameron in 2002, each making two plate appearances in a game after having hit four homers; in Gehrig's last at-bat he hit a deep fly to center. Additionally, no player has ever homered in five consecutive at-bats, even in multiple games. Breaking this record would also set the record for most total bases in 1 game, with 20. However, home runs are being hit at ever-increasing rates, reflecting a shift in the game towards batters focusing on "launch angles", dramatically reduced penalty for strikeouts, and, broadly believed and voiced loudly by some (such as former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander),[65] a juiced baseball. The increase is so dramatic that the prospect of a five-homer game, particularly over extra innings, is growing ever more likely than not.

Most grand slams in a single inning – 2

Set by Fernando Tatís in 1999.[66] Only twelve other players have ever hit two grand slams in a single game.[67] However, breaking the record would require a player to hit three grand slams in a single inning. Breaking this record would also tie the major league record for RBI in a single game (12). Over 50 players have hit two home runs in a single inning,[68] but no MLB player has so much as hit three home runs in one inning. However, one minor league player, Gene Rye, has achieved the feat of hitting three home runs in a single inning.[69]

Highest career batting average – .367

Ty Cobb topped .300 23 straight seasons, won 12 batting titles, and batted over .400 three times en route to an "unbreakable" career batting average of .367.
Ty Cobb topped .300 23 straight seasons, won 12 batting titles, and batted over .400 three times en route to an "unbreakable" career batting average of .367.

Set by Ty Cobb in 1928 after beginning his career in 1905.[70] Highlights of this record include; three .400 seasons, nine .380 seasons, and leading the league 11 times in batting average.[71] Cobb managed to hit .323 in his final season at age 41.[6] The next-closest player is Rogers Hornsby who had a batting average of .358. The careers of both Cobb and Hornsby straddled the dead-ball and live-ball eras; most of Cobb's career was in the dead-ball era, while most of Hornsby's was in the live-ball era. There are only three players with a career average over .350, and the highest batting average among those who played their entire careers in the live-ball era is Ted Williams' .344. Since 1928, there have been only 46 seasons in which a hitter reached .366 and only Tony Gwynn attained that mark at least four times, finishing with a career .338 batting average.[72] At the end of the 2019 season, Miguel Cabrera leads active players in career batting average, fractionally above José Altuve (.3146 to .3145).[73]

Highest single-season batting average – .440

Set by Hugh Duffy in 1894, the highest single-season average in National League, and MLB history. Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901 is the highest in American League history. In the modern (post-"dead-ball") era, Rogers Hornsby hit .424 in 1924, a feat unmatched since then. George Sisler's .420 average in 1922 still stands as the highest American League average of the modern era. Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, the last player in either league to top .400 for a season. Since then, only George Brett, who hit .390 in 1980, and Tony Gwynn, who hit .394 in a strike-shortened season in 1994, have even come close to reaching .400, and they were nowhere near any of the historical league or MLB highs.

In a 2018 ESPN story, the aforementioned Sam Miller argued that it was impossible to hit .400, or even seriously challenge the mark, in the modern game, noting that no hitter in the 21st century entered the second half of the season with an average above .380, and no batter since 2009 who qualified for his league's batting title had a .400 average at any point after May 25. Additionally, Miller argued that a player who might conceivably challenge .400 would have to combine a low strikeout rate, high home run rate, and high batting average on balls in play—a group of skills which largely do not complement one another.[53]

Most RBI in a season – 191

Set by Hack Wilson, who batted in 191 runs in 1930. Only Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg, at 184 and 183 RBI respectively, ever came close, and there have been no real challenges to the record for over 75 years.

However, Sam Miller argued in 2019 that a serious challenge to Wilson's record, though highly unlikely, was less implausible than challenges to many of the other records listed here. He noted that in 1930, Wilson came to bat with 524 runners on base, drove in 22.7% of them, and hit 56 homers. Neither the number of base-runners nor the RBI percentage is within the top 60 seasons for those statistics in MLB history, with some seasons in the top 60 of both categories having been recorded in the 21st century, and he added "we've all seen players hit 56 home runs, even this decade."[25] However, with today's batters pursuing one of baseball's so-called "three true outcomes" – a home run, walk, or strikeout[74] – there is less likelihood of enough runners on base for such a season to produce anything like 191 RBI.

Highest career on-base percentage – .482

Ted Williams topped a .400 on-base percentage 18 times in his 19 years, often by 100 points or more, including .553 en route to a .406 batting average in 1941, the last season ever over .400.
Ted Williams topped a .400 on-base percentage 18 times in his 19 years, often by 100 points or more, including .553 en route to a .406 batting average in 1941, the last season ever over .400.

Set by Ted Williams from 1939 to 1960.[75] Williams, the last man to hit .400 in a MLB season (.406 in 1941), won six American League batting titles, two Triple Crowns, and two MVP awards. He ended his career with 521 home runs and a .344 career batting average. Williams achieved these numbers and honors despite missing nearly five full seasons to military service and injuries.[76] The next-closest player in career OBP is Babe Ruth at .474.[77]

Since Williams' retirement, only four players have posted an OBP above .482 in a season, with Barry Bonds and Mickey Mantle the only ones to do so more than once.[75][78] Bonds ended his career with an OBP of .444; the leader among active players is Joey Votto, at .421 after the 2019 season.[77]

Most regular season games played, season – 165

Maury Wills was the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1962, stealing a new single-season topping 104 bases in those record 165 games to break the old modern mark of 96, set by Ty Cobb in 156 games in 1915.
Maury Wills was the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1962, stealing a new single-season topping 104 bases in those record 165 games to break the old modern mark of 96, set by Ty Cobb in 156 games in 1915.

The record was set in 1962 by Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills,[79] who played in all of the team's 165 regular season games that year. Thanks to a best-of-three playoff between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, which ended the season tied for first place (back when league pennants were winner-take-all, with no annual end-of-season multi-tiered layers of playoffs, play-ins, and wild cards), both teams played 165 games.

Because the play-off was to determine the regular season winner of the league championship, the games were counted as extensions of the regular season, and not the post-season, which at that time was composed solely of the World Series.

Both the individual and team single-season games played records were set at the beginning of a seven year span that began with the 1962 National League expansion to 162 games and ended after the 1968 season, when the NL replaced its traditional best-of-three tiebreakers with one-game playoffs. The 1962 season was the only occasion during those years in which a tie-breaker was needed. The American League has always used one-game playoffs.

No team has played more than 163 regular season games in a season since 1962. While there have been a few occasions where a three-way tie was possible going into the last day of the season (which would result in a team playing 164 games), a three-way tie involving postseason berths has never occurred. From 1969 to 1993, it would have been impossible for any team to be involved in more than three one-game playoffs in a season, since only division champions qualified for the postseason and since there was never more than eight teams per division. As of the end of the 2018 season, there has yet to be an occasion in MLB history where five teams of one league have finished with identical records, which would have been the circumstance needed during this era for any team to play even three tie-breakers and thus match the 1962 record.

Since the introduction of the wild card, it has been technically possible to play 166 regular season games, but is extremely unlikely. For a team to have an opportunity to play four tiebreaker games, it would have to be involved in a tie involving three or more teams for the division crown and a separate tie also involving three or more teams for the second wild card berth, meaning that the aforementioned-unprecedented circumstance at least five teams in two different divisions of the same league finishing with identical records would have to occur. A team in such a situation would then have to win the division "semi-final" tiebreaker, lose the division "final" and then win the wild card "semi-final" in order to play 166 regular season games. The 2018 season, which resulted in two two-way ties for division titles, was the first occasion where there were even multiple two-way ties for division titles - the losers of the 2018 tiebreaker games (who did not themselves have identical records) subsequently played each other in the Wild Card Game, but that game is considered part of the postseason and not the regular season.

Wills' individual record is statistically ever more unlikely to be broken because teams are increasingly inclined to rest even their best players, part of a new metric-based strategy known as "load management". On average only about three players in all of baseball appear in all 162 games of any given MLB season. This implies that even if a club somehow managed to play 166 regular season games, there is mathematically only about a ten percent chance a particular team will have a player who will have appeared in all 162 games pending tie-breakers.

It is also possible for a player to accumulate more than 162 games played in a season by virtue of a mid-season trade. A swap between a team that has played more games and one which has played fewer can result in a schedule for the traded player to be greater than either individual teams'. Presently '70s-era speedster Frank Taveras[79] holds the records for both most regularly scheduled MLB games played in a season[citation needed] and most games played for two teams in the same season,[citation needed] both 164, done in 1979.

Most consecutive games played – 2,632

Set by Cal Ripken Jr., 1982–98.[80] Lou Gehrig, whose record Ripken surpassed in 1995, had a consecutive games streak of 2,130 games, 502 fewer.[28][80][81] Third on the all-time list is Everett Scott, whose streak of 1,307 consecutive games is less than half of Ripken's total.[81] Only seven players have ever played more than 1,000 consecutive games.[81] For a player to approach the milestone, he would have to play all 162 games in a season for 16 years just to get to 2,592 games.

As stated by LIFE, "no one else has ever come close, and no one ever will."[80] It is important to note, however, that before Gehrig's record was broken by Ripken the "Iron Horse's" 1939 mark was considered unbreakable. In his 1988 edition of The Baseball Abstract, author Bill James offered a presciently contrarian view (page 203) that "... Gehrig's record is vulnerable precisely because human characteristics such as determination and the ability to play with pain can be applied to breaking it ... I expect Gehrig's (2,130) record to be broken in my lifetime". At that time, Ripken was more than seven years away from the record.[82]

On average, over the preceding ten seasons from 2009 to 2018 only three players have played all 162 regularly-scheduled games in a particular season.

Longest hitting streak – 56 games

With pitching the way it is—specialty guys, closer and setup guys—you're not going to have a chance to get four at-bats against one guy. On one night, you might face four different guys. I'm still amazed DiMaggio got to 56. I'm amazed now when somebody gets to 30.

Robin Ventura, who set the NCAA Division I record of hitting in 58 consecutive games[83]

Set by Joe DiMaggio, 1941.[2] Highlights of his hitting streak include a .404 batting average and 91 hits.[84] The next closest player is Willie Keeler, with 45 over two seasons in 1896-7.[85] There have been only six 40-game hitting streaks, and only Pete Rose's 44 in 1978 since DiMaggio's.[85][86] Since 1900, no player other than DiMaggio has ever hit safely in even 55 of 56 games, and no active players (as of 2019) have their two longest career hit streaks even add up to 56 games.[25][87]

On July 17, 1941, pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby of the Cleveland Indians held DiMaggio hitless. Two hard hit shots came close, but great defensive stops by third baseman Ken Keltner ended the streak.[88] "Joltin' Joe" actually hit in 57 straight MLB games - singling in the 1941 All-Star game held mid-streak[89] - and 76 out of 77 regular season games, starting a 17-game streak the day after his 56-game one ended.[90] He also holds the second longest streak in minor league baseball history, 61 games, set in 1933.[89]

The improbability of DiMaggio's hit streak ever being broken has been attributed to the increased bullpen use, including specialist relievers.[81]

Most career home runs by an American League pitcher – 37

Set by Wes Ferrell, who hit 37 home runs while playing for the Indians, Red Sox, Senators and Yankees during the late 1920s and most of the 1930s (Ferrell hit one more HR while with the Braves in 1941, bringing his total to 38 – 37 as a pitcher and one as a pinch-hitter – the most for any MLB pitcher). With a total of 326 hits in 1,176 at-bats in his 17-year career, almost all of which occurred while he played in the AL, Ferrell hit .280 and had 208 RBIs,[91] and is considered one of baseball's best-hitting pitchers. Other American League pitchers with notable home-run totals include Bob Lemon, who hit 35 HR as a pitcher and two more as a pinch hitter during his 18-year career, all spent with the Indians; Red Ruffing, who smacked 34 home runs as a pitcher and two more as pinch-hitter over 22 seasons with the Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox; and Earl Wilson, who hit out 35 home runs in an 11-year career – 33 as a pitcher and two as a pinch-hitter – all but one of them while with the Red Sox and Tigers, and the last as a Padre.[92] With "good-hitting pitchers" the exception rather than the rule, the American League's adoption of the designated hitter rule in 1973 – leading to the widespread substitution of the DH in the pitcher's traditional #9 slot in the batting order in all AL games and all interleague, All-Star and World Series games played in AL parks – means that no American League pitcher will ever get enough at-bats to seriously challenge any of the above home run statistics, or any other game, seasonal or career hitting marks set by AL pitchers historically. However, the Los Angeles Angels' signing of Japanese player Shohei Ohtani — who notably plays as both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter — could mean that Ferrell's record could be broken (although Ohtani generally does not hit and pitch in the same game when playing in AL parks, so his home runs as a DH may not be considered as being hit "by a pitcher").

Most career sacrifice bunts – 512

Set by Eddie Collins, who successfully laid down 512 sacrifice bunts over his 25-year career with the Philadelphia Athletics. Joe Pasternak dubbed Collins as "the smartest player in baseball history". Not only was Collins a prolific bunter, but also 10th all-time in WAR and hit .333 for his career with 3,315 hits and 745 stolen bases.[93] Second behind him is Jake Daubert with 392, more than 100 fewer than Collins. Since the turn of the 20th century, sacrifice bunts have continually fallen further out of favor: Moneyball by Michael Lewis, the famous sabermetrician's manifesto,[peacock term] went as far as to label the bunt as "evil". Modern baseball teams value minimizing outs rather than moving a base-runner over a single base position. At the end of the 2019 season, the active leader in career sacrifice bunts, Clayton Kershaw, had 108—which placed him in a tie for 334th on the all-time list.[94]

Most stolen bases in a season – 130

Rickey Henderson holds both the single season (130) and career stolen base records (1,406), both regarded as unlikely to be broken.
Rickey Henderson holds both the single season (130) and career stolen base records (1,406), both regarded as unlikely to be broken.

Set by Henderson with 130 in 1982, Henderson was caught stealing 42 times. No player in the 2018 season even attempted one-third of Henderson's total attempts in 1982, and in the 2017 season, no American League player attempted more than Henderson's 1982 caught-stealing total of 42. Additionally, while Billy Hamilton set a minor-league record with 155 steals in 2012, he has never stolen more than 60 in any season of his MLB career.[25]

Most career stolen bases – 1,406

Set by Rickey Henderson, 1979–2003.[28][95] Highlights include: three 100-stolen-base seasons,[50] thirteen 50-stolen-base seasons, and leading the league in stolen bases 12 times.[96] The next closest player is Lou Brock, who has 468 fewer stolen bases at 938. According to LIFE, the stolen base record is probably unbreakable, as it is hard to imagine a player today "even attempt so many steals."[95] For a player to approach Henderson's milestone, he would have to average 70 stolen bases over 20 seasons just to get to 1,400.[50] Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leader in stolen bases finished each year with an average of 64, and that number dropped to 57 in the 2010s—a decade in which no player stole 70 bases in a season.[97] The closest active player is Rajai Davis with 415 stolen bases.[50][98]

Fielding

Most outfield assists in a season – 50

Phillie right-fielder Chuck Klein posted 44 assists in 1930 in Philadelphia's highly asymmetrical Baker Bowl[99]
Phillie right-fielder Chuck Klein posted 44 assists in 1930 in Philadelphia's highly asymmetrical Baker Bowl[99]

Set by Orator Shafer in 1879. Since 1900, no other player has had more than Chuck Klein's 44 in 1930, and nobody has had more than Boston Brave right-fielder Gene Moore's 32 since 1936.[100]

Most outfield assists, career – 449

Set by Hall of Famer Tris Speaker (1907–28).[101] Speaker is regarded as the greatest fielding centerfielder ever, known for playing exceptionally shallow and going back on balls rather than coming in. Playing shallow in his era both erased a lot of hits and led to high assist totals - fourteen seasons over 20 and four over 35. The closest anyone's come in nearly half a century is Roberto Clemente's (1955-1973) 266.[101]

Other

Most All-Star Games played – 25

Hank Aaron's mark of 25 career All-Star games is highly unlikely to be matched, let alone broken.
Hank Aaron's mark of 25 career All-Star games is highly unlikely to be matched, let alone broken.

Set by Hank Aaron, 1954–76. Aaron was an All-Star in all but two of the 23 seasons he played in the major leagues (his debut year in 1954 and last season in 1976). His record total was assisted by MLB's decision to hold two All-Star Games annually from 1959 to 1962;[102] Aaron played in all eight All-Star Games during that period. The only players whose careers began after 1976 to play in 25 MLB seasons were Rickey Henderson, who appeared in 10 All-Star Games,[102] and Jamie Moyer, who appeared in one.[103] The active player with the most All-Star Game selections is Miguel Cabrera, who has been on 11 All-Star Game rosters after 17 seasons.[104]

Most wins, losses and games managed – 3,731, 3,948, and 7,755

Set by Connie Mack, who retired in 1950.[105] Mack owned the Philadelphia Athletics, and managed them for 50 years, until the age of 87.[105] Shortly after his retirement Major League Baseball forbade owners from managing their teams.[citation needed]

The closest manager to Mack in games managed and losses is Tony La Russa (5,097 games, 2,365 losses), with John McGraw second in wins (2,763).[106] With the retirement of Bruce Bochy at the end of the 2019 season,[107] who had led then-active managers with 2,003 wins (11th), 2,029 losses (5th), and 4,032 games managed (7th), the closest manager in games, wins, and losses is the 60-year-old Terry Francona (3,076 games, 1,667 wins, 1,409 losses). Francona's highest ranking in any of the three statistics is 18th in wins.[106]

Most road losses in a season – 101

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were so bad, the team was disbanded after the season. Their top hitter, Joe Quinn, batted just .286 with 0 homers in 640 plate appearances.
The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were so bad, the team was disbanded after the season. Their top hitter, Joe Quinn, batted just .286 with 0 homers in 640 plate appearances.

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20–134) hold the MLB record for the most road losses in a single season, with 101. They were so bad – 20 wins below the 1962 New York Mets – they likely set an unbreakable record for fewest wins in a season at the same time.

What is unusual, however, about their road loss record compared to others on this list in that while most others are theoretically possible (but impractical) to break, it cannot mathematically be broken even if a team achieved a completely winless season on the road: in today's sport, the 162-game season is equally divided between 81 home and road games, 21 fewer than needed to set a new mark.[108]

While rainouts and other cancellations can reduce the number of games a team plays in a season, there is no way to accumulate the 21 extra road games needed to break the record. The only situation in which regular season games are ever added to the schedule is in the case of the one-game playoff; the odds of a team losing all of its road games but still having a record strong enough to qualify for such a game are infinitesimally small. In the uncommon circumstance that a game must be moved to the opposing venue, MLB policy now maintains the legal fiction that the designated home team does not change, regardless of venue, which ensures the designated home team does not lose rules advantages. This was not the case in 1899, when 35 of the Spiders' home games were changed to road games.

Three other factors contribute to the unique nature of the Spiders' record:

  • In 1899, owners were allowed to own more than one team, and in the case of the Spiders, the owners also owned the St. Louis Perfectos. Believing it more profitable to have a good team in St. Louis, the Spiders' best players from 1898 – including future Hall of Fame pitchers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace – were given to the Perfectos in exchange for their least desirable players. Plus they shipped their manager, Patsy Tebeau, to St. Louis while they were at it. MLB rules now prohibit a single owner owning more than one team, so this arrangement could not happen.
  • Baseball teams in 1899 were much more dependent on gate receipts for revenue. Realizing that fans in Cleveland were not going to pay to watch a decimated roster, the Spiders/Perfectos ownership transferred all of the Spiders' home games against the Perfectos to St. Louis. As the season wore on and the crowds in Cleveland shrunk in response to the mounting losses, prospective visitors began demanding the Spiders transfer home games to their parks as well since their cut of the gate receipts wouldn't enable them to recoup the expenses of the journey. The situation eventually became so bad that the Spiders' cut of the gate receipts for road games was actually more lucrative than their gate receipts for home games, so the Spiders' owners were not inclined to object to such requests. The Spiders only played eight home games after July 1, giving them the opportunity for 101 road losses (against 11 wins). Today, MLB revenue streams are far more numerous, and (especially in the case of media rights) are often both contractually dependent on teams playing their entire schedule and unaffected by attendance. Also, travel expenses make up a much smaller portion of a team's budget and MLB rules state any team that refuses to travel to their opponent's stadium for a scheduled game would immediately forfeit the game.
  • Also, the 1899 Spiders played their entire 154-game schedule – an unusual occurrence in an era when cancellations were much more frequent, and cancelled games were often not made up.

The 1899 Spiders also hold the records for the most losses in a single MLB season (with 134) and lowest winning percentage (.130). These are technically possible to break, but even under a 162-game schedule only two teams have come within 15 losses of the record, these being the expansion 1962 New York Mets (40–120, .250 winning percentage) and the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43–119, .265 winning percentage). Since 1899, only five teams have recorded a winning percentage under .260 (i.e. at least double that of the 1899 Spiders), and the 1962 Mets are the only team to do so under a 162-game schedule. Excluding the possibility of cancelled games not being made up, a team would need to lose 141 games over a 162-game season to record a .130 winning percentage (this yields a .129 winning percentage if the traditional rounding to three decimal places is ignored).

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Bibliography

External links

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