511. 4,256. 5,714. 762. Even the most casual of baseball fans recognizes these numbers as some of the most hallowed marks in all of sports. These records were all the result of long careers by some of the greatest ever to play the game, and some of them have stood the test of time for a century or more.
But there are many other not-so-great records in baseball that are just as untouchable, and they are also held by some of the greatest players ever to set foot on a baseball field. So in the interest of fairness, it’s time that these lesser-regarded marks get their moment in the sun as well.
Leader: Tony Mullane, 343
You are probably wondering: how in the world did a pitcher manage to rack up so many wild pitches in a 13-year career?
Mullane is one of the most unique characters in the history of the sport, as he had the ability to throw ambidextrously and frequently alternated between throwing right-handed and left-handed within the same game. However, it is tough enough to have great control over a pitch when using the same throwing motion every single time. Mastering two different motions only makes it more difficult.
Not surprisingly, Nolan Ryan is the modern pitcher who came closest to this record. Ryan seemingly pitched forever, and he was clearly a pitcher who was never known for his control. Yet Ryan was only able to reach 277 in his career, which is good for second all-time but still 66 behind Mullane.
However, I think a completely different kind of pitcher can make a run at this one. Knuckleball throwers specialize in a pitch that puts very little stress on the arm and have been known to pitch well into their 40’s. At the same time, the knuckleball by its very nature is unpredictable even for the best at the craft. If a knuckler can inspire confidence in a team at a young age, they could get within shouting distance of this one just by showing up for 25 years.
Leader: Herman Long, 1,096
I was actually hesitant to include this record, as errors might be the most misleading stat still used in baseball. The recording of an error is decided entirely by the judgment of the officials, making it one of the most subjective stats in the sport.
Officials have also gotten far more reluctant to hand out errors, as evidenced by the fact that the all-time list is loaded with players whose careers ended before 1920. Finally, everything from equipment to fields to training methods have changed so dramatically that it is simply tougher to make an error in today’s game.
With all of that said, nobody will ever come close to Herman Long’s total for career errors. Long was fortunate to have played shortstop for nearly all of his 16-year career and was actually regarded as a very good defensive shortstop in his day. Miguel Tejada is the closest active player to Long’s record, with 272 career errors. It is safe to say that nobody will ever make a serious run at this one.
Leader: Cy Young, 316
It’s important to remember that, while all of the records on this list aren’t exactly ringing endorsements of greatness, it does not mean that the players who own them are bad players. No record on this list better illustrates that fact than career losses, as the man who holds the mark is none other than the name found on the award for best pitcher in the league.
One of the side effects of Cy Young having more complete games than all but two other pitchers have career starts is that he racked up an entire list of longevity records, and not all of them are going to be positive ones (in fact, his records for runs and hits allowed also qualify for this list).
Young’s career loss total is only six ahead of second-place Pud Galvin (the previous holder of the record), and Nolan Ryan actually made a strong “push” towards surpassing Young before retiring with 292. In fact, with 300-game winners becoming more and more common, it is conceivable that a 300-game loser could also happen simply by making 700+ career starts.
Still, since nobody has cleared 300 since the Dead Ball Era, this one looks fairly safe.
Leader: Nolan Ryan, 2,795
Contrary to popular belief, 5,714 strikeouts isn’t Nolan Ryan’s most unbreakable record. Randy Johnson (who got started late) was 85 percent of the way there when he retired, and strikeouts are becoming more and more common every year. It is conceivable that another pitcher will come along and give that record a good run.
Ryan’s walk total, on the other hand, is completely untouchable. Second-place Steve Carlton retired with 1,833 in his career (65.6 percent of Ryan’s total), and Carlton’s career was complete five years before Ryan was done. And while walk rates have remained remarkably steady since the Dead Ball Era, starting pitchers are throwing fewer and fewer of them. No pitcher has managed to accumulate even 100 walks in a season over the past two years, and the last pitcher to go over 125 in a season was Johnson all the way back in 1992.
Ryan, meanwhile, went over 125 walks seven years in a row and was even allowed to clear 200 in a given season—twice. Modern pitching philosophies simply won’t allow that to ever happen again.
Leader: Pete Rose, 10,328
Rose’s 4,256 hits rates among the most iconic career records in MLB history. However, that record was also the product of making a record 15,890 plate appearances—nearly 2000 more than anybody else in the history of the game.
So it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that, in addition to being baseball’s Hit King, Pete Rose is also the game’s Out King, with nearly 1,200 more than second-place Hank Aaron on the all-time list.
Omar Vizquel is currently the active leader in career outs with 8,335, which seems about right because Vizquel’s glove was always good enough to make up for a mediocre bat. Derek Jeter comes next with an even 7,400, and it’s difficult to see the Yankee shortstop playing the eight more years it would take to eclipse Rose’s mark.
Leader: Rickey Henderson, 335
With the possible exception of Sam Crawford’s triples total, Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases is the most untouchable career counting stat on the books. Lou Brock, whose record Rickey broke in 1991, is in second place with a mere 938 steals, while the nearest active player (Juan Pierre, with 563) might not be able to play long enough to get even halfway there.
Just as safe, however, is Rickey’s career record for times caught stealing. Although Henderson leads Brock by only 28 in this category and stolen base numbers have remained surprisingly consistent over the past 30 years (at least in the American League), the modern game is producing historical highs in stolen base success rate—meaning that fewer runners are getting caught stealing than ever before.
Case in point: Lou Brock was successful on about 75.3 percent of his stolen base attempts and widely regarded as the best base-stealer of his generation. On the other hand, Juan Pierre’s 74.5 percent success rate makes him a surprisingly average base stealer, and he is the active leader with 192 times getting caught. Only five other players are even over 100, and all of them are close to the end of their respective careers.
By no means did this make Rickey a bad base-stealer; on the contrary, Rickey’s 80.7 percent success rate is behind only Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin among Hall of Fame inductees. But much like Cy Young’s loss record, Henderson managed to set this one simply because he had so many opportunities to do so. It’s tough to see another player getting as many opportunities ever again.
Leader: Cal Ripken, 350
Probably the most debatable entry on this list, Ripken only set the record back in the 2000 season and it recently survived another “challenge” when Ivan Rodriguez decided to call it a career earlier this year. It’s also fair to point out that accurate records for GIDP only go back to the early-1930s, so we may never know if Ripken is the “true” holder of this record.
But I wanted to include it on this list because it has been a surprisingly durable record since statisticians started keeping track of it. Ripken is just the third player to hold the record since 1933. The others are Ernie Lombardi, who is more famous for being a rare catcher to lead the league in batting average; and Hank Aaron, who broke Lombardi’s record in 1970 on his way to setting a couple of more-famous milestones.
It is this reason that I think that the GIDP record that is currently on the books will hold up for awhile. The closest active player is Vladimir Guerrero with 277, and he is in the twilight phase of his career. Ironically, the most-likely player to make a run at this record might be Albert Pujols, who currently sits at 238 and still has nine years left on his contract after this season.
Once again, it’s a nice reminder that the players who hold these records are among the best to ever play the game.
Leader: Jamie Moyer, 522 (and counting)
The only record on this list that is held by an active (by a thread) player, Moyer has acquired this record largely by pitching for 25 years with a lack of overwhelming stuff. Moyer broke this record back in 2010, and he still stands a chance of adding to it if he can make it back to the majors with the Orioles.
Many of you are probably thinking that this record is far more vulnerable than the others on this list. It is certainly understandable, considering the big power numbers that were being put up over the past two decades. But Moyer’s numbers were outsized even for the era; his closest contemporary is the recently-retired Tim Wakefield, who wrapped up his career after having given up 418 home runs. Randy Johnson and David Wells were the only other players from Moyer’s era who managed to clear 400.
At the same time, the player whom Moyer surpassed on the all-time list was Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who had held the record for most home runs allowed for 53 years.
After Moyer, the next-closest active player to the record is Livan Hernandez, who has given up 350 home runs and is (presumably) near the end of his career. With the game seemingly moving away from the powerball numbers of the previous two decades, this one seems mighty secure. The only real question is whether or not Moyer gets the opportunity to add to the record.
Keep your fingers crossed.