Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman made history, throwing a 105 mile-an-hour fastball that went down as the fastest pitch ever recorded in Major League Baseball. The rookie pitcher has joined a prestigious and oft-debated group of sports luminaries responsible for setting some of sports’ most stunning records. Here are ten of the most shocking individual achievements in sports. 10 is hardly enough to cover all the historic milestones that athletes have reached across history, but this list aims to present a ranking of some truly unbelievable feats that may or may not ever be matched.
Aroldis Chapman has lived up to the advanced billing as a left handed pitcher with an overwhelming fastball, to the point where he can now claim to have thrown the fastest recorded pitch in Major League History. Against the San Diego Padres on Friday night, he threw 25 pitches in 1 and a third innings—and all 25 were clocked over 100 MPH. In the outing, he topped Joel Zumaya’s previous record of 104.8 by registering a 105 MPH 1-2 fastball to Tony Gwynn Jr. There are a number of factors that keep this from being higher on the list, namely that radar guns were only widely used starting in the 1980s, and therefore pitchers like Walter Johnson and Bob Feller were never clocked and can’t historically compare with the Chapmans of the world. Also, radar gun readings can be inconsistent or inaccurate from time to time. Chapman has still exhibited an almost inhuman consistency of topping 100 MPH in his career, and his performance against San Diego warrants a place in baseball history.
Regardless of the histrionics that have surrounded Brett Favre over the last 3 seasons, his streak of 287 straight games as a starter in the NFL is an unbelievable accomplishment. Given the punishing nature of the sport and the fact that when Favre’s streak started, the league was not as concerned with protecting the quarterback as it is now, his ability to stay on the field and answer the bell every Sunday is a sight to behold. He started the streak in Green Bay on September 27, 1992 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and has not looked back since, winning 3 MVP awards and 1 Super Bowl. His streak has come at a price, though, as he has played through considerable pain, played through personal tragedies and played through individual and team ineffectiveness. Given the increased focus on NFL player safety in regard to brain injuries, as well as the still-grueling nature of the sport on any participant, Favre’s streak is a truly daunting accomplishment that may never be topped.
Usain Bolt obliterated the world record in the 100-meter dash on August 16, 2009 in Berlin, Germany, completing the run in 9.58 seconds. He had set the record 2 other times himself, but his ultimate triumph of 9.58 stands well apart from fellow Jamaican countrymen Asafa Powell’s 9.74. Speeds have increased in modern times as runners have become physical specimens capable of pushing their bodies to limits previously unseen, but it took years for each record time in the 9.7 second range to be broken. That Bolt went as low as 9.58 is a record that will stand for some time. That he has set the last three world records in the 100 meter is a testament to his potentially unparalleled greatness as a runner.
Wayne Gretzky holds virtually all scoring records in the National Hockey League, and this does probably not come as a surprise to many. One number that stands out above the rest is his 215 points in the 1985-1986 season for the Edmonton Oilers. In that same season he also happened to set the record for most assists, tallying 163, a dramatic number that seems untouchable. He holds single-season records for so many things in the NHL, and that’s not even considering the number of career records he’s also set. The cherry on top of Gretzky’s ’85-’86 season is that it was only an 80 game schedule, so he even had 2 fewer games than current NHLers to set such a lofty record. Given the attention that superstar offensive players now receive from defenses in the NHL, Gretzky’s mark seems unapproachable even for great natural talents. If Mario Lemieux could never top The Great One, it seems like a lot to ask for a modern NHL player.
Well, maybe not exactly every tournament, but in 1945 Byron Nelson amazingly won 11 straight PGA tournaments, and 18 total, in a year of golf dominance that seems impossible to recreate. There were 35 tournaments in total that year on the PGA tour, so Nelson won more than half—and he also finished second in 7 other contests. There is some historical debate about Nelson’s achievement given that his unbelievable year took place in the midst of World War II, and therefore the quality of the PGA tour could have been diluted due to players serving time overseas. Still, Nelson exhibited a huge amount of personal greatness in 1945, shooting a year-long average of 68 over 18 holes. And while golfers that could have won some of those 18 tournaments may have been missing, they could not have impacted Nelson’s game even had they been around. His year will stand alone as an example of individual golfing greatness.
Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards rushing in 1984 for the Los Angeles Rams is particularly impressive given all the factors at play in getting to that point. Dickerson carried the ball 379 times that year, a number that looks unimaginable now when running back by committee is a common occurrence in the NFL. The mileage and abuse a running back would sustain carrying that many times against the best defensive players in the world would make breaking this record a true war of attrition. Jamal Lewis came close in 2003, accumulating 2,066 yards on 8 more carries (387). But given the trend in the NFL away from one heavily-used runner, combined with the high level of athleticism now commonly on the field for NFL team’s defenses, Dickerson’s record is all the more impressive and unreachable.
Doing anything for 11 hours and 5 minutes is an extremely overwhelming proposition. Playing tennis on one of the world’s biggest stages for that long is a testament to unreal levels of human endurance. That’s what took place over three days this past June, when the United States’ John Isner defeated France’s Nicolas Mahut in a five-set match that required a tiebreaker that went down as the longest tennis match ever played. There were a combined 2,198 strokes in the match, the kind of repetition a human arm seems ill equipped to handle. The fifth set ended up in Isner’s favor, with the score being 70-68—Wimbledon’s lack of a traditional tiebreaker allowed for play to continue for so long. Basically every number you could point to for this match is overwhelming, and the two players deserve a place in sports history for being able to sustain a high level of competition for so long.
March 2, 1962 was a day Knicks fans presumably don’t remember fondly, but in NBA history it stands as a seemingly unstoppable performance from Wilt Chamberlain. The big man poured in 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors, as they beat the Knicks 169-147 in the complete opposite of a low-scoring defensive showdown. Mike D’Antoni would be proud of the offensive output, and on that day Wilt the Stilt was performing on another level. In the modern game, 100 points is an important team number to reach, never mind the individual. That Kobe Bryant is the only player to come close to topping Wilt, with his 81 point game in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, speaks to the potentially unapproachable nature of the record. Chamberlain holds 6 of the top 10 individual game scoring outputs, meaning he is a once-in-a-lifetime type of player that we may never see overtaken for single-game scoring dominance.
In baseball it is often referred to as an unbreakable record: Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games in 1941, surpassing the previous record held by Willie Keeler, who made his name in the dead ball era in the 1890s. Pete Rose made it all the way to 44 games in 1978, but DiMaggio’s record has remained unapproached for the most part since it was set. DiMaggio got a hit for two straight months’ worth of games, and most major leaguers often point to the fact that a successful hitter fails at the plate one out of every three times up. The consistency that DiMaggio exhibited will never be approached. Similarly amazing is the fact that even when his streak ended on July 17, 1941—he started a new one the very next game, and went on to hit in 16 consecutive games, giving him a ridiculous stretch of hitting safely in 72 of 73 games.
Not Johnny Vander Meer, Mark Buehrle post-Perfect Game.
In Major League Baseball, even as pitching has returned to front and center as the dominant force in the game, it seems amazing to consider that a pitcher might be able to not allow any hits in 2 consecutive starts. Johnny Vander Meer did it in 1938 in his first full season as a starter. The Cincinnati Reds pitcher shut down the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers consecutively, an accomplishment that seems destined to stand for all time. Consider that the hitters he faced in both starts would relish a chance to spoil such a historic achievement. He also threw the second no hitter on the road in Brooklyn, further adding to the degree of difficulty for a pitcher. When a pitcher throws a no-hitter in the modern game, all the attention shifts to his next start, and Vander Meer’s name always is brought up. His accomplishment seems the most likely to stand the test of time, and it lands at number one on this list.