MLB History: Five Impossible Statistics That Actually Happened

Joe HalversonCorrespondent IApril 15, 2011

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24:  A statue of Babe Ruth is seen at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during induction weekend on July 24, 2010 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Unbreakable records and feats are as intertwined with MLB history as metal cleats and pine tar.

Numbers like 56, 16, 1.12 and 41 are widely recognized as some of MLB's greatest and most famous stats and achievements, but every once in awhile a player or team will accomplish something that—due to styles of play or circumstances beyond their control—is so absurd it defies all logic.  

Such feats shouldn't be possible at any level of competition, but they actually happened in Major League Baseball. Here's a list of five such instances.

1. Babe Ruth Hits More Homers than Any Other Team...Twice

When people think of eye-popping statistics, Babe Ruth is usually the first athlete who comes to mind. Heck, to this day big numbers in all sports are often referred to as “Ruthian.”

Everybody knows about his jaw-dropping career and single-season numbers, with 60, 714, 177, 170, 2213, 457 and .690 ranking among the most famous numbers in all of sports even after some of them were eclipsed.

Ruth’s most impressive feat, however, occurred in 1920 when he smacked a jaw-dropping 54 homers, nearly twice as many as he had hit (29) to break the record the previous season (for perspective, Albert Pujols would have to hit 136 homers to match this feat in modern times). 

This number was ridiculous; it was more home runs than any other team in the American League hit during that season—and only the Philadelphia Phillies (with 64) managed to clear Ruth in the National League!

Then, as an added bonus, he did it again when he hit 60 homers in 1927. This one wasn’t quite as impressive, as the rest of the Yankees would have out-homered him on the season, but it was still amazing nonetheless. 

We’d be hard-pressed to find another example in sports where one player so out-distanced his competition like Ruth did with home runs in 1920 and 1927.

2. Neither NL Division Winner Makes Playoffs (1981)

Thanks to related events 13 years later, the 1981 strike tends to be one of the underrated dark times in MLB history. Nonetheless, 50 days were wiped from the middle of the season, and rather than just let the season play out as-is the owners came up with a unique plan to end the season and get people talking again.

Since many thought it would be unfair to the first-half division leaders to have a great season suddenly interrupted, the owners decided to split the season and have the division leaders from the first half play the leaders from the second half in MLB’s first-ever two-round playoff setup.  

The NL playoffs featured the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros in the West final, while the East featured the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies against the upstart Montreal Expos—the first and only playoff appearance in that franchise's history.

Everything was all hunky-dory, except for one slight problem: the two teams with the best overall records in each division were shut out of the playoffs.

Neither the Cincinnati Reds nor the St. Louis Cardinals managed to lead the division at the end of either half, resulting in both watching the playoffs from home. 

People tend to have less sympathy for St. Louis, as the Cardinals wound up playing six fewer games than the Expos and five fewer than the Phillies on the season. The Reds, however, really got screwed, as they finished the year with the best overall record in baseball.

Here’s betting the split-season format never gets tried again.

3.  Eddie Murray Leads Majors in Batting Average without Winning Batting Title

Unquestionably, the race for the 1990 batting title was the most bizarre in MLB history.

Willie McGee, who had the Majors’ highest average while playing for the last-place St. Louis Cardinals, was shipped to the Oakland A's at the trade deadline.

McGee had already accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting crown, and no other NL player was able to clear his .335 batting average—giving McGee the batting crown even though he was playing in the AL at the time.

Few people, however, remember that .335 was not McGee’s final average. 

When a player changes leagues, their seasonal totals are kept separate for league leadership purposes, so McGee’s mediocre performance in Oakland (.274 BA) had no impact on his NL totals. McGee wound up winning the batting crown even though his .324 average over the entire season ranked just sixth in the Majors.

The big loser in this one, however, is Eddie Murray, whose .330 average finished right behind McGee in the NL race but was actually one point higher than AL champ George Brett

Nobody remembers that Murray actually had the highest batting average in baseball in 1990, though fortunately it had no impact on the first-ballot electee’s Hall of Fame case.

4.  Barry Bonds Draws More Intentional Walks than AL Leader Draws Walks

Quick: name the most unbreakable single-season hitting record in MLB history. 

Most people immediately think .426, 36 or 130 when asked this question, but in truth a few numbers from some point in MLB history are remarkably close to each of those totals.

Barry Bonds, however, has a single-season record that will never be touched—and it isn’t the one you think.

Bonds’ 2004 season rates as the most incredible in MLB history, with the slugger leading the Majors in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and bases on balls. 

Pitchers so feared facing Bonds that he was intentionally walked 120 times—a total so absurd that it nearly doubled the previous record (68), which was set by Bonds in 2002, and nearly tripled the nearest non-Bonds total of 45, set by Willie McCovey in 1969. 

Or, to put it in another light, Bonds was intentionally walked more times than any other team in baseball. In fact, he had more intentional walks than any AL hitter had walks.

It had been a long time since any baseball stat could rightfully be described as Ruthian, but Barry Bonds’ intentional walks total from 2004 certainly qualifies.

5.  CC Sabathia Leads Both Leagues in Shutouts in Same Year

Contrary to popular belief, the number of games that end in shutouts has not dropped off all that much over the past 30 years.

What is true, however, is that starting pitchers are receiving less and less credit for them, as only complete-game shutouts count toward their statistics.

Every few years, however, a starting pitcher will come along and roll off an impressive number of shutouts during a season. CC Sabathia’s 2008 total, however, takes the cake for the absurd.

Like McGee in 1990, Sabathia found himself leading a league in a major statistical category when he was traded, in Sabathia's case from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers for the stretch run. At the deadline, Sabathia had completed three games, two of which were shutouts (which tied him for the AL lead). 

The Brewers, realizing they had little chance of re-signing Sabathia at the end of the season, decided to scrap pitch counts and ride his arm as far as it would take them.

Thus, in two months’ time Sabathia wound up leading the Senior Circuit with seven complete games and three shutouts—while, at the same time, nobody in the AL managed to record a third shutout.

This meant that CC Sabathia led both leagues in the same category during the same season.

These are the five most impossible statistics I could find. If anybody knows of more, I'd love to hear them.

Related

    Nationals Prove More Than Ready for 1st World Series

    Nats swept the Cards and now are four wins away from a parade

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Nationals Prove More Than Ready for 1st World Series

    Jacob Shafer
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: DEA Interviews Matt Harvey in Tyler Skaggs Probe

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Report: DEA Interviews Matt Harvey in Tyler Skaggs Probe

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report

    Josh Reddick Rips 'Disrespectful' Yankees Fans

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Josh Reddick Rips 'Disrespectful' Yankees Fans

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report

    Astros in Complete Control of ALCS

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Astros in Complete Control of ALCS

    Bob Klapisch
    via Bleacher Report