Baseball's Hallowed Marks: The 10 Most Unbreakable Records
When it comes to statistics and records, no other sport comes close to matching baseball’s muscle. Football may have surpassed baseball as America’s favorite sport but none of the numbers or records compiled in the NFL, NBA or NHL are remembered nor revered the way baseball’s hallowed marks are.
When Barry Bonds eclipsed Hank Aaron’s home run record it was front-page news nationwide; people had their say about it, whether positively or negatively. When Brett Favre (pun intended) passed Dan Marino on the career touchdown list, the achievement was barely acknowledged—not even on the scoreboard in the stadium he did it in. How many of the top 10 home run hitters of all time can you name? Or top 20? But how many of the top 10 scorers in NBA history can you—or most—name? How about just the top three? How many people could, in order, list Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan (the easy one)?
No matter what happens with other sports, no matter how much money or popularity the NFL generates, no matter how famous or rich Lebron James becomes and no matter who is or becomes the face of the NHL, none of those sports will ever match baseball’s pull to the common American fan. People care more about the records in baseball, and tend to follow them more closely.
Here are the top 10 most unbreakable records or numbers in baseball history. I hope I am not repetitive from previous articles and am able to list a few that have been forgotten or overlooked.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak
Often times Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak is listed as one of the most “unbreakable” records by many fans and analysts, but I have to disagree. To me an unbreakable record must be something that is next to impossible to accomplish. Every record can be broken, especially one that requires as much luck as it does skill and drive.
Hitting in 56 consecutive games is unfathomable. Whenever a player reaches 20 consecutive games people start thinking about how far he has to go to reach DiMaggio’s mark. It would be extremely difficult to reproduce or top, but with a little bit of luck (or maybe a lot) a player could do it. How many players get hits in 56 or more games every year? A broken bat hit that lands in between outfielders or a ball that hits a pebble on the ground and drifts away from a fielder could extend a hitting streak, and thereby catch and pass DiMaggio.
It is unlikely that someone will hit in 56 or more consecutive games again. It’s just too hard to do, and when the number of games gets higher and higher the pressure mounts. It would be amazing to watch someone defy that and pass DiMaggio. It would be fun, something fans could cheer for and watch play out over a month or so. But I doubt it will happen, and I refuse to list it here as “unbreakable” because I think it is breakable, just not likely to happen.
No 10: New York Yankees 27 World Series Championships
Considering the Yankees have won nearly three times as many championships as their next closest competitor, and have racked up about a quarter of the World Series trophies ever awarded, it seems more than unlikely that another team will ever top them.
The Cardinals, with 10 titles, are a distant second. It would take a miracle for them to win the next 18 World Series to pass the Yankees, and even if they produced one title every three years (an amazing feat) it would take them 54 years to pass the Yankees—and that’s only if New York don’t win any titles during that time.
27 Championships is not something we’ll ever see broken by another club. In fact, that mark will only be extended by its owner.
No. 9: Connie Mack’s Managerial Record
How many managers can claim they managed the same team for 50 years without getting fired? He won a couple of championships early on, but in the mid teens and early 1920s, his teams lost 100 or more games five times in seven years. Even back then that would get a manager fired. But luckily Connie Mack also owned the Philadelphia Athletics and stayed in the dugout until he was almost 90. With over 1,000 more career wins that Tony LaRussa, it’s doubtful anyone will ever catch Connie Mack with his 3,731 wins in the dugout (or his 3,948 loses either).
No. 8: Nolan Ryan 5,714 Strikeouts
Of all the major league records Nolan Ryan holds—seven no-hitters, pitching for 27 seasons, nearly 3,000 walks, hits against per nine innings, etc.—it is his strikeout record that will never be topped. Ryan was a dominant, old-school pitcher who pitched deep into games, didn’t care what his “pitch count” was (or probably never heard the term in his career) and struck out more batters than anyone in history.
When he passed Walter Johnson for first place he and Steve Carlton were neck and neck for the all-time lead. But Carlton knew Ryan had him.
“He had me in age, he had me in velocity, he had me in a lot of things,” Lefty conceded.
And he was right. Ryan pulled away in the mid 1980’s and no one has come close to reaching his mark, and no one will. Strikeouts have become more prevalent in baseball over the last 30 or 40 years, and many pitchers, even non-strikeout ones like Greg Maddux and Phil Niekro, have climbed the all-time leader board. But not even Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in all-time strikeouts, are within three 300-strikeout seasons of Ryan. Tim Lincecum would need to keep his pace for the next 18 years to catch The Ryan Express. Not going to happen.
No. 7: Pete Rose's 4,256 Hits
Pete Rose is now remembered as much (if not more) for his gambling problem and destroying his reputation than he is for his on-the-field records, but his 4,256 hits will stand forever. Over 24 years in baseball very few players were ever as determined or accomplished as Rose. Only five players in baseball history have ever achieved as many as 3,500 hits.
In the last thirty years we’ve seen great hitters—Tony Gwynn, Derek Jeter, Robin Yount, George Brett, Paul Molitor and more—and none have reached 3,500 hits, a mark that would still leave a player more than 700 hits short of the all-time mark ( a good three or four seasons worth).
Ichiro Suzuki is the one player who may have reached it had he played his entire career in the major leagues, but he spent a lot of time in Japan. On the north side of 35 Ichiro will struggle to reach 3,000, let alone 4,000 and beyond.
And quite simply, players today don’t tend to play as long as players of the past did.
Number 6: Christy Mathewson's 1905 World Series Performance
Arguably the greatest postseason performance in baseball history. I know the times were different, and like DiMaggio’s hitting streak it is possible someone could duplicate it, but I see it as impossible. On October 9, 1905 Christy Mathewson opened up the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics with a four-hit shutout and the Giants won 3-0. Three days later, on October 12 Mathewson threw another four-hit shutout, winning 9-0.
After the Giants won Game 4 behind Joe McGinnity, Mathewson returned for Game 5 and was only slightly less effective, scattering five hits instead of four in his third complete game shutout of the series and third in six days. Today’s pitchers are “heroic” (and I use the term very loosely, as heroes are those guys fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ones who finally got to Osama Bin Laden) when they start on three days rest. Think about the 1905 Giants who went into the World Series with only two starting pitchers scheduled to throw. Could any team and their players duplicate that feat today?
No. 5: Walter Johnson's 110 Shutouts
Many consider Johnson the best pitcher of all-time, and based on the numbers it’s hard to disagree. 417 wins, the all-time leader in strikeouts for the majority of baseball history, a career 2.17 ERA and what people who saw him say was the hardest fastball ever thrown, Walter Johnson was simply amazing.
However it is his impressive total of keeping his opponent scoreless that is the most astounding. In his 21 seasons he never failed to throw a complete game shutout, reaching as high as 11 in 1913 (16 in a season is the record). It would take the top 12 active pitchers combined to top Walter Johnson’s shutout mark. Halladay is the active leader with 19, and he is 91 short.
No. 4: Babe Ruth's Career .690 Slugging Percentage
Babe Ruth is the greatest player to ever play professional sports. His dominance of the sport is without challenge. Every time “new” statistics are looked at or assembled to dispute that—valuing OPS over nearly every other offensive statistic, creating WAR to determine which player was most important—only one player remains at the top of every list, George Herman Ruth. And while it’s been shown possible that players will pass his 714 career home runs, or his 2,213 RBI or even his 11.8 at bats per home run, it is his .690 career slugging percentage that no one will ever touch.
That means for every 10 times he came to bat Babe Ruth achieved seven total bases. A homer, a double and a single for every 10 at-bats. That is truly amazing. When you look at the career slugging percentage leaders it gets even more astounding. Only seven players even have a slugging percentage of .600 or better, and only two (Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds) have played in the last 50 years. Pujols, the game’s best hitter today, trails Ruth by almost .070 points, nothing to overlook.
No. 3: Will White's 75 Complete Games
I’ll be honest, had it not been for my eighth grade English teacher giving me a book of baseball records I’d have never know about Will White or his record. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen that book but I will always remember the article about Will White, a 19th century pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
It was a different time in baseball, but not any less astounding. In 1879 Will White completed all 75 of his starts, and finished the only other game he pitched in relief in. Going 43-31 that year with a 1.99 ERA, White managed to toss 680 innings. In his 10 year career he also completed 52, 62, 54, 64, 52 and 34 games, only failing to finish what he started twice. TWICE!!
Roy Halladay, again, is the active leader and has 60 career complete games, baseball’s currently most durable pitcher today. What Will White did was nothing short of amazing and will never be duplicated again.
No. 2: Denton T. "Cy" Young's 511 Wins
This is easily the on-field career record that can be declared “unbreakable”. 300 wins has been the gold standard in baseball history, meaning automatic election into the Hall of Fame for the pitcher. And yet very few pitchers have achieved reaching it because winning 300 games requires brilliance for many years.
It’s unlikely any pitcher, with the advancement of bullpen prowess and specialization of baseball, will reach 300 wins again. So how can we even begin to comprehend a pitcher going beyond that and reaching 400 and 500, and eventually 511 wins? It’s impossible. Only one pitcher in history is even within 100 wins of Cy Young, and I guess that’s why he has the record named after him.
In a 12-year span (1892-1903), Cy Young won 343 games, an average of 28 wins per year. His numbers—wins, losses, innings, starts, complete games, etc.—will never be topped by another major league player.
No. 1, Babe Ruth: Everything Else
How could an article about the most unbreakable records not end with the greatest player’s greatest achievements? His records leave baseball historians shaking their heads. Ruth won a league record 12 home run crowns (one while primarily still a pitcher), was the first to 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 home run seasons, is second all-time in on-base percentage, first in slugging, first in OPS and second in at-bats per home run.
However it is his 1920 season (and not even his personal best) that ranks as the No. 1 unbreakable feat in baseball history. Babe Ruth slugged a record 54 home runs that year, again setting the single season record. What is even more amazing is that of the other 15 teams in the major leagues at the time, only one—ONE—topped what Ruth did as an individual. The Philadelphia Athletics hit 64 home runs, but their top two home run hitters failed to top 30 combined. Ruth more than doubled the total of five teams.
In the nine decades since the Roarin’ Twenties, players have gotten better and home run totals have risen, but no player—not Bonds, not Mays, not Aaron, not Pujols, not McGwire or Sosa in their steroid-fueled slug fest—has ever achieved hitting more home runs than any other team, much less all of them. It would be like Jose Batista hitting 215 home runs last year instead of 54.