Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 12, 2007
BASEBALL: Baseball's Most Impressive Records

You often hear discussion of what are baseball's most unbreakable records; it's a hardy perennial of the barroom or talk radio debate (I recently got a marketing email from a company selling a video on the topic).

But "unbreakable" isn't really the yardstick for a great record. Let's use the most glaring example: in 1879, Will White threw 680 innings. By modern standards, that's almost beyond comprehension; pigs will fly before you see a pitcher throw 681 innings in a single season. But is it really that impressive? The previous record was 622, in a 66-game season (by 1879 the schedule was 80 games for White's Reds). Five years later, Old Hoss Radbourn threw 678.2 innings, and Guy Hecker threw 670.2. White deserves a tip of the cap for out-working his contemporaries, but his record was set at the best possible time - the historic high-water mark of starting pitcher innings - and narrowly survived a challenge just 5 years later.

No, what I'm interested in is the baseball's most impressive records. So I bring you this list. First, the parameters. No team records, just individual feats. No single-game records - if the name "Mark Whiten" doesn't remind us that anybody can have a great day, I don't know what will. No postseason records, since the opportunities to set those are very unevenly distributed. No fielding records, for a long list of reasons regarding the nature and availability of fielding stats. No managing records, although Connie Mack's 53-year managing career is impressive under any definition, as is Joe McCarthy managing 24 years with three different franchises without having a losing record once. And no negative records - Nolan Ryan's career walks record is perversely impressive, but not worthy of honor. All I looked at was career and single-season hitting and pitching records, and streaks.

Second, my criteria for choosing and ranking the records. I looked at three factors. One, how far the record stands out from the #2 (and for measurement I compared to the second-best by a different player, rather than, say, compare two Barry Bonds seasons). Two, the level of skill, consistency or exceptional endurance involved - winning games and hitting home runs is more impressive than at bats or hit by pitches. Relatedly, I gave more emphasis for higher-profile stats, and didn't look at really obscure records or metrics (no VORP record here). And three, I gave extra credit to players who - unlike Will White - set their records under less than the ideal conditions for setting that particular record.

Finally, in a few cases I consolidated in a single "record" multiple records a player set in a single season or career that basically flow from the same cause, such as Barry Bonds' walk and intentional walk records.

This doesn't claim to be a scientific list; I have my opinion, you have yours. But my justifications and the facts are provided.

Honorable Mention

A. Johnny Vander Meer, Consecutive No-Hitters, June 11 & 15, 1938.

Vander Meer's is more in the nature of a single feat than a streak, but the fact is, Major League Baseball has been around for 131 years, and in all of that time, only one man has pitched back-to-back no-hitters. The rarity of the thing, given that many opportunities, argues for its impressiveness.

B. Carl Hubbell's 24 Regular-Season Wins Without a Loss, July 17, 1936-May 27, 1937

Hubbell's win streak is impressive and tops the #2 on the list (Rube Marquard) by 20%. On the other hand, it's somewhat artificial because (1) it overlaps two seasons and (2) during the streak he lost Game 4 of the 1936 World Series. If the streak was longer (see below) I might have listed him, but either way it is still an impressive feat.

C. Ed Reulbach, two shutouts in one day, September 26, 1908.

Granted, doubleheaders have always been somewhat rare and it's been decades since anybody pitched both ends of one, so Reulbach, unlike Vander Meer, didn't have as much potential competition. Even so, it's a significant accomplishment to be the only one to do it.

D. The Consecutive Complete Games Record

The record for consecutive starts with a complete game is commonly thought to belong to Jack Taylor, variously attributed as 185, 187 or 188 between 1901 and 1906 (the most thorough examinations seem to support the 185 number; when I was younger I recall it being listed as 176). But back before they moved the mound in 1893, Jack Lynch seems to have thrown 198 straight in the American Association in 1883-87 and 1890, although the one in 1890 after a 3-year absence involved him absorbing 18 runs on 22 hits, and I have no idea what he'd been doing in the interim.

Even with the uncertainties and the prevalance of complete games in those days, though, finishing that many in a row over a period of 5-6 years is really hard work. So these guys get the Honorable Mention. Now, for the list - the number in parentheses is the percentage by which the record exceeds the next best total by another player:

20. Tris Speaker, 792 Career Doubles (6.2%)

Speaker's doubles record is a mountain few have approached. #2 on the list is Pete Rose, and he needed 15,000 plate appearances (a good 30% more than Speaker) to get within 50. Craig Biggio hits gobs of doubles, has been incredibly durable and is in his 20th season, and Biggio still needs 131 doubles to catch Speaker. Speaker did play the second half of his career in a good era for doubles, and played nearly his whole career in two great doubles parks - Fenway and League Park in Cleveland, which also had a high, close fence (60 feet high and 290 feet away in right) you could bounce doubles off.

19. Ichiro Suzuki, 225 Singles in 2004 (9.2%)

If you look atop the single season singles record list, you will find it dominated by 1890s hitters Willie Keeler and Jesse Burkett, from an era when league batting averages ranged from the .290s to as high as .309. Yet, in an age of the longball, Ichiro the Throwback left Keeler's record in the dust. Swimming against the modern offensive tide, and in an extreme pitcher's park no less (Ichiro that season hit .338 at home, .405 on the road) makes his accomplishment more impressive.

18. Nolan Ryan, 7 Career No-Hitters (75%)

The no-hitter is something of a flukey one-game achievement, or this record would rank higher, but only two pitchers have thrown 4 no-nos, and Ryan almost doubled the total of #2 man Sandy Koufax, throwing no-hitters in three decades.

17. Billy Hamilton, 192 Runs Scored in 1894 (8.5%).

Hamilton played in the best of circumstances for the scoring of runs - the highest-scoring season ever, a loaded lineup that set the all-time record by hitting .349 as a team and including three other .400 hitters. But then, he still scored 8.5% more runs than anyone else in his era, and his record has never been seriously challenged even though it was set in a 129-game season. And, of course, scoring runs is the whole point of the game, and you get a lot less help from teammates than with RBIs; this is the most prestigious sort of record.

16. Rickey Henderson, 130 Steals in 1982 (10.2%)

Rickey's single-season steals record stands out, but further than it did at the time; Brock had stolen 118 nine years earlier, and Vince Coleman would steal 110 three years later as a rookie, the first of three straight 100+ seasons. I'd rate Rickey higher but for the fact that he was caught a record 42 times; he would have helped his team more if he'd attempted 120-130 steals instead of 172. That said, the 1982 A's were a team that had rapidly collapsed from a contender, so Rickey gave a lot of excitement to fans who had little else.

Either way, the record was partly a matter of choice, and less impressive for being so.

15. Owen "Chief" Wilson, 36 Triples in 1912 (16.1%)

Not only did Wilson set the triples record by a comfortable 36-31 margin, but he finished 10 triples (38%) ahead of the nearest 20th century competitor. It's rare to see anybody reach mid-May anywhere near Wilson's pace. It's just a freakish accomplishment for a guy who played seven seasons as a regular and cracked 20 triples only the once.

14. Walter Johnson, 110 Career Shutouts (22.2%)

And note that Johnson is 39.2% ahead of the #3 guy, Christy Mathewson (Grover Alexander is #2). 110 shutouts is an astonishing figure, a shutout every six starts and more than a quarter of his 417 career wins (he needed them too - Johnson played for good teams and bad, but the latter were sometimes appalling, like the team where the team leader in RBI drove in 44 runs). Johnson did pitch in the best time for shutouts, the era when ERAs were low and unearned runs were rarer than in the 1880s, and when aces finished their starts. He did throw 24 shutouts in 8 years from 1920-27, though.

13. Cal Ripken, 2,632 consecutive games played, May 30, 1982-September 19, 1998 (23.6%).

Ripken's streak is commonly listed at or near the top of lists like this, but it's not by any means unbreakable - you just need to want it badly enough, be healthy and lucky and a good enough player not to get benched. Unlike the pitching workload records, it's not a feat of spectacular physical endurance, nor does it require any particular skill or accomplishment.

All that said, 16 years without missing a game - including several years of not missing an inning - is nonetheless an impressive feat of willpower and durability, and Ripken left Lou Gehrig three seasons in the dust. That deserves some recognition here.

12. Hank Aaron, 6856 Career Total Bases (11.8%)

Aaron's homer record may be under seige, but his career total bases record, held by a margin of some 700 over Stan Musial and nearly a thousand ahead of #4 Barry Bonds, remains safely out of reach. Aaron had 3771 hits, 98 triples and 624 doubles to go with 755 HR. To do that required durability (15 straight seasons of over 600 plate appearances, 19 straight of over 500, and the first year he fell short he still hit 40 homers), consistency, tremendous power and a good batting average, and he did it despite playing more tha half his prime years in a pitchers' park and running his career straight accross the low-scoring 1960s.

11. Old Hoss Radbourn, 59 Wins in 1884 (11.3%)

Unlike the innings record, winning a huge number of games in a season requires more than just showing up for work. Even at the height of the everyday starting pitcher's era, only three pitchers ever won 50 games in a season, and Radbourn beats the next closest (John Clarkson in 1885) by six wins despite having pitched, much unlike Clarkson, for a team that finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The man ended the 1884 season 47 games over .500 in a 112 game season, almost singlehandedly winning his team the pennant, and he did it the hard way, by posting a league-leading 1.38 ERA in a near-the-record 678.2 innings, and topped it off by winning all three games of the first-ever postseason 'world's series' without allowing an earned run.

1884 was the pinnacle of high-inning starting pitching (average innings started falling off sharply within two years), and talent was spread thin that year due to the upstart Union Association at a time when the two leagues barely had enough talent as it was. So, that counts against ranking Radbourn's feat even higher. But it's no exaggeration to say that he did more to help his team win that season than any player ever in any season.

10. Ty Cobb, .366 Career Batting Average (2.2%)

Cobb's margin over Rogers Hornsby is the narrowest of any record on the list, but he well deserves the high ranking. The lifetime batting average record is one of the game's most important and prestigious, and Cobb has held it wholly unchallenged for eight decades. I believe Hornsby and Al Simmons were the last significant players to crack .360 more than a season or two into their careers, and I don't believe anyone has actually been ahead of Cobb at the end of a season at any point since (Joe Jackson was above .370 through age 24, Willie Keeler through age 30). Plus, Cobb did most of his damage before the high-average 1920s arrived; at the end of 1919 he was a 32-year-old lifetime .372 hitter. Plus, unlike other percentage record-holders like Ed Walsh's career ERA record, Cobb held his pace over an extraordinarily long career, 24 seasons and more than 13,000 plate appearances.

9. Eric Gagne, 84 Consecutive Saves, August 28, 2002-July 3, 2004 (39.2%)

Gagne's streak, like Hubbell's, was sort of interrupted, albeit by a blown save in the All-Star Game. And yes, saves are somethingof an artificial stat. But still, Gagne's whole job was to close out wins, and for nearly two years he did that every time he was asked without fail, surpassing the prior record (Tom Gordon with 54) by a margin of 30 saves.

8. Pedro Martinez, 0.737 WHIP in 2000 (4.3%)

Baserunners per inning, or WHIP, is a bit of an obscure stat - or was until the dawn of rotisserie baseball - but it's a real measure of pitching excellence to hold the all-time record for it. Pedro's also third on the career list, surrounded entirely by a top 10 of deadball-era pitchers like Walsh and Addie Joss and Three Finger Brown. His single season record is 4.3% ahead of #2 Guy Hecker in 1882, but Hecker pitched just 104 innings; he's 5.8% ahead of Walter Johnson's 1913 season.

I rate Pedro this highly because, while other players on this list reached their accomplishments under less than ideal conditions, nobody else set one so much in the teeth of hostile conditions. Pedro did this in Fenway Park in 2000, in a hitters' park (Pedro's road WHIP was 0.680) in a league with a 4.91 league ERA; he led the league in ERA by a margin of two runs and Mike Mussina at 1.187 had the only other WHIP in the league below 1.200.

7. Barry Bonds, .609 OBP, 232 Walks, 120 Intentional Walks in 2004 (10.2%, 36.5%, 266.7%)

All three of these records are integrally related, so I rate them as a single accomplishment. Bonds busted Ruth's walk record by 63 and Ted Williams' OBP record (set in his .406 season) by more than 50 points, and he did so in good part because he surpassed the second-highest non-Bonds IBB total (Willie McCovey's record) by a margin of 120-45. (Note that they didn't keep IBB in Ruth's day, he almost assuredly beat that in the years before Gehrig came up).

Yes, steroids. But still, taken on its own merits, those are mind-blowing margins on a couple of records I'd never thought would be broken.

6. Babe Ruth, .690 Career Slugging Percentage (8.8%)

Only 34 times in the game's history has anybody but Ruth slugged above .690 in a season; aside from Albert Pujols, who is still early in his career, only five other players have career figures above .600. Bonds is 82 points behind Ruth. The Babe sustained this pace over a 22-year career, leading the league 13 times in 14 years and only once having enough at bats to qualify and finishing lower than third.

5. Joe DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak, May 15, 1941-July 16, 1941 (27.2%)

Joe D's streak - unlike Gagne's - would be 57 if you counted the All-Star Game. What makes it even more amazing, as you probably know, is that he started a 17-game streak the day after this one ended. Another player could get hot and break this one, and I don't list it quite as high as the season and career records that follow, but it is nonetheless a sustained accomplishment of consistency, and the margin compared to the next-closest streak (Keeler and Pete Rose at 44 apiece) places it very high on this list.

4. Mike Marshall, 106 Games and 208.1 Relief Innings in 1974 (12.8%, 23.8%)

Unlike White's innings as a starter, Marshall's workload passes the "wow" test - it was recognized as a jaw-dropping accomplishment at the time it happened, and nobody else has tried anything like it since. The innings is the real whopper here (if you are wondering, the #2 non-Marshall total is Bob Stanley; the Steamah threw 168.1 innings in relief in 1978). Some LOOGY may yet challenge the games record a third of an inning at a time, but that relief innings record, though not set really so long ago, will never again be approached.

3. Nolan Ryan, 5714 Career Strikeouts (23.3% and falling)

Ryan's margin is being eaten away by the #2 man, who as of this morning is Roger Clemens, 17 Ks ahead of Randy Johnson. But both are ancient - Clemens is 44, Johnson is 43 - and more than a thousand strikeouts behind Ryan. Ryan maxed out the record in every direction - he started very young (19), set the single-season record at his peak, and pitched until he was 46. He threw heavy workloads at a very high strikeout rate. Yes, Ryan pitched in a great era for power pitchers, but he buried the record far from his most impressive contemporaries and way out of reach of anybody before or since.

2. Rickey Henderson, 1406 Career Steals (49.9%)

Rickey's record is just preposterous - nobody could have imagined when Lou Brock set the career steals record that somebody would not just blow by Brock but get halfway to lapping him. Like Ryan, Rickey started early, peaked above everyone else and stayed ridiculously late, and ended by putting his record so far out of reach that nobody will even talk about it again.

1. Cy Young, 511 Career Wins, 7354.2 Career Innings, 749 Career Complete Games (22.5%, 22.5%, 15.9%)

I'd be disinclined to rate Young at the top for mere durability, but first of all he ran off and hid with the career wins record, and hardly any record is more significant or prestigious; he did that in part by having the ninth-best career ERA relative to the league (by ERA+) of anybody with more than 2500 career innings, sixth-best among anybody with 3,000 innings, and he threw more than twice that. And second, while it's true that plenty of guys carried heavy workloads in Young's day, and while it's true that by the end of his career Young was facing guys who would have long pitching careers, Young and Young alone was able to do both, which is why his records stand so far and away beyond anyone in his era, before or since.

Consider this illustrative chart. Among all the pitchers who threw 400 innings in a season even once, only 12 of them managed to stay in a rotation (100 or more innings or 20 or more starts) for more than ten seasons, and everybody but Cy hit the wall by 14 seasons. I list each pitcher with their number of seasons throwing 400, 200 and 100 innings:

Pitcher400 IP200 IP100 IP
Cy Young51922
Pud Galvin91314
Kid Nichols51314
Tim Keefe71114
Bobby Mathews7914
Vic Willis11313
Adonis Terry1913
Mickey Welch61112
Tony Mullane61112
Old Hoss Radbourn61111
John Clarkson6911
Gus Weyhing51111

Note: Pud Galvin threw about 100 innings in the National Association; if you discount that, Young's margin for Major League innings expands. The chart includes as well Bobby Mathews' NA experience. Also, Kid Nichols, Young's nearest contemporary, won 20 games twice in the minor league Western Association in mid-career and then returned to be a top major league pitcher without missing a beat, so he would be closer to Young than anyone else, but still far behind.

This is why Young stands alone at the top. Nobody can match his ability to carry those huge 19th century workloads and keep going into his 40s.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:53 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (41) | TrackBack (0)

Hack Wilson's 190 RBIs.

Posted by: Al at July 12, 2007 11:26 AM

Wilson's RBI total is high, but you had two other guys in the 180s within a few seasons, he did it at the high watermark of scoring in the NL, and he had a lot of help from his teammates.

Posted by: The Crank at July 12, 2007 11:38 AM

Don't look now, but Curtis Granderson is currently on pace for 34 triples, just two off The Chief's pace. I don't think he can keep it up, but it is interesting to see.

Posted by: BJB at July 12, 2007 12:32 PM

Not a record but one thing that has always stood out to me was during the famed 1927 season when Ruth hit 60 home runs as the #3 hitter, Lou Gehrig drove in 175 runs as the #4 hitter. Imagine the guys hitting behind Bonds or McGwire or Sosa during those juiced up seasons driving in more runs than them (since they cleared the bases 60+ times before they even got in the batters box). Add in that Gehrig was walked 109 times and threw in 21 sacrifices that season and, to me, it's remarkable that he was able to drive in that number of runners and is one of the most productive seasons* in history - if not THE most productive.

*155 game season, to boot.

Posted by: RW at July 12, 2007 12:33 PM

Great post, Crank. For me, it was always Babe's .690 slugging percentage. It's gonna take an aluminum bat to break that one.

Posted by: steve at July 12, 2007 12:37 PM

One I should have added to the Honorable Mentions was Gehrig's 13 consecutive seasons of both 100 Runs and 100 RBI.

Posted by: The Crank at July 12, 2007 12:37 PM

What about Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968? I don't see anyone getting there any time soon.

Posted by: maddirishman at July 12, 2007 12:41 PM

I enjoyed the post, but the total bases record is a joke. Bonds has 2500 walks in his career, which is why he's 900 "total bases" away from Hank Aaron. Or, you could look at total bases more literally and note that Bonds is up, 8423 to 8258.

Posted by: Jay at July 12, 2007 12:42 PM

Gibson's isn't a record. The post-1893 record is 0.96 by Dutch Leonard in 1914, the NL record is 1.04 by Three Finger Brown. Overall, 12 pitchers in the 20th century had ERAs below 1.30. Gibson does stand 36.6% above Gooden for the best post-1920 ERA, but that's not really any sort of official record.

Posted by: The Crank at July 12, 2007 12:51 PM

How did Sam Crawford's lifetime triples record not make the list?

Posted by: Mike at July 12, 2007 12:51 PM

Also, if you are looking for relative ERAs, Gibson is fifth on the post-1893 ERA+ list, behind Pedro in 2000, Walter Johnson in 1913 and Greg Maddux in 1994 and 1995.

As for Crawford, he's less than 5% ahead of his own teammate, Ty Cobb, with 295 triples.

Posted by: The Crank at July 12, 2007 12:54 PM

I had no idea about the disparity in Total Bases between Aaron and Bonds (and 2-3).

Posted by: Mr. Furious at July 12, 2007 1:34 PM

Definitely Cy Young's 749 CG. Only two other pitchers have even started more than 749 games (Ryan @ 773, Sutton @756) -- you can't break a record if you don't get even the theoretical minimum # of chances.

It is theoretically possible for a hitter to hit 100 HR in 100 AB, but you can't have 750 CG if you only have 700 starts.

Posted by: rbj at July 12, 2007 2:47 PM

One former record that really impresses me, is Rickey Henderson getting 2,190 walks. That's the guy you didn't want to walk. The other top guys on that list over 2000 are all people you'd rather walk than throw a pitch to - Ruth, Williams, and Bonds.

Posted by: Devon's Baseball Thoughts at July 12, 2007 2:50 PM

I saw one once, but I can't remember exactly what it was. Something along the lines of "reaching base in consecutive plate appearances." And I think Williams had it with 16. Anyone know more?

Posted by: Matt at July 12, 2007 3:11 PM

I doubt that Ruth was intentionally walked 120 times in a season. It's obvious what happens to your walk totals when a mega-hitter like Ruth or Bonds get 60 or 80 more IBB's, they get close to 200 total walks, a figure Ruth never approached.

Posted by: John Perricone at July 12, 2007 3:33 PM

"rotisserie baseball"

Been a while since I've seen or heard that. Thanks, Crank.

Posted by: mikeski at July 12, 2007 3:40 PM

John - My mistake for being unclear - I meant that Ruth almost certainly surpassed McCovey's 45 IBB.

Posted by: The Crank at July 12, 2007 3:43 PM

To make Nolan's 7 no-hitters more substantial, he also holds the records for most no-hitters + 1 hitters, with 19.

Posted by: kthejoker at July 12, 2007 4:24 PM

Excellent job, Crank.

Under #8, I would note that Pedro Martinez has and most likely will retire with the highest career ERA+. The only caveat to Pedro's amazing 160 ERA+ for his career (second best is Lefty Grove 148) is that Martinez will finish with far fewer IPs than some of his best contemporaries.

Posted by: Rich Rifkin at July 12, 2007 4:45 PM

I thought Ruth's record for single-season slugging percentage was the most impressive in baseball until Bonds broke it. I'd have to consider it a bit less impressive in Bonds' tainted hands, though.

Posted by: Jerry at July 12, 2007 4:50 PM

For me, Joe Ds streak is the most impressive, closely followed by all of Nolan Ryan's accomplishments. Ichiro is way up there too. They are all very impressive, but some involved a lot of luck. As much as I love Cal Ripken, for example, he needed a lot of luck to set that record.

Posted by: Rene at July 12, 2007 5:03 PM

Rickey still holds the record for unintentional walks, at 2,129 (2,190 minus 67 IBBs).

Babe Ruth has a total of 2,062 walks, but as you point out, they did not keep records for how many were IBBs.

Barry Bonds currently has a total of 2,517 walks, of which 675 have been IBBs, leaving 1,842 UIBBs.

One other record I like (although it only beats out the second place guy by a sliver): Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive scoreless innings. It is only a third inning more than Drysdale, but the context -- leading the Dodgers to the pennant, and then the World Series -- makes it special.

Posted by: Srul Itza at July 12, 2007 5:09 PM

I'm not sure how to phrase it as a "record," but Lou Gehrig having three of the top six RBI seasons ever (174, 175, and 184) is ludicrous.

Posted by: G.Bubble at July 12, 2007 5:35 PM

The second longest winning streak for a pitcher was 22 by Roy Face, 1958-59.

According to Dave Smith of Retrosheet, Ruth drew around 80 IBBs in 1923.

Posted by: Cliff at July 12, 2007 5:58 PM

Keith Woolner at Baseball Prospectus did an article on "hidden perfect games" a while back, looking for starting pitchers who retired 27 consecutive batters, even across multiple starts.

I recall that he mentioned that the record for consecutive perfect innings was in the 20's for post-1920, but in the 30's for post-1893. That might qualify for a list of this type.

Posted by: Subrata Sircar at July 12, 2007 9:07 PM

Keith Woolner at Baseball Prospectus did an article on "hidden perfect games" a while back, looking for starting pitchers who retired 27 consecutive batters, even across multiple starts.

I recall that he mentioned that the record for consecutive perfect innings was in the 20's for post-1920, but in the 30's for post-1893. That might qualify for a list of this type.

Posted by: Subrata Sircar at July 12, 2007 9:07 PM

A little bit obscure maybe; my favorite Joe DiMaggio number is the combination of 361 career homers and 369 career strike outs. To make that fit into something that could be called a 'record'....

Strike outs divided by home runs, limited to players with at least 100 homers. Joe DiMaggio, with a number of 1.022, beats #2 Lefty O'Doul (113 homers) by 5.6%; restrict it to players with at least 300 homers and DiMaggio beats Yogi by 13%.

Posted by: Mike Molloy at July 13, 2007 12:54 AM

It's probably too negative (and definitely too esoteric) to be included, but Whitey Alperman only walked two times in 442 PA in 1909, a fantastically low walk rate. The second-most plate appearances by a player with only 2 BB was Rob Picciolo's 281 in 1980.

Posted by: Theron at July 13, 2007 1:24 AM

Streaks have such an element of luck and opponent strategy that I wouldn't make them part of this type discussion. A truly dominant hitter in the midst of an incredible hot streak may face a team which simply chooses to give him nothing to hit. Joe D's streak is amazing, but was it the best 56 game stretch of hitting ever? If not, it is impressive because of something else in addition to his talent.

I would restrict the list of impressive records to those that are purely a function of talent (or at least as much as possible).

Also have a problem with records for singles or doubles. Ichiro's singles record is a function of his lack of power. Why is that impressive? Speaker's doubles record cuts both ways. Sometimes a double is a triple hit by a slow runner (although I doubt that was true for Tris). If he used his great speed to get doubles out of singles, that is impressive. If the doubles are due to lack of home run power, why is that more impressive than the hitter who had fewer doubles because more of his line drives left the park?

I would love to see someone focus on records/seasons which exceed the contemporary median by the largest number of standard deviations. I imagine that Ruth's home run seasons would likely top the list by large margins.

Posted by: stan at July 13, 2007 10:27 AM

This is all good stuff. You need to do another list for "unusual records" in baseball...ones that are truly incredible, but may be crazy statistical abnormalities (like the Alperman one stated by Theron)...I remembered that Jose Cruz for the Astros had 7448 plate appearances but only 3 hit batsmen...that one HBP for every 2482 plate appearances, or roughly once for every five years as a full time starter in MLB...that is just amazing...Biggio, for contrast, in the same number of plate appearances, was doing one HBP for every 46 plate appearances...

This is why baseball is the best game in the world.

Posted by: AstrosFan at July 13, 2007 10:33 AM

No Pete Rose 4,256?

I don't like the guy but I think it is an impressive record, certainly in a list of top 20.

Posted by: DaveW at July 13, 2007 2:01 PM

I rank this as the #1 post of the year! Thanks Crank. I still have to go with Joe Di's 56 game hit streak as the greatest. Perhaps its vulnerability, the fact that it IS breakable makes it even more precious.

Posted by: Stephen at July 13, 2007 9:14 PM

Great post, Crank. Owen Wilson's record has always stood out to me as maybe the most unassailable single season record. Bonds in '04 showed that some of the "Ruthian" records ARE breechable. But the way the game is played today in the field suggests that 30+ triples is impossible.

And that's why only one man in 125+ years has ever hit more than 26 . . . at any level, including the minors.

Posted by: Mike at July 14, 2007 9:24 AM

Here's one that no one will break --- George Brett's record of a batting title in three different decades.

Posted by: PhillieBuster at July 14, 2007 11:12 PM

Babe's 13 OPS titles (1918-1931), though broken by his part-time 1925 is pretty friggin' awesome ... though you already have him down for career slugging percentage. Also, his 12 HR titles.

But I'm going to say his most amazing achievement - leading the league in three major pitching categories (GS - 1916, CG - 1917, ShO - 1916) plus several others like Adj. ERA+ (1916) ... ON TOP of his hitting achievements ... is like, something that will NEVER EVER EVER be duplicated.

Posted by: D. Aristophanes at July 16, 2007 2:50 AM

By comparison, Lefty O'Doul was fifth in the AL in Games Finished in 1923, in addition to his two batting titles (and one OBP title) as a hitter.

By comparison? There's no comparison.

Posted by: D. Aristophanes at July 16, 2007 2:54 AM

Barry Bonds's 500 home runs/500 stolen bases has always seemed very impressive to me.

Posted by: Bob at July 16, 2007 5:13 PM

Whether this is the most impressive or not, in my opinion it is the most difficult record to tie, let alone break:
Fernando Tatis' two grand slams in one inning, April 23, 1999 for the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

Given the odds of ANY player batting with the bases loaded in the same inning is so remote, I can't imaging this record ever being tied. Any mathematicians out there that could calculate the odds?

Posted by: Socalgm at July 16, 2007 6:04 PM

I have one quick question....I know Cal has the most consecutive innings played, but who holds the record for most career innings played? Thanks for your help!

Posted by: MIKE GRAVES at July 17, 2007 1:24 PM

Here's one I thought was amazing. I recently read a site
where Frank Robinson said that Joe DiMaggio may have the most impressive statistic of all time, and it's not his 56 consecutive game hitting streak. Rather, it's his power to strikeout ratio; for he has 361 career home runs and only 369 strikeouts in his career. This says that he had a great eye and hit a decent amount of home runs without over-swinging. How's that for discipline?

Posted by: Tom Henderson at July 22, 2007 5:18 PM
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