With Derek Jeter becoming the 28th player to join the 3000 hit club, I thought it would be timely to take a look at the all time records which are the most unlikely to ever be surpassed. Some of these are date back to the Deadball Era, others were set as recently as 2003. Either way, the records count.
Wins-511 by Cy Young
This is one of the safest records in all of professional sports. The game has changed so much that it’s a monumental feat to get to 300 victories. The 400 win club is only shared by Walter Johnson (417) and the only modern players in the top 10 for career Wins are Greg Maddux (355) and Roger Clemens (354). In Young’s time, it was common for pitchers to start 40-50 games a year AND pitch occasionally in relief. With 5 man rotations and starters averaging 30-35 starts per year, it’s hard enough to win 20 games these days. Doing it for 25 consecutive years is unthinkable.
Stolen Bases-1406 by Ricky Henderson
The stolen base has gone in and out of vogue in recent years. It was thought of not being worth the risk during the steroid era, but has made a comeback in recent years. But whatever the zeitgeist may be, whatever era you look at, Henderson was unquestionably the best base stealer of all time. The next man on the list is Lou Brock at 938, and contemporaries Tim Raines (808) and Vince Coleman (752) are nowhere close. You’d have to average 100 SB a year for a 14 year career to match Ricky, and no one has stolen 100 in a single season since Vince Coleman in 1987.
Career Batting Average-.366 Ty Cobb
While a player may still be able to bat .366 for one season, to average that over the arc of a career will never happen again in today’s game. For context, Cobb is the only player in history to have batted over .400 three times. No one has batted .400 since Ted Williams in 1946. The career Batting Average list is mostly populated by Deadball Era players, with only Williams (.344) Ruth (.342) and Gehrig (.340) hailing from the modern era. The closest player of recent vintage is Tony Gywnn, who registers at # 19 on the list with a .338 career mark.
Career Strikeouts-5714 by Nolan Ryan
The 5000 strikeout club has one name on it, and its Nolan Ryan. The all time strikeout list is populated by modern players such as Randy Johnson (4875) Roger Clemens (4672) and Steve Carlton (4136) but in the 150+ years of recorded baseball no one else has broken the 4000 mark. If a pitcher averaged 350 Ks per year it would take 16+ straight seasons to match Nolan. The last players north of 350 were two National Leaguers, Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks (1999-364 Ks/2001-372 Ks) and Sandy Kofax of the Dodgers (1965-382 Ks). Ryan struck out 383 in the American League for the Angels in 1973, the last AL pitcher to register more than 350 Ks in a season was…nobody. Though Bob Feller came close in 1946 (348). Both his AL mark and career total are thought to be unbreakable.
Career Walks-2795 by Nolan Ryan
Ryan has another distinction in the annals of baseball, though this one is more dubious. He’s the only member of the 2000 Walks club and is ahead of the next man on the list (Steve Carlton 1833) by over 50%. Over the past 20 years, the league leaders in free passes have ranged from 81 (Ramon Martinez 1985) to 144 (Randy Johnson 1992) for a full season. Nolan actually walked over 200 batters twice (1974/1977) in his career. If you were to average 185 BBs per year for a 15 year career, you would still fall 20 short of the Ryan Express. No one besides Ryan has walked 185 since Sam Jones did it once in 1955.
7 Career No Hitters by Nolan Ryan
This record sums up the type of pitcher Nolan was on a day to day basis. He could have games where he was brutal, would walk the bases loaded and have no idea where the ball was going. But when he was on, he could be literally unhittable. Having a no-hitter in a pitcher’s career is usually chalked up to luck, but 7 no-hitters (along with 12 one-hitters) says something about the pitcher’s dominance. The closest pitcher to Ryan is Sandy Kofax, who threw four no-hitters. Nolan Ryan is the oldest pitcher to throw a no hitter (43) and twirled two past the age of 40. He also had 24 no hitters broken up in the 7th inning or later, which is by far and away the MLB record.
Consecutive No Hitters by Johnny VanderMeer
The back story of Johnny V’s consecutive no hitters is that it was the early days of night baseball, when they were still working out the kinks. The 2nd no-hitter was the first night baseball game ever at Ebbets Field, and there were reports of batters complaining about the conditions. Nevertheless, it counts and is considered one of the most unbreakable records in baseball. Breaking it would require someone to pitch 3 straight no hitters, which is unfathomable.
Career ERA+: 205 by Mariano Rivera
For all Mo’s post season records, this is the one that stands out in my mind as his greatest individual accomplishment. ERA+ compares eras of the game, weighting a players performance against the run environment, and Rivera is the only member of the 200 club among qualifiers (min 1000 IP). For context, the rest of the top 10 ranges from scores of 142-154 and includes some of the greatest pitchers who ever lived such as Pedro Martinez and Walter Johnson. While it’s not totally fair to compare starters to relievers, the next highest relievers are Dan Quisenberry (147) Trevor Hoffman (141) and John Franco (138). No matter how you score it, Mariano’s in a class by himself. But you knew that already.
Walter Johnson’s 110 Career Shutouts
In our era of specialization, where setup men and Closers are an everyday fact of life, this is a record that will never be approached, much less equaled. The active leader in career shutouts is Roy Halladay, who has 19 at age 34. Nolan Ryan pitched 26 years and finished his career (tied with Tom Seaver) at 61 career shutouts. In the context of today’s game, this record is every bit as unbreakable as Cy Young’s win total.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak
This is one that is harder than it sounds. You have to get a hit everyday, and when pitchers know you’re hot they tend to pitch around you or make adjustments. To be sure there’s some luck involved, but you also need to be locked in for an inconceivable amount of time. Most great players are happy to be ‘in the zone’ for a week or two, this record spanned from May 15 through July 16 of 1941. It’s harder to do today because modern managers match up with relievers in late innings, whereas Joe D was often hitting against the starter in the late innings. The closest modern player to approach the mark was Pete Rose in 1978 with a 44 game streak.
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