Records are made to be broken, that what’s been said right? In Major League Baseball there are historical records that simply will NEVER be broken.
As we peruse through the throngs of baseball’s records that have been available to be surpassed, you will find that most of them were established many ions ago, some before the turn of the 20th century. Most have withstood the test of time while there are still some current players and modern era athletes that appear in the top 10 of some of these categories.
With how Major League Baseball has evolved with specialty pitching, distancing the game from the basics of how the game is played, and limiting players to avoid injuries has resulted in the odds that many historical records will simply never be surpassed.
I’ll begin with the offensive side of things and records that are in the books for batters. While there have been a handful of players who finished a season with an average above .400 (in fact just 30 men have accomplished the feat), it hasn’t been done since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. That was 78 years ago and there have been some players since then that flirted with that number but never surpassed it. In today’s game, it still could happen but it appears unlikely. The highest average ever reached for a season was off the bat of Hugh Duffy who hit .439 way back in 1894.
Here’s an odd record…games played in one season. Baseball has had seasons of 148, 154, and now the norm 162 games. So obviously there are probably many players that played in ever game. But 162 is not the record. In fact, the mark stands at 165 by the Dodger’s Maury Wills in 1962. That’s because both the San Francisco Giants and L.A. finished in a tie 101-61 record and then played in a best of three series to determine the N.L. pennant winner which ended up being the Dodgers.
These days we have the two wild card teams and if any team finishes in a tie for the division, there is just a one game playoff thus the maximum number of games that can be played is 163. You would think if Wills played in three extra games, perhaps he would have the record for most at-bats. WRONG. That belongs to Jimmy Rollins who in 2007 stepped to the plate a record 716 times for the Philadelphia Phillies. Willie Wilson a former American Leaguer, finished second all time with 705 at-bats in 1980. Not since Rollins record was set has any other player come close.
So now we get to the good stuff. The hits and runs. Not since 1936 has any player stepped into the top 10 in runs scored so the leader in history remains Billy Hamilton who crossed the plate 198 times in pre-1900 1894. The latest top 10 finisher in this category was the “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig who scored 167 times in 1936. Gehrig appears a second time on the list at #9 with 163 runs scored five years prior to the ’36 mark. “The Great Bambino” Babe Ruth is also a double entrée also with 163 in 1928 and near the top with 177 in 1921.
A recent future Hall of Fame player recently retired and could be considered one of the greatest single hitters of all-time that being Ichiro Suzuki. The Japanese import holds the record for most hits in a single season with 262 that he reached in 2004. Suzuki will no doubt be a first ballot hall of famer based on his numbers alone.
That same year he set the hits record he set the standard for singles in one campaign by getting 225 singles in those 262 hits. When you look at his career as a whole, Ichiro Suzuki is 6th all time in singles and 24th in hits. The closest player to Suzuki’s single season record of hits was George Sisler who in 1920 had 257. Bill Terry (1930) and Chuck Klein (1930) were the last players to hit the top 10 when they scored 254 and 250 respectively.
Interestingly enough, rounding out the top 100 all-time is Suzuki himself when he had 242 in 2001. Hall of Fame bound? ABSOLUTELY. In that singles list of top 10 all-time, Suzuki has placed his name there four times. You might think the all-time hits leader and a man also known for singles; Pete Rose would be in that list but “Charlie Hustle” is actually 32nd all-time for one season singles with 181.
If not a single, how about a double? The career leader is one Earl Webb who in 1931 reached second base on a hit 67 times. In the same year of 2000, two men broke the top 10 list and they were Todd Helton and Carlos Delgado with Helton hitting doubles 59 times and Delgado 57. Thus far, I’ve given you records that may never be broken. Much has been said about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak the one baseball record that will never be surpassed but as you’ve seen already, there are records that will be very difficult to break given today’s philosophies and game styles.
One hit that is very hard to accomplish is the triple. To get to third base on one at-bat requires a ball to be hit deep, in the gap, off the wall and take a hard bounce, and good speed to boot. In 1912, Chief Wilson did it 36 times and the record has never been threatened since. Only Pittsburgh’s Kiki Cuyler came close with 26 in 1925 as the latest entrant into the top 10.
Now for the sweet spot…the home run. The round tripper. The four bagger. With bases full, it’s called a grand slam. Baseball fans everywhere know who the single season leader is. That would be Barry Bonds with that crazy year in 2001 when he beat the record set by Mark McGwire who had set the tone with 70 dingers in 1998. Of course both are accused of using steroids so many place an asterisk next to their names when mentioning this record.
There is NO WAY anyone is ever going to pass 73 let alone probably even come close to the old record of 61 that was established by Roger Maris in 1961. “61 in ‘61” weird huh? Well, his mark was originally broken by both McGwire and Sammy Sosa in their infamous “home run chase” of 1998 when at season’s end, the St. Louis Cardinals player had 70 and the Cubbie infielder finished with 66. A year later, McGwire would smack another 65 while his partner in crime Sosa smashed 63 more. Sosa would go over 60 again in 2001 with 64.
37 years Maris’ record stood then in a span of just four seasons Bonds would set the new record with 73, McGwire had his 70 and 65, and Sosa hit his 66, 64, and 63 in ’99. A little fishy ain’t it? Juiced ball or juiced players? Two other players in the top 10 neared 60 home runs in a season but failed to top the 60 mark. They were Giancarlo Stanton with 59 in 2017 and Ryan Howard with 58 in 2006. McGwire also had 58 in 1997.
Because of these two players McGwire and Sosa, their multiple appearances in the top of the list of single season home run leaders have caused other great players from the past to fail to reach the top 10. Along with Maris, Babe Ruth appears twice in the #8 and 9 slot with 60 and 59 round trippers. Jimmie Foxx is 11th with 58 as is Hank Greenberg. That’s it for the Hall of Fame players. Do Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa make it into Cooperstown one day? So far that’s a big no. HOF writers refuse to place any of the three in with their votes solely based on the accusations made against them for use of steroids.
More records now that will most likely stand forever. How about total bases? Babe Ruth remains the king there with 457 in 1921. Rogers Hornsby an amazing infielder came next with 450. Both these men played in 26 long seasons in the major leagues. Only one players has cracked the top 10 since “Stan the Man” Musial accounted for 429 in 1948. It comes as little surprise that it was Sammy Sosa with 425 in 2001. I ask you, Rogers Hornsby or Sosa? Musial or Sosa? Get my point?
Before we move on to another major category, let’s talk bases full dingers. Grand slams. That’s more of a modern record with Travis Hafner and Don Mattingly each hitting six in one season for most ever. Haffner did it in 2006 with Cleveland while we all know where Mattingly played his ball and the former Yankee did it in 1987.
“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks smashed five in 1955 and Albert Pujols still playing today matched that in 2009. All-time, Alex Rodriguez (another home run smasher who did steroids and is being discounted for the HOF) holds the career mark in this category by hitting an incredible 25 grand slams from 1994 through 2015. Rounding out the top 10 are:
Lou Gehrig (23)
Manny Ramirez (21)
Eddie Murray (19)
Willie McCovey (18)
Robin Ventura (18)
Jimmie Foxx (17)
Carlos Lee (17)
Ted Williams (17)
Hank Aaron (16)
Dave Kingman (16)
Babe Ruth (16)
So we’ve discussed singles, doubles, triples, and homers. Add them all up and you have extra base hits. That’s a recorded statistic too and for one season, Babe Ruth had the most when he accounted for 119 in 1921. “The Sultan of Swat” has retained that record since he set it although several more current players have cracked the top 10. Barry Bonds nearly reached the pinnacle of this category when he had 107 EBHs in 2001 to put him third all time behind Lou Gehrig’s 117. Tod Helton with that big 2001 year scored 105. Albert Belle had 103 in 1995, and Helton again in 2000 made 103 extra base hits. Then there’s Sosa again with 103 in 2001.
Of course when you hit a home run you get an automatic RBI. Leaders in runs batted in are Hack Wilson whose 191 has stood for the nearly 90 years that was placed in the books in 1930. Lou Gehrig came close with 185 a year later and Hank Greenberg knocked in 184 in 1937. No modern player is in the top 10. All the top 10 marks came from 1937 or earlier.
One statistic it seems no one pays much attention to anymore are stolen bases. I grew up watching the great Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson, two of the biggest base thieves in history. I also had the pleasure of seeing speedy Vince Coleman in action. Those three men find themselves in the all-time list for most stolen bases in a season as Henderson set the modern day record of 130 in 1982, but that’s not the all-time record.
The top mark belongs to Hugh Nicol who played 29 years of baseball and in 1887 stole 138 bases. Lou Brock who was considered the stolen base king is fourth all-time in a season with 118 the record that Henderson broke but was set by the former St. Louis Cardinal in 1974. Vince Coleman’s best mark was in 1985 when he finished with 110. Billy Hamilton another great base stealer took 111 of his own twice in 1889 and 1891. Something that you rarely see anymore home plate being stolen. It’s one of the most difficult tasks in baseball and least ever challenged. With that said, the great Ty Cobb, not just one of the best players ever but also one of the finest base stealers in history, finished his career as the fourth best base stealer ever with 897.
But it’s Cobb who specialized in the theft of home having accomplished the near impossible a crazy 54 times. 50 with the Detroit Tigers and four with Philadelphia. Cobb holds the record as well for home steals in one season with eight in 1912. Pete Reiser holds the National League record with seven in 1946.
One way to get on base obviously is either with a hit or by being walked, intentionally or not, and then getting hit by a pitch. Barry Bonds has received the most walks in a season and he is not only the leader all-time, he holds positions 1-3. His highest total at the top was 232 in 2004. In 2002 it was 198, and in 2001, 177. Babe Ruth is next with 170. Mark McGwire rounds out the top five with 162 in 1998. Bonds also shares the 9th spot with Eddie Yost having received a base on balls 151 times for the both of them.
No players wants to get hit by a pitch but then you had guys like Bob Gibson who would purposely hit a batter to brush him off the plate. Many times, that is the strategy to push hitters away from the plate and thus they would get plunked. In one season alone in 1896, Hughie Jennings got stung at the plate by a pitch 51 times to top Ron Hunt who earned a reputation of getting plunked often by one hit batter. Hunt’s 50 tops Jennings’ repeated marks of 46 in both 1897 and 1898.
Obviously, Jennings was a marked man or he must have crowded the plate. Some other more modern well known names rounding out this list are Don Baylor getting having the white sphere land on his body somewhere 35 times in 1986. Craig Biggio also got plunked 34 times in 1997.
Finally at the plate we have the worst way to make an out and that is by striking out. Be it called strikes or going down swinging, this all-time list is one most players would rather not be a part of. Alas, Mark Reynolds, still active, holds the record for most Ks in a season with 223 that he set in 2009. To give you an idea of today’s game; most of the top 10 players are still playing in 2019.
Chris Davis, struggling this year in Baltimore is third with 219 set three seasons ago. The other players in the top 10 still taking the field this year are Yoan Moncada (217-2018), Chris Carter (212-2013), Reynolds again with 211 in 2010, Giancarlo Stanton (211-2018), Davis again with another 208 in 2015, Aaron Judge (208-2017), and Joey Gallo with 207 last year.
Out to the mound we go and pitching records. This is where Major League Baseball has changed the most. With the specialization of relief pitching, managers trying to save arms with shorter outings for starters, and short inning specialists called “closers,” pitching records set years ago will probably never even come close to being broken or tied.
Let’s talk victories first. Incredibly, the most for one year was 60 which is in some cases as many games as a single team might win all year. But that is the record and it came in 1884 when Old Hoss Radbourn won 60 games as a pitcher and the man played in 29 baseball seasons. It’s hard to win just 20 these days, so 60 will ABSOLUTELY never be touched.
You want modern day? The most by anyone in the top 10 playing after 1899 belongs to a great pitcher, Walter Johnson who won 36 in 1913. The other top nine pitchers all played in 1889 or before. Radbourn and anyone in the top 10 have a win total that will never be challenged with Matt Kilroy rounding out the list with 46 wins in 1887.
Would you like another pitching statistic guaranteed to NEVER be broken? That’s because this category is hardly ever attained anymore. That would be complete games. Again, the top 10 marks all came before 1900 and the most was 75 by Will White in 1879. I could give more modern numbers but what is the point? Complete games now are such a rarity the likelihood of even the top 50 being reached can not even be considered.
The same can be said for games started. With pitching rotations now of 4-5 players, no one is going to have a bulk of starts. For the record, Pud Galvin who played 26 Major League seasons started 75 games in 1883. The 10th spot is held by Kilroy again who started 69 in 1887. Once again, no pitcher these days given rotations and injury protection is going to come close to a record setting season for games started.
One statistic that give a solid reflection of the effectiveness of a pitcher is their Earned Run Average (ERA). In 1968 Bob Gibson pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals had a dominating year which saw his ERA at season’s end at a crisp 1.12. That is the fourth highest total in history. The top of the heap belongs to Tim Keefe who in 1880 finished with a mark of 0.85. That will NEVER be touched. The remaining top 10 is littered with big names…Christy Mathewson, Dutch Leonard, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Walter Johnson, and Addie Joss.
Today’s game of baseball is all about “specialization.” Specifically with pitching and relief pitching. The game has evolved from a simple saved game to ridiculous. Back in the day, saves meant much more without all the fluff of additional stats. The most saves in one season were recorded by Mike Marshall who netted 106 in 1974. The Pittsburgh Pirates Kent Tekulve is a distant second tied with Salomon Torres at 94. The last man to break the top 10 was Pedro Feliciano who saved 92 games in 2010. Given today’s strategies, I don’t believe Marshall’s 106 is in jeopardy of being broken.
Let’s stay with pitching and talk about innings pitched. Again, because of today’s philosophies, pitchers don’t stay in the game long, thus, records in this category are probably there to stay. Will White is the all-time record holder for innings pitched in a season and he was in there for 680 of them way back in 1879. The top 10 is nothing but men from pre-1892. The 10th man on the list, Bill Hutchinson pitched 622 innings in 1892. The closest anyone came in the 20th century was Ed Walsh who pitched in 464 innings in 1908.
The highest ranked pitcher since 1970 is Wilbur Wood in 1972 when he finished with 376 2/3 innings pitched, good for 274th all time. Of course, the more innings you pitch the more chances you have at establishing strike out records. Automatically most fans will think of Nolan Ryan when it comes to striking out batters. Ryan is indeed one of the greatest pitchers ever with his seven no-hitters and strikeout records, but the most he ever K’d in one campaign was 383 in 1973 and that was only the 8th best mark ever.
The record belongs to another pre-1900 pitcher, Matt Kilroy who struck out 513 in 1886. Ryan is not the only top 10 entrant however from the 20th century as the great Sandy Koufax is right behind Ryan with 382 strikeouts. So many pitching records that will stand the test of time and along with those are shutouts. That stat is like a dinosaur. It’s extinct. Occasionally you will get one here or there but breaking any records in that category? Forget about it.
The record for most games in a season with a shutout was set in 1916 when Pete Alexander had 16. He tied the record of George Bradley who matched that total in 1876. When Bob Gibson had that banner season in 1968 with the fantastic ERA, he also shut out 13 teams to bring him to third all-time. Again in this category, you will find some of the greatest pitchers ever (Pud Galvin, Dean Chance, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Old Hoss Radbourn, and Ed Walsh).
While we have been discussing successes of the mound, there are also statistics that pitchers would not like to be ranked in. A good beginning to this topic would be home runs allowed in a season. Modern day player Bert Blyleven unfortunately has the top position all-time by allowing 50 home runs in just the 1986 season. In 2000, Jose Lima nearly broke his record by surrendering 48 round trippers. Just eight years ago, Bronson Arroyo got smacked around for 46 dingers.
For poor Blyleven he’s on the list twice having given up another 46 a year after he established high for one season. No pitcher wants to issue a walk unless of course it’s intentional. In 1890 Amos Rusie walked 289 batters. Again, the top 10 is only pitchers from the pre-1900’s. Hits allowed in a season by one pitcher? Try 772 by John Coleman in 1883. Once again, no one in the 20th century cracks the top 10. While there have been pitchers with a boatload of losses on their record for one season, NO ONE will ever lose 48 as did John Coleman in 1883.
You would have to go to 1905 to find someone ranked that played after 1899 and it was Vic Willis who lost 29. The highest ranking pitcher anywhere near today’s era would be two players (Roger Craig lost 24 in 1962 and Jack Fisher (24 in 1965). We could talk about wild pitches but the record keepers there are also all pre-1900 with the record being 82 set by Mark Baldwin who threw the ball awry 83 times in 1889. Plunking a batter? 54 times for Phil Knell in 1891.
Fielding statistics are not that attractive thus not followed very closely. But still, there have been some pretty outstanding fielders in the history of baseball and in more modern times, Ozzie Smith used to marvel us on the infield while manning shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. Smith is easily one of the greatest if not the best defensive shortstops in the history of Major League Baseball.
You won’t find Smith in the top 10 however for putouts but he is second all-time in assists when he has 621 in 1980. “The Wizard of Oz” fell 22 assists short of tying Frankie Frisch’s all-time mark. Cal Ripken, owner of the longest consecutive game playing streak in history is in the top 10 with 583 in 1984. As far as putouts, the record belongs to Jiggs Donahue to 1,846 in 1907. Playing first base also gives fielders more opportunities for putouts and that is where Donahue played.
Interestingly in this category the 9th most putout ever were by Wally Pipp. Anyone who knows baseball history has heard the story of “Wally Pipp.” He was the first baseman for the New York Yankees until he was sat for Lou Gehrig and the “Iron Horse” never looked back and held his job there until he retired. The man just behind Pipp on the all-time putout list is none other than the man who forced him from a starting job Lou Gehrig.
The great Ernie Banks also ranks among the top 10 players for most putouts in one season and “Mr. Cub” who never got to play in a World Series finished his career with 1,682 putouts. Like a pitcher throwing a wild pitch, a fielder does not want to make an error. That goes on his record. The record for most errors in one season belongs to Herman Long who made 122 oopsies in 1889 matched by Billy Shindle one season later. Highly doubtful those records will ever be touched given the athleticism of today’s baseball player.
For a catcher in baseball, he can make an error but he can also let a pitch get by him which would go in the books as a “passed ball.” In 1883, Rudy Kemmler committed 114 passed balls for the all-time record. Chris Fulmer nearly beat that three years later by allowing 113 baseballs to get by him. A catcher can shine by throwing out potential base stealers and Deacon McGuire is one man you would not want to run on...or would you? McGuire holds both the record for one season throwing out runners trying to steal with 189 back in 1895 but in that same season he also allowed an additional 293 base runners to grab an extra base on him. No modern day player ranks in the top 10 in either category.
So we’ve covered single season records most of which will never be broken or tied. But what about the career marks? Some of those can be matched or broken and several already have. Let’s review the major records and see what has been established and when. Also those that may stand for years to come.
Pete Rose is the all-time singles leader and no active player is in the top 10. Rose finished with 3,215 ahead of Ty Cobb’s 3,053 so perhaps one day if a player is in the league long enough, maybe just maybe he can catch Pete Rose. For the record, Ichiro Suzuki after 19 seasons, finished with 2,514. He fell just behind Derek Jeter who managed 2,595. When it comes to doubling up, Pete Rose trails only Tris Speaker for the most doubles all-time. Rose finished with 746 where Speaker at the top had 792. Albert Pujols who is still active in 2019 is 8th on the list tied with the great Carl Yastrzemski (“Yaz”) at 646 so Pujols has a chance to move up a few notches before he finally hangs up the spikes. Craig Biggio is the highest most recently retired player on the list and he is in 5th with 668.
If you bang out a ball into a gap in the outfield, there’s a chance you can get an inside the park home run or perhaps a triple. Sam Crawford is the leader in triples for the history of Major League Baseball and he out-tripled Ty Cobb 309-295 for the best ever over the course of a career. The Pittsburgh Pirates Honus Wagner was third with 252. No players from second half of the 20th century appears on the list.
Then there is the granddaddy of all base hits, the home run. We all know Barry Bonds is at the top of the heap although many place an asterisk next to his name due to the allegations of steroid usage. It was once thought that Alex Rodriguez might catch Bonds but he finished his career with the fourth most homers all-time hitting 696. A-Rod still finished behind Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Bonds’ 762 total is probably a number that won’t be matched for a very long time if at all. Albert Pujols currently has 642 but he is very near the end so the only one most likely within reach would be Willie Mays who hit 660 for his career.
Home run hitters accumulate bases by the fours when they hit one out of the park. Obviously, a single brings one total base, a double two, and a triple three. The historical leader in total bases? Hank Aaron managed to retire with that lead and he has yet to relinquish the top spot. With 6,856 total bases, Aaron played one more season (23) than did “Stan the Man” Musial who is second with 6,134. Again, Albert Pujols finds himself in the top 10 of another list currently with 5,724 TBs. Pujols can move up this list before his career ends as well within reach of Pete Rose (5,752), Babe Ruth (5,793) and maybe Alex Rodriguez (5,813).
The offensive onslaught continues…”Hammering Hank” Aaron while losing the home run race to Barry Bonds, leads not just in total bases but also in Runs Batted In (RBIs). Bonds fell way short of catching Aaron (2,297-1,996) and in fact is sixth all-time. Alex Rodriguez on the other hand ended his career with the third best mark in history (2,086). Babe Ruth maintains second place at 2,214. There is Albert Pujols once again, currently in 5th trailing Cap Anson 2,075 to 2006.
For career hits, Pete Rose is king and will probably remain so for many years to come. He bested Ty Cobb’s record of 4,189 by finishing with 4,256. Derek Jeter is the most recent player to challenge the top 10 and get within those rankings by getting 3,465 hits lifetime good for sixth best ever. Perhaps to the surprise of some, Paul Molitor rounds out the top 10 with 3,319 hits. Albert Pujols probably won’t reach the 10 best players in history for this category however he does have 3,120 and that represents the 21st position.
Pete Rose is also not just the hits leader but he stepped to the plate more times than any other player in history, having had 14,053 chances at the plate. Hank Aaron is next with 12,364. Other more current players in the top 10 are Cal Ripken (11,551), Derek Jeter (11,195), Adrian Beltre (11,068), and Robin Yount (11008). As far as just taking the field, Pete Rose is at the top of the heap here with 3,562 games ahead of Yaz’s 3,308. Barry Bonds did crack the top 10 here with 2,986 games which is the last entry on the list.
There are still more offensive records to review and for stolen bases, Rickey Henderson is the #1 thief in baseball history having stolen 1,406 bases in 25 seasons, for an average of 56 per year. Henderson who ran past Lou Brock’s 938 will never be caught in my opinion. Tim Raines, another speedy modern era player stole 808 for his career. Vince Coleman another speedster stole 752 bases in his 13 year career. Of course you have to be on base or hit a home run to cross home plate in one fashion or another so we are talking runs scored here.
Rickey Henderson is not only the all-time thief in stolen bases, but he scored more times in baseball than any other player touching home plate a record 2,295 times. That’s 52 times more than second place finisher Ty Cobb. Barry Bonds ended in third with 2,227 ahead of Hank Aaron’s 2,174. A-Rod is in this list as well with 2,021 runs scored and 8th place.
While Barry Bonds received tons of intentional walks, that led him to being the all-time leader in base-on-balls surpassing Rickey Henderson’s 2,190 with a final mark of 2,558. Those two are trailed by Babe Ruth (2,062), Ted Williams (2,021), Joe Morgan (1,865), and Carl Yastrzemski (1,845). Finally there is the one stat no one wants to claim but is hard to avoid unless you have a keen eye and don’t swing at every pitch. That’s the K, the whiff, being blown away, having fanned, punched out, caught looking, or in more simpler terms…STRIKING OUT.
Unfortunately for the great Reggie Jackson, “Mr. October” is the king of Ks with 2,597. No one active is close to catching Reggie at the top as Jim Thome end his career in second with 2,548. Sammy Sosa while smacking home runs also got a called third strike or went down swinging 2,306 times good for fourth place in history. The top 10 in this list are all players who played from the 1970s on (Adam Dunn, A-Rod, Andres Galarraga, Jose Canseco, Willie Stargell, Mark Reynolds, Mike Cameron). For Reynolds who is still playing, he has a long way to go if he wants to be the all-time leader as with 1,904 he is currently 9th all-time but will most likely at least pass Stargell (1,936) and Canseco (1,942).
Players taking the mound to be pitchers also hold records that might never be broken especially as discussed, given the conditions and philosophies of today. Of note, while Babe Ruth is in multiple batting record categories, if you were not aware, the Babe was quite the pitcher before he turned slugger. Ruth pitched in 10 of his 22 seasons as a player and won 94 games while losing just 46. The Great Bambino tossed 17 shutouts and struck out 488 batters in 1,221.1 innings of work. Ruth even won 20 games in a season while pitching for Boston in 1916 and 1917 (23 and 24 wins respectively).
But for career wins, there is NO catching Cy Young’s record of 511 victories. Walter Johnson didn’t even come close in second place with 417. Modern players in the list total just three…Warren Spahn (363), Greg Maddux who finished with 355 wins, and Roger Clemens who had 354 but like Bonds, many have an asterisk next to him name also because of alleged steroid usage.
The strikeout kings in the top 10 are littered with names anyone of the past 40 years or so will recognize. The man at the top is Nolan Ryan who flew past Randy Johnson with 5,714 total Ks as Johnson hung up the glove later with 4,875. Clemens fell short of being #1 by striking out 4,672. The rest of the top 10 from 4-10 are Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, and Greg Maddux.
Another pitching stat that will remain unscathed is shutouts. Walter Johnson is the master of this category having thrown 110 in 21 seasons. Pete Alexander had 90 of his own and Christy Mathewson tossed 79 for third place. There are some more modern players who finished inside the top 10 (Warren Spahn-63, Nolan Ryan-61, Tom Seaver-61, Bert Blyleven-60, and Don Sutton-58). Forget talking much about complete games. That’s a thing of the past as far as consistency goes. Cy Young is the winningest pitcher with the most complete games (749). The players that lead in this category are all from a time most of weren’t even alive.
Control on the mound as far as ERA goes has a career record low of 1.816 set by Ed Walsh who played 14 big league seasons. No other modern player with five or more seasons appears on this list. While Cy Young holds several of these records, he’s nowhere to be found in games played. That belongs to Jesse Orosco who played for several teams from 1979-2003. Orosco who was primarily a reliever appeared in 1,252 games much more than the man trailing him, Mike Stanton and his 1,178 games. It seems being a relief pitcher is the way to get on this list as most of the players remaining are all relievers (John Franco, Mariano Rivera, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dan Plesac, Kent Tekulve).
With relief pitching comes saves. Rivera is tops here with 652 career saves 51 better than Trevor Hoffman. Remember Lee Smith? The unheralded Smith had the third most saves in baseball history with 478. The problem with relief pitching is while these men may have played in a hell of a lot of games, their innings pitched totals could be very low for a career. Thus, the all-time innings pitched leaders don’t contain the late game specialists. Cy Young is #1 with 7,356 or an average of 334 per season. Phil Niekro challenged the list when he finished with 5,404 and ended up 4th best ever.
Nolan Ryan is also up there with 5,386 better than Gaylord Perry’s 5,350. Steve Carlton joined this group with a grand total of 5,217 2/3 innings of work. Now, the negative stuff…let’s begin with the men who tossed a home run ball. Jamie Moyer is the king of home runs allowed as the tossed 522 pitches that left the park. That’s 20 dingers a year for his career that Moyer surrendered. OUCH. Robin Roberts was a pitcher with five career home runs but in the process of his 19 year career he also gave up 505. His average is worse than Moyer’s at nearly 27 a year.
Those who gave up many home runs played in more recent years (Fergie Jenkins-484, Phil Niekro-482, Bartolo Colon-439, Bert Blyleven-430, Tim Wakefield-418). Then there are the walks. Nolan Ryan is one of our greatest pitchers ever. But while the fastballer was whiffing batters, his control was another thing. You would think with seven career no-no’s, his control would be better than being the all-time walks leader. But there he is, at the top of the heap, having walked a career total, 2795 batters. Steve Carlton is a distant second with 1,833.
So Cy Young has the most victories. BUT, he also has the most losses with 315. One of Nolan Ryan’s only blemishes are those walks, because he is third all time in wins with 292. Again, most of these pitching stats will never be surpassed. There is simply too much specialization in today’s pitching strategies. Nolan Ryan’s second blemish is throwing wild pitches. He did it 277 times but at least he didn’t become the all-time leader. That honor (or dishonor if you will) belongs to Tony Mullane who did it 343 times in just 13 seasons meaning he went wild at an average of 26 times a season. In comparison, Ryan’s average is just 10.
Phil Niekro and his infamous knuckleball ended up with a wild pitch 226 times during his career. If not throwing wild pitches, sometimes a pitch from a man on the mound goes awry and hits the batter. Gus Weyhing did this 277 times to set the record for most ever. Can you imagine getting hit by a Randy Johnson fastball? One unfortunate seagull had that happened and it cost him his life. That video has gone viral millions of times.
But actual baseball players at the plate facing Johnson got plunked 190 times so for Johnson he finished with the 5th highest total ever.
Another Johnson is in this list the great Walter Johnson who hit a batter with a ball 205 times. Another knuckle baller Charlie Hough hit batters 174 times to round out the top 10. To round out this massive statistical column which I’m sure by now it has made your head swim are some statistics from the other side of the “battery” or for those of you who might be thinking of batteries that operate devices, no, the term is for the combination of pitcher/catcher.
On the other side of the “battery” is the catcher. Gary Carter was a fine catcher for the Expos and Mets, but the late great backstop allowed 1,498 runners to steal a base on him. Not far behind Carter’s total is Mike Piazza who missed on 1,400 stolen bases by opponents. Even “Pudge,” Carlton Fisk cracks the top 10 with 1,302 stolen bases allowed. None of these men are on the list for throwing out runners as that top stat belongs to Deacon McGuire who threw out 1,459 runners in 26 seasons of play. That’s an incredible average of 56 men nailed at a base by McGuire over the course of his career.
So I ask you in closing, how many of the handfuls of records above might fall one day? Very few I say. As mentioned prior, one of the most talked about non-breakable records is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Closest to him was Willie Keeler who did the same in 45 straight. Pete Rose challenged it in 1978 setting the all-time National League mark with 44 consecutive games. More recently, back in 2005 and then in the 2006 season, the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins hit in 38 straight.
That same season, Chase Utley went 35 straight ironically also for the Phillies. This year, Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield had a hit in 31 straight games. Then just three seasons ago, Freddie Freeman playing for the Atlanta Braves had a streak of 30. So there you have it folks. I have contended for a while that while I still enjoy watching baseball, it just ain’t what it used to be. Too much specialization, not enough of the good old basic stats being thrown at us, too many statistics being created and used for fantasy and other purposes. If you didn’t think there are too many stats in the books, just look at the list of what is kept for prosperity…
1B, 2B, 3B, AB, AB/HR, BA, BB, BABIP, BB/K, BsR, EQA, FC, GO/AO, GDP or GIDP, GPA, GS, H, HBP, HR, HR/H, ITPHR, IBB, ISO, K, LOB, OBP, OPS, PA, PA/SO, R, RC, RP, RBI, RISP, SF, SH, SLG, TA, TB, TOB, XBH, SB, CS, SBA or ATT, SB%, DI, R, UBR, BB, BB/9, BF, BK, BS, CERA, CG, DICE, ER, ERA, ERA+, FIP, xFIP, G, GF, GIDP, GIDPO, GIR, GO/AO or G/F, GS, H (or HA), H/9 (or HA/9), HB, HLD (or H), HR (or HRA), HR/9 (or HRA/9), IBB, IP, IP/GS, IR, IRA, K (or SO), K/9 (or SO/9), K/BB (or SO/BB), L, LOB%, OBA (or just AVG), PC-ST, PIT (or NP), PFR, pNERD, QOP, QS, RA, SHO, SIERA, SV, SVO, W, W + S, WHIP, WP, A, CI, DP, E, FP, INN, PB, PO, RF, TC, TP, UZR, VORP, WAR, PWA, PGP, G, GS, GB
I call that stupidity. It cheapens the game. Just give me my base hits, strikeouts, walks, errors, complete games and shutouts and I’m good.