Baseball's Unbeatable Records
More than any other sport, Major League Baseball has unique history. Its records are filled with incredible numbers and intriguing episodes. Each record tells a story.
Fans debate which records are the greatest of all time, which ones will live forever, and those that will fall by the wayside. It’s interesting how the game has changed and how its evolution will preserve many records.
Here are some of our favorite records that should stand for quite some time.
The Yankee Clipper’s Unbeatable Streak
Record: 56-game hitting streak (1941)
During his playing days and beyond, Joe DiMaggio was an American hero. He played for 13 years with the Yankees, was an All-Star in each of those seasons, and he played on nine World Series championship teams. The guy served in World War II, was good looking and the darling of the media — he was once married to Marilyn Monroe.
But what we really remember DiMaggio for was a historic stretch in 1941 from May 15 to July 16 when he reached on a hit — be it a single, double, triple or home run — in every game he played. His 56-game hitting streak arguably could be the most unattainable record in baseball history. He hit .408 during the streak with 15 home runs and 55 RBI.
The streak began with little fanfare, a 1-for-4 performance on May 15. People began to take notice when DiMaggio was approaching George Sisler’s modern era record of 40 games. On June 29, he had a hit in both games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators to break Sisler’s mark. Then Wee Willie Keeler’s streak of 44 games in 1897 was there for the taking. DiMaggio broke that on July 1 with a home run.
The streak continued until July 17 in Cleveland, but he did not go away quietly. It took two backhand stops by Indians third baseman Ken Keitner to deny DiMaggio. The next day, DiMaggio started another streak that lasted 16 games. If it wasn’t for Keitner, who knows? A 73-game hitting streak?
The Toughest Out in History
Record: .482 career on-base percentage
Ted Williams enjoyed a great career, and he frustrated pitchers like no one in history. He has done some remarkable things on the diamond, but nothing like his .482 record career on-base percentage. That’s career, folks.
That means Williams somehow reached base nearly half of his career that spanned 19 years, which was interrupted three years by World War II. Here’s another record to consider unbeatable — in 1949, Williams reached base in 84 consecutive games. Simply put, pitchers could not get Williams out.
Williams is known for so much more. He is the last hitter to bat .400 or better (.406 in 1941), he’s a 19-time All-Star, two-time Triple Crown winner, six-time batting champion (his last batting title came at the age of 40) and a two-time MVP. You get the idea. Then to top it off, he homered in his final career at-bat in 1960.
We can go on with his resume, but the point here is while Williams’ on-base performances will be hard to beat, that was only part of what was one of the greatest careers in baseball history.
Cal Ripken Always Played
Record: 2,632 consecutive games played
Between May 30, 1982, and Sept. 19, 1998, you could count on a few things. The sun would rise from the east, clear skies were always blue and Cal Ripken Jr. would don his Baltimore Orioles jersey and arrive to the ballpark, ready to play.
No one in history was more durable than Ripken. After breaking Lou Gehrig’s string of playing in 2,130 consecutive games on Sept. 6, 1995, Ripken amazingly extended that streak to the current record of 2,632 games.
Keep in mind, Ripken was the Orioles shortstop, a position that many consider the toughest in baseball. Ripken played through ankle injuries, a severely twisted right knee and a broken nose suffered in a freak accident during an All-Star Game photo shoot in 1996. And, as luck would have it, Ripken’s son, Ryan, was born on July 26,1993 — an off day for the Orioles.
Let’s put this in perspective. Current players endure injuries, more travel with interleague play, drug suspensions, even mandatory days off. It took 56 years to break Gehrig’s record. Ripken’s streak could go on forever.
Rickey Flew Around the Bases
Record: 1,406 career stolen bases
Record: 130 stolen bases in one season (1982)
In his prime, no one could steal bases like Rickey Henderson. He would reach base — catchers knew, the fans knew, the managers knew — that he was going to make that attempt to steal and guess what? He succeeded — often stealing bases standing up.
Henderson is regarded as the greatest leadoff hitter in history for his knack of getting on base with walks or hits, and for hitting home runs. But his trademark with numerous teams, particularly the Oakland A’s, was stealing bases. He stole a remarkable record 1,406 bases over his career. His best season was 130 in 1982. He was a 12-time stolen base champion.
Do we see another Rickey on the horizon? That’s very doubtful. Perhaps the game does not emphasize speed around the bases as we have entered the long-ball era. In 2017, only three players had 40-plus stolen bases.
ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote in March, "in a sport in which risk assessment now drives everything from free-agent investments to the development of young pitchers, the base stealers have become the outlier, like motorcyclists without helmets."
Then again, players like Rickey were a special breed, giving fans the feel of excitement and anticipation whenever he reached base. And it’s unlikely we will see anyone run the basepaths like Rickey again.
Why There Is a Cy Young Award
Record: 511 career wins
Record: 749 career complete games
You don’t name an award after someone unless they’ve done something really good. Well, Cy Young did things really great as a pitcher. Thus, the top pitcher in baseball wins the Cy Young Award.
Here’s two records we are certain that will stand the test of time — Young has the most career wins with 511 and the most career complete games with 749. Maybe we need a little perspective here.
Let’s say a pitcher has a 20-year career — which is very rare nowadays, but we’ll play this game anyway. To reach 511 wins, a pitcher would have to win nearly 26 games a season over 20 years. To reach 749 complete games for a career, a pitcher would have to average around 37 per season over two decades.
Since we all agree those two things will never happen in this current bullpen era, Cy Young will continue to be etched as the greatest winner of all time.
Johnson Deals Goose Eggs
Record: 110 career shutouts
In Walter Johnson's day, no pitcher was more dominant than him. The "Big Train," as he was known, recorded an amazing 110 shutouts during his career. He also ranked second all-time in victories and fourth in complete games. He also held the record for most career strikeouts for more than 55 years until Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry passed him in 1983.
Johnson was baseball’s premier power pitcher. Once, a Bridgeport, Conn., munitions library recorded Johnson’s sidearm fastball at 134 feet per second or more than 91 mph.
Ty Cobb, possibly the greatest hitter ever, once described his encounter with the rookie Johnson. "The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him. ... Every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark."
Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 15 shutouts in 11 seasons, so you can do the math on this one. With managers now relying more on their bullpens, Johnson’s record looks pretty safe.
He Batted .4-- What in a Season?
Record: .440 season batting average (1894)
We know many of the great hitters present and past off the top of our heads, but did you know that Hugh Duffy’s record will never be broken barring some time in the future when cyborgs are allowed in the league?
First, who is Hugh Duffy? Duffy was a textile mill worker and played semipro baseball on the weekends. He spent two seasons in the minor leagues before receiving a $2,000 offer to play for the Chicago White Stockings, led by Cap Anson. Ah, those great team names of the 19th century.
Duffy stood just 5-foot-7, and Anson was not impressed, saying that the team did not "need another batboy." Anson would soon eat those words as Duffy went on to bat a remarkable .440 in 1894, a record no one in history has achieved. Also, he had a knack for timely hits, driving in 100 or more runs eight times.
Considering the fact that a .400 season hasn’t come since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941, and that Tony Gwynn was the closest since then, batting .394 in 1994, modern players just reaching .400 is a gigantic milestone, much less reaching .440. Yep, that batboy was pretty special.
Mr. Wilson’s Incredible Season
Record: 191 runs batted in during a single season (1930)
Hack Wilson’s life was defined in a few ways. As a baseball player, he was considered among the greatest back in the late 1920s to 1930s. For a brief time, he was compared to the immortal Babe Ruth.
The 1930 season with the Cubs was Wilson’s finest. He drove in an incredible 191 runs, a record that easily stands today and, quite frankly, a mark that may never be duplicated. He also belted 56 home runs, which stood as the best in the National League for 68 years until the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa epic home run battle of 1998. Besides two serious efforts by Lou Gehrig (184) and Hank Greenberg (183), no one has made a serious run at Wilson’s record, and it’s unlikely anyone ever will.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s life also was defined by his excessive alcohol consumption and constant fighting. While many deemed Wilson as a colorful figure, his drinking was his ultimate demise. The season after his greatest accomplishments, he reported to spring training 20 pounds overweight. His production declined dramatically, and he was suspended for fighting with reporters. Ultimately, he was traded twice and released two more times. He retired at the age of 35.
Upon his retirement, Wilson had failed business ventures and took odd jobs. On Oct. 4, 1948, Wilson was found unconscious after a fall in his home. Due to complications and pneumonia, he died on Nov. 23 at the age of 48. But his glory years live on. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1979.
These Records Are Completely Unattainable
Records: 75 games started and completed in one season (1879)
Record: 680 innings pitched and 2,906 batters faced in one season (1879)
Once upon a time in the world of Major League Baseball, bullpens were merely a stopgap when starting pitchers either got tired (in some eras, that was rare) or were getting shelled. There was a time when pitchers reaching double-digits in complete games for a season was the norm.
Those days appear to be gone. Managers’ strategies have changed and starting pitchers making major salaries need to be on a strict diet of pitch counts. Now the winning strategy is to let starters go six or seven innings tops, depending on the pitch count, and the bullpen takes it the rest of the way. The trend is clear — in 1904, the complete game percentage of all games pitched was 87.6 percent. In 2014, the number plummets to 2.4 percent.
So, when you see someone like Will White’s record-setting season in 1879, starting and completing 75 games, that’s quite the head-shaker. Those are not his only two records from that season. White also had 680 innings pitched and he faced 2,906 batters. Those are still records that, we promise, you won’t see again.
Even in the live-ball era, Grover Cleveland Alexander (1920), Burleigh Grimes (1923) and Dizzy Trout (1944) shared a record of 33 complete games in a season that is unlikely to be surpassed.
When the Yankees Were Unstoppable
Record: 5 consecutive World Series titles (1949-53)
As baseball fans well know, the New York Yankees franchise is the face of Major League Baseball. The Yankees have won more World Series titles (27) and American League pennants (40) than any team in baseball, by far. The St. Louis Cardinals are next on the list with 11 World Series titles and are joined by the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers with 19 National League pennants.
Those are some amazing numbers for any sports franchise, but that’s only the topper. How about when the Yankees reached the World Series 15 times over 18 years from 1947 to 1964, or their run of five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953. Imagine a five-peat.
It’s very doubtful that there will ever be a match for any franchise in MLB or the NFL, NBA or NHL. Of course, when you have the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Don Larsen, to name a few, you’re going to be unstoppable.
And, remember, there was no free agency back then, so even the greatest of the great remained with their teams. That’s one big reason why this could always remain as the greatest stretch drive in history.
No One Was Quite Like Ty Cobb
Record: .367 career batting average
Tyrus Raymond Cobb, known as the "Georgia Peach," produced numbers on the baseball field that boggle the mind and is arguable the greatest hitter of all time. Look at this lifetime batting average — in 24 years of playing, he walked away with an astounding .367 average
Ty Cobb batted for a Triple Crown, led the league in RBI four times, led the league in stolen bases six times and was the AL MVP in 1911. Cobb set 90, yes 90, records at different points of his career, and many still stand today that include the most batting titles (12) and most combined runs scored and RBI (4,065).
Cobb received the highest percentage of votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame until that was broken by Tom Seaver in 1992. However, critics believe if the Hall of Fame was strictly for nice guys, Cobb would not be there. He constantly got into fistfights, once with an umpire he choked and another who was physically challenged. He always engaged in profanity-laced shouting matches.
Yet, while biographers labeled him a racist, later in life, he supported Jackie Robinson joining the big leagues. Cobb mentioned that Willie Mays was the only player he would pay to see.
True, his fiery nature got him into a lot of trouble, but it was that same drive he brought to the field that made him one of the greats. "Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest," he said.
A Disgraced Hero
Record: 4,256 career hits
During his playing days, no one showed more grit and determination to succeed than Pete Rose. With the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and back to the Reds, he was known as "Charlie Hustle," and seeing him run the base paths with thunderous, head-first slides was merely one example of his nature.
Rose went on to claim what was believed to be one of baseball’s most unbreakable records — Ty Cobb’s career 4,191 hits. On Sept. 11, 1985, surrounded by a media frenzy, Rose delivered his 4,192nd career hit against the San Diego Padres. Rose finished with an amazing 4,256 hits before retiring.
His career records also include games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). Rose is the only player to be named to five different positions in the All-Star Game.
However, his numbers and accomplishments have faded to the background after he admitted to gambling on baseball and the Reds following years of denial. To this day, the disgraced Rose has not been allowed enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While his numbers on the field may not be broken, we always will think of Pete Rose as a gambling addict willing to wager on his reputation and legacy, and he wound up losing.
Riding the Ryan Express
Record: 5,714 career strikeouts
Record: 7 career no-hitters
When the New York Mets dealt pitcher Nolan Ryan to the California Angels in December 1971, it didn’t take long to see that this was one of the worst trades in history.
Ryan’s blazing fastball that usually clocked beyond 100 mph was virtually unhittable over his 27-year career. Ryan was so remarkably durable for a starting pitcher that he was throwing 100 mph fastballs into this 40s.
He’s best known for throwing seven no-hitters, three more than the closest competitor. He struck out 5,714 batters during his career, 839 more than Randy Johnson, the closest competitor. However, Ryan did have control problems, which explains why he never threw a perfect game — he walked a record 2,795 batters. That stat, too, may never be broken.
While he never won a Cy Young Award, Ryan is regarded as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Baseball Hall of Fame voters knew that — Ryan earned the third highest voting percentage for inductees. He was something special.
Dancing With the Stars
Record: 25 All-Star appearances
Hank Aaron was one of the greatest players of all- time, but what really made him special was his longevity and how he remained a great player until the end of his 21-year career. A record that’s going to be hard to beat is Aaron’s 25 appearances in the All-Star Game.
Keep in mind, that all a player needs to do is be named to the team to qualify. Even an injured player who can’t participate counts. Also consider that from 1959-1962, there were two All-Star Games per season, and Aaron appeared in seven of those eight games. So that does inflate his number a bit.
But there’s a reason for so many All-Star Game appearances. Aaron hit 25 or more home runs from 1955 through 1973. He holds records for most career RBI, extra-base hits and runs scored. We could on. Aaron was a World Series champion, na MVP, a two-time batting champion, and a four-time home run and RBI leader.
It would be hard to fathom someone making 26 All-Star Game appearances. That would be a monumental achievement. So Aaron’s record looks pretty safe, and that’s the way it should be.
A Record No One Wants
Record: 108 years without winning a World Series
There were many out there who felt sorry for those poor Chicago Cubs. They went more than a century without winning a World Series.
Perhaps those poor Cubbies were jinxed. There was a curse put on them by a tavern owner. A black cat strayed into the Cubs dugout in a crucial game against the Mets that they lost in 1969. In the 2003 NLCS, with a 3-2 lead in the series and leading 3-0 in Game 6, a Cubs fan robbed Moises Alou of a foul pop-up. Sure enough, the Cubs lost the game, and eventually the series.
Finally, after 108 long, frustrating years, the Cubs knocked off the Cleveland Indians to win the 2016 World Series. This drought clearly is the longest in major league history, which leaves one to wonder if this record will ever be broken.
Probably not, but up next are those same Indians, who have waited 69 years since their last World Series title in 1948. So if the Indians come up short for another 40 years, they will own the dubious mark.
Two Slams, One Inning
Record: Two grand slams in one inning (1999)
Fernando Tatis will live in infamy for what he accomplished over just one inning at Dodger Stadium in 1999.
On April 23, against Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park, Tatis stunned the Dodger crowd by belting two grand slams for the St. Louis Cardinals in the third inning. That also gave Tatis a record eight RBIs.
Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully recalled, "When he came up the second time, I said, 'I’m not even going to look in the record book because I can’t believe anybody could have ever (hit two slams in an inning),' and then damned if he didn’t do it. What would it be comparable to? I don’t know how you could compare it to anything. One inning is so preposterous."
Will a player ever hit three grand slams in the same inning? Yeah, you know the answer to that. That tells you all you need to know about this record’s longevity.
This Rookie Was Dealing
Record: Back-to-back no-hitters (1938)
Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds is not in the same class of pitchers as Cy Young or Walter Johnson. Vander Meer was a lefty with some good speed, but often he had control problems. However, this 23-year-old in 1938 did something no other pitcher has accomplished — firing back-to-back no-hitters.
On June 11, Vander Meer was in control against the Boston Braves, striking out four and walking three. It was the first no-hitter thrown in four years and the first by a left-hander since 1931. Certainly, this was a special moment for the rookie, but little did anyone know what was to happen four days later.
Vander Meer took on the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first night game ever at Ebbets Field in front of a sold-out crowd of 48,000. That’s intimidating enough for a rookie. Vander Meer cruised with the exception of a jam in the seventh inning. In the ninth, things got dicey. With one out, Vander Meer walked the bases loaded, but he got out of trouble by enticing a groundout, and then he got Leo Durocher to pop out to incredibly save the second no-hitter in as many starts.
So is this record unbeatable? Is there someone out there capable of throwing three straight no-hitters? That’s hard to imagine.
A Lot of Extra Bases
Record: 309 career triples (Sam Crawford)
Record: 12 inside-the-park home runs in a season (Sam Crawford, 1901)
Record: 36 triples in one season (Chief Wilson, 1912)
When it comes to hitting triples, you couldn’t find anyone better than Sam Crawford and Chief Wilson.
Crawford, nicknamed "Wahoo Sam," was one of the finest sluggers during the dead-ball era, and ended his career as the ninth best hitter of all time. But he actually holds two records that will be difficult to beat, the career record in triples with 309, and the most inside-the-park home runs in a single season with 12.
John Wilson was nicknamed "Chief" not because he was Native American, but his Pittsburgh Pirates teammates thought he resembled a "Chief of the Texas Rangers," due to his tall stature. But, in 1912, Wilson had one of his best seasons, highlighted by his 36 triples, a record that still stands today.
For Crawford and Wilson, their knack for hitting triples will keep their names firmly on the record books for a long time.
OK, This Is Ridiculous
Record: 59 victories in one season (1884)
Have you ever heard of Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn? Don’t worry, not many have. But when it comes to records, Radbourn has one of the best.
Radbourn played 12 seasons for five teams, but in 1884, he produced 59 victories. Fifty-nine. Now that’s a ridiculous number. As it often happens with dead-ball era records, there is a dispute here. Some sources have him winning 60, some older sources say 62. To be on the safe side, we’re good with 59, since pitchers nowadays do not even start 59 games.
That 1884 season was special for Radburn for other reasons, as well. He completed the pitchers’ Triple Crown with the lowest ERA (1.38) and strikeouts (441). He also had 678 innings pitched.
But that season also had its down moments for his team, the Providence Grays.
The Grays fell into total disarray with internal battles among players, including Radbourn himself. At one point, the team was left with eight players — there was talk of disbanding the squad. So Radbourn offered to pitch in every game from the midway point for a raise in his contract. Providence played 43 games over two months, and Radbourn started 40 until the Grays won the pennant. At one point, Radbourn’s arm was so sore, he couldn’t comb his hair.
In the World Series against the New York Metropolitans, Radbourn started every game, and won three. What an amazing season for Radbourn. It’s stories and accomplishments like this that makes baseball history something special.
Can We Give Him the Walks Record?
Record: 2,558 career walks
Barry Bonds became, and still is, one of the most controversial figures in baseball history.
He was the poster child of the juice era in baseball. While there was no concrete evidence to support that Bonds was taking illegal substances, the former San Francisco Giants star was embroiled in a steroids scandal and found himself guilty in public court. That’s why his records are tainted, such as most home runs in a season and most homers in a career, and he has yet to be voted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While those home runs may or may not have had some extra help, here is one record Bonds set that shouldn’t be controversial nor broken — he walked an amazing 2,558 times. Only Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams walked more than 2,000 times.
The walks symbolize how good Bonds was as a menacing hitter. Opposing managers would rather walk him to start an inning, or with runners on base, than face his wrath at the plate. If it wasn’t for scandal, we could go all day talking about Bonds’ incredible career. But his grand numbers will always come under scrutiny — except for the walks.
No One Quite Like Connie Mack
Record: 3,731victories, 3,948 losses, and 7,755 career games managed
Cornelius McGuillicuddy stood the test of time as a manager whose overall numbers look unattainable.
Known as Connie Mack, he was the longest-serving manager with 50 years of service with the Philadelphia Athletics. He holds records for victories (3,731), losses (3,948) and games managed (7,755). Of course, Mack had one major advantage over other managers — he also was the team owner or part owner from 1901 to 1954, so it never came to the point that he was going to fire himself.
Mack definitely had his ups and downs with the Athletics. He was the first manager to win the World Series three times, and he is the only manager to win the World Series in consecutive years, multiple times. However, the Athletics had their bad years financially, and Mack was always scrambling the roster. The team finished in last place 17 times.
After the 1950 season, Mack retired at the age of 87. But he was unique. He always wore a suit and hat, and was often managing from the stands. He was easygoing and looked for players who not only had ability, but integrity. Mack was one of a kind.