Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records

Cy Young: 511 Career Wins

What is baseball’s most unbreakable modern record?

In the interest of arguable fair ground, you have to right away discount the zany heights statistical records of 19th century players who took the field to a very different kind of game back then. Old Hoss Radbourn of the 1884 Providence Grays stands gritty and clear as the best example here. Pitcher Radbourn won 59 games in 1884. Think we’ll ever see the likes of that accomplishment again?

Here are my candidates for the most unbreakable records in modern baseball. I heartily invite you to join in with your own choices in the comment sections that follows this column.

My List of Unbreakable Major Modern Baseball Records (Please note that I’m staying away from the arcane or impossible to verify personal marks of players who may not change their underwear all season if they think the digs they are wearing every day serve as the source of some newfound good luck.):

(1) Cy Young’s 511 Career Wins. Cy’s total wins stagger the imagination. Compiling his total during the iron-man era of 1890-1911, it isn’t likely that any modern pitcher will ever again come close to the Young 511 total. Twenty wins for twenty years straight in the 21st century would still leave a pitcher about 111 wins short of tying the record and, these days, it isn’t likely that a great pitcher making today’s money would ever want to pitch long enough and often enough to challenge Cy.

(2) Napoleon Lajoie’s .426 Batting Average in 1901. Ted Williams was the last man to hit over .400 when he posted a .406 mark in 1941. That was 69 years ago and few have come close to .400 since. It’s conceivable to me that another great hitter may come along and hit .400, but topping Lajoie’s .426 all time highest modern era batting average seems highly improbable. Maybe a young Ichiro could have given it a a good run, but we’ll never know. (NOTE: I originally treated the birth of the Modern Era as 1903, the first year of the World Series, because that is the way I’ve thought of it since I was a kid. SABR friend Mark Wernick writes in to remind me of the technicality that the Modern Era is now considered to be 1900, the first year of the American League. Maybe it’s always been that way. I simply never thought of it as beginning until the NL/AL started competing against each other. The difference here is that 1903 makes Rogers Hornsby’s .424 from 1924 the all time one season high BA, whereas, 1900 turns the honor over to Nap Lajoie and his .426 BA from 1901. I can live with passing the baton to Lajoie. Now it’s even more improbable that this record wll ever be broken.)

(3) Cal Ripken’s 2,632 Consecutive Game Playing Streak. I can’t see anyone coming along with the talent, health, drive, and luck to break Cal’s Iron Man record for consecutive games played. Besides, the game has moved even further away from the idea of iron-men performances since Ripken’s retirement – making it even less probable of it ever happening again.

(4) Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak. Except for a few other great contact hitters like Willie Keeler, George Sisler, Ty Cobb, and Pete Rose, all of whom made it into the 40-game territory, most of the others conk out in the late 20’s or early 30’s. One other difference: The pitchers in DiMaggio’s day saw the streak as a manhood challenge and wouldn’t dare pitch around him. Except for a few guys today like Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano, most 21st century pitchers and a number of their managers would most likely walk a guy four times if he reached 55 games and it still made more sense to the object of winning to walk him rather than face him.

At any rate, without stretching or straining the point too thin, those are the four records in Major League Baseball that I think are the safest from breakage any time soon, if ever, and expressed here in the order I feel represents safest to least safe.

In general, I think they are all about as safe and certain as death and taxes. What do you think? Maybe I missed something that ought to be added to the list.

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6 Responses to “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    Bill, 2 comments:

    Napoleon Lajoie’s .426 in 1901 I believe is the “modern” record for BA, depending on how you’re defining modern. I usually go by the advent of the American League in 1901.

    And a hitting streak remains alive for a player who walks every time he comes to bat in a game, as well as if he’s hit by a pitch, gets on due to defensive interference, or has a bunt sacrifice. But the streak does end if he has a sacrifice fly.


  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    Also, I think Babe Ruth’s .690 career slugging percentage is pretty safe, safer probably than DiMaggio or Ripken’s streaks, and it’s hard for me to see anyone surpassing Nolan Ryan’s career strikeout record or his seven no-hitters.

    I don’t see anyone catching Yogi Berra’s 10 World Series championship rings or his record of 71 World Series hits, and I suspect Mickey Mantle’s 18 World Series homeruns is unreachable in light of the modern playoff system, which makes even reaching the world series much more difficult than when those guys were playing.

    I used to think Gehrig’s 23 grand slams was very safe, but Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez both are sitting just two shy of tying Gehrig as we speak. But so far that record has withstood for 71 years.


  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Mark –

    You make some very valid points. I was using the 1903 first NL/AL World Series year as my benchmark on the start of the Modern Era – and for no better reason than I’ve thought of it that way since childhood. That being said, I have no problem going back and transposing this one to be Lajoie’s .426 mark in 1901 as the even more unbreakable record point on this one. I will also change the data in the column with a footnote mention of these reasons for changing it. Let the 1900 formation of the American League be the first year of the Modern Era and the case for the all time highest batting average grows by .002 points from Hornsby’s
    later achievement o .424 in 1924.

    As for the technical survival of a hitting streak by virtue of the all walk game, I understand the rulesmakers are trying to protect a streaking hitter from getting snuffed, but I don’t like it. If I’m DIMaggio and I go 0 for 0, I don’t feel like my streak is alive.

  4. Damon Leonetti Says:

    A great subject, Bill. Here is one to consider…

    I’m not sure if 20-win seasons is an official mark or, just a distinction that baseball historians have used to measure a really great pitching season (like, hitting .300). Anyway, I know my favorite lefty, Warren Spahn won 20 games in 13 seasons, which in his era was truly remarkable (more than half of the full seasons that he pitched, he won 20 games!!!) I surely don’t see anyone doing that again. However, I believe Christy M and Cy Y may have done it a greater number of times. However, that was a different era.

    Damon Leonetti

  5. John Watkins Says:

    Cy Young also pitched 749 complete games and 7,356 innings in his 22-season career.

    No one will come close to those numbers, which average out to 34 complete games and 334 innings pitched per season. Obviously, Young did not play in an era of pitch counts, long relievers, left-handed specialists, set-up men, and closers.

    Among active players, Roy Halladay has the most career complete games (56) and led the majors in 2009 with 9. (So far this season, he has 7.) The career leader in innings pitched is Jamie Moyer with 4,019.1, almost 1,000 ahead of Andy Pettite and Tim Wakefield. Last season, Justin Verlander was the leader with 240 innings.

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