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The Real Story on Baseball’s “Unbreakable” Records

If there ever were a sport which have a love affair with its record book, it would be baseball. It takes two guys to carry the official baseball record book, not only because baseball spans three centuries, but because baseball historians keep track of everything. One might think after all that record-keeping and record-breaking that those same historians would stop calling certain marks “unbreakable.” After all, they all called Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and Lou Brock’s career stolen base mark “unbreakable” until Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson came along.

Yet, they keep doing it; they keep placing the “unbreakable” tag on records that seem perfectly breakable. Granted, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak will be difficult to surpass, but it isn’t impossible. Don’t forget that if it weren’t for a great play by Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau in game #57, the 56-game streak would have been 70 games. That means this record is of a fluky nature; saying it can’t be broken is like saying you can’t flip a coin and get “heads” six times in a row. It isn’t likely, but it is possible. Break it down like this: take a lead-off type hitter who makes contact and doesn’t strike out; Ichiro Suzuki is a hyper-perfect example. As of this writing, Ichiro has 2244 hits in 6779 at-bats over 1588 games. That means he gets roughly one hit out of every three at-bats, and he gets roughly four at-bats per game, which means it is statistically likely that he gets a hit every game, let alone 56 in a row.

Pete Rose challenged this record in 1978, but fell 12 games short, and recently more than a few players have reached 30 games. But Rose showed that the record can be challenged, and the fact it still stands is owed to a series of variable factors for which the statistics don’t account (rightie v. leftie, certain pitchers who “own” certain hitters and vice-versa, home-road splits, etc…)  Some season, someone will break this record.

Both single-season and career home run marks are held by Barry Bonds. Without getting into the (yawn) steroid discussion, there are enough other contributing factors in the offensive surge of the past fifteen years that neither 73 and/or 762 are safe. Alex Rodriguez is likely going to get near the career homer mark. Even if you want to discount him, a clean player like Ken Griffey, Jr. would likely have been there if not for injuries in the middle of his career. Even if you want to discount the entire “steroid” era, the tiny ballparks and the dilution of pitching talent via expansion and/or competition with the growing numbers of professional leagues around the world will contribute to both the single-season and career marks being eclipsed at some point.

This brings us to the other side of the home run coin, the strikeout. Batsmen are whiffing at a pace never before seen in baseball; 100 strikeouts in a season was a number to avoid, now multiple teams have multiple batters reach this mark with regularity. Had Randy Johnson learned the art of control earlier in his career than he did, he would challenged much more closely Nolan Ryan’s career mark of 5,714 rather than the 4,875 he ended with. Eventually, some pitcher will be around long enough to eclipse Ryan’s record.

So, if you really want “unbreakable” records, go back to that thick record book and look at these nine which are certainly more out of reach than any of those routinely said to be beyond approach.

9) New York Yankees’ 5 Consecutive World Series Titles

Let’s talk about a dominant era; let’s talk about the New York Yankees in the 44 years between 1921 to 1964. Sure, people may like to discuss the three-peats of the 1972-1974 Oakland A’s or the 1998-2000 Yankees. Those accomplishments pale in comparison to the Yankees of yesteryear. In this time, the Bronx Bombers won 29 pennants. They won four consecutive World Series titles from 1936 to 1939. But that wasn’t good enough; from 1949-1953 the Yanks won the World Series in five straight seasons. During that stretch, they won 20 of 28 World Series games. Given there are now three layers of post-season play, requiring 11 victories to garner a World Series crown, it is highly unlikely that a team can even get to six straight let alone win them to break the Yankees’ record.

8 ) Cal Ripken’s 2,632 Consecutive Games Played Streak

First of all, there have only been roughly 30 guys in the entire history of major league baseball who have even played that many games. Secondly, there would have to be another obsessive-compulsive, self-serving lunatic who would a) avoid injury for and b) even want to show up to work every single day for over sixteen years.

7) Chief Wilson’s 36 Triples in a Single Season

Granted, his 36 triples were helped by the quirky dimensions of the old Forbes Field, but not only are they five more than anybody else ever hit, it way outpaces anything done in recent years. In fact, the 23 triples hit in 2009 by Curtis Granderson represented the highest total of three-baggers in decades. The smaller ballparks that aid the number of homers also don’t have as much space for a ball to rattle around in, thus less triples.

6) Johnny Vander Meer’s 2 Consecutive No-hitters

Breaking this record is the definition of  “possible, but not bloody likely.”  The odds that somehow, somebody tosses three no-hitters in a row are mind boggling. It’s been years since a pitcher even tossed three straight complete games, and it has been nearly twenty years since a pitcher tossed three straight shutouts. On average, there are less than two no-hitters in a season.

5) Ray Chapman’s 67 Sacrifice Bunts in a Single Season

When Jay Bell dropped down 39 sacrifices in 1990, he was the first player to approach 40 in almost 15 years. It hasn’t been any different in the home run era since then. In fact, today very few hitters today even know how to bunt let alone lay down 68 of them.

4) Ty Cobb’s Career Batting Average of .367

As of this writing, no major league player who has more than five seasons at the major league level has a career average within 35 points of Cobb. In the last 50 years, the closest is Wade Boggs at .328.  Even though Boggs is the closest in recent history, and even though Boggs had seven seasons with over 200 hits, he still would have needed on average 20 more hits in each of his 18 major league seasons to approach Cobb’s mark. Until we get out of the era where being a contact hitter who avoids strikeouts is a dying art, no one will get any closer than Boggs has.

3) Nolan Ryan’s 7 Career No-hitters

See the entry above about Johnny Vander Meer. Now consider that to break this record, somebody will have to chuck eight no-hitters.  Remember the analogy of flipping a coin and getting “heads” six times in a row.  Make it more like 50 times and you get the odds here…

2) Cy Young’s 511 Victories and 749 Complete Games

As long as there are pitch counts and five-man rotations, neither of these records will ever even be approached, let alone broken. Today, a pitcher would need to average 26 wins and 38 complete games per season for twenty years to eclipse Denton True “Cy” Young’s marks. Considering many starters now don’t even get 38 starts in a season, that’s going to be a tall order.

1) Will White’s 75 Complete Games and 680 Innings Pitched in a Single Season

To break this record, one would have to build a time machine and set it for 1879. No pitcher today will be able to complete twice the number of games he starts; I don’t care how good he is or what new hyper-roid he discovers.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

4 comments on “The Real Story on Baseball’s “Unbreakable” Records

  1. TonyVote
    October 20, 2010

    Great list! You’re absolutely right about this whole “unbreakable record” nonsense. In your list I only see one of those records being broken any time soon. That’s the “most no-hitter’s thrown in a career”. I can see either Roy Halladay or Mark Buerhle doing it. They’ve each got 2 a piece and are fairly young.

    Like

  2. brouhahasports
    October 21, 2010

    great list. Even a huge baseball fan like myself had never heard of the number 1 record. That is staggering.

    What about records for futility? Like the 1899 cleveland team?

    Like

  3. ChrisHumpherys
    June 10, 2011

    Oh wait a second.

    Maybe you have Cal Ripken as the most over-rated player of all time.

    The suspense is killing me.

    Like

    • JW
      June 10, 2011

      All in good time…

      Like

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2010 by in Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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