It is said that “records are made to be broken”, when in fact many of baseball’s oldest records are deemed unbreakable. The evolution of MLB and the American Pastime allows these statistics to stand the test of time.
Current ballplayers are fueled by their desire for greatness and a chance to be written into the baseball history books. While many are in the midst of record-breaking careers, some of baseball’s oldest records are out of reach.
These historic records are made unbreakable due to a number of the ways baseball has changed since the early days of the sport. For example, the workload of current pitchers is much lighter compared to when many of these records were set. On average, a pitcher makes roughly 30 starts per season while their predecessors pitched upwards of 70.
Furthermore, the length of an average ballplayer’s career leaves certain records unchallenged. While many players break the mold and undergo careers longer than the 5.6 seasons, the average length of a baseball career cannot accommodate record-breaking feats.
Despite the near impossibility of breaking these records, baseball fans can appreciate these great performances and hope for similar in their lifetime. Now, enjoy a list of baseball’s top ten unbreakable records.
Ironically, manager John McGraw’s reasoning for not participating in the 1904 World Series was affirmed the following year. Due to pride and hostility with Ban Johnson, the American League president, McGraw refused to compete against the Boston Americans. He believed his team were world champions by winning the National League and facing the champions of the “junior” American League was unnecessary .
However, after repeating their National League championship, McGraw agreed to participate in the 1905 World Series. Turned out, the superiority he claimed in 1904 was evident in the championship against the Athletics. Although Philadelphia won Game 2 off of three unearned runs, the Giants shut them out in the other four games.
New York’s historic success came thanks to the dominant pitching of Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity. Mathewson went 3-0 in the postseason with three complete game shutouts, allowing only 13 hits and striking out 18. McGinnity fell victim to the sloppy defense in Game 2, but was supported to a shutout victory in Game 4. He held Philadelphia to five hits and three walks with four strikeouts. He shared Game 2 with Red Ames and the three pitchers delivered the Giants the championship without giving up an earned run.
It is safe to say, the 1905 World Series and record-setting ERA are unlike anything baseball has ever seen. Although a team could potentially sweep the World Series without giving up any runs, the 1905 Giants’ record can only be tied and never broken.
Long before the founding of American League, Charles Radbourn stood out as the most menacing pitcher in baseball’s primitive days. No pitcher in baseball has come close to breaking Radbourn’s record-setting 59-win season in 1884 in over 130 years.
Old Hoss Radbourn, as he fondly went by, burst into the National League in 1881 as a 26-year-old rookie. From there, he pitched until 1891 and retired with an impressive career under his belt. Through his first three seasons, Radbourn was 106-55 with a 2.19 ERA, leading baseball with 48 wins in 1883.
However, the most impressive feat of his career was yet to come. During his second to last season with the Providence Grays, Radbourn went 59-12 with a microscopic 1.38 ERA. He pitched 75 starts in Providence’s 112-game schedule and received the win for just over half of them.
Once the regular season ended, Radbourn contributed three complete games to the Grays’ World Series sweep. Due to his utter dominance, Radbourn earned the NL pitching title and NL triple crown in 1884.
While there is some debate as to whether Radbourn won 59 or 60 games in 1884, the accomplishment was such that it is considered to be unbreakable. Nowadays, winning only 20 games is nearly a surefire way for a pitcher to win the Cy Young award. Even if a pitcher were to win each of his starts, they would fall well short of Radbourn’s 59-win mark.
When Mariano Rivera signed with the New York Yankees in 1990 as an undrafted amateur free agent, no one would have thought he would become the best closer in baseball history. In fact, Rivera became one of two pitchers to earn 600-plus saves with a record-breaking 652 saves in his career.
The Panamanian right-handed pitcher began his 19-season pinstriped career in 1995 as a starter. After 10 starts, Rivera capped his rookie season with a 5-3 record and 5.51 ERA. Despite his struggles, his phenomenal performance in the 1995 ALDS proved his worth was better suited in the bullpen.
From 1996 through the remainder of his career, Rivera averaged 39 saves per season. He posted a career-high 53 saves in 2005, which was one of eight seasons where Rivera clinched over 40 saves. Rivera lead the major leagues with 45-plus saves in 1999, 2001 and 2006. Even being a 13-time All-Star, 5-time World Series champion and the 1999 World Series MVP, the pinnacle of his closing career came in 2011.
In 2006, fellow closer Trevor Hoffman claimed the all-time save record and finished is career with 601. However, his record only lasted for five seasons as Rivera caught up to and broke his record in 2011. With five saves in 2012 and 44 during his senior season, Rivera set the record far above breakability.
From humble beginnings, Walter Johnson pitched his way to becoming one of baseball’s most prominent pitchers. In fact, famed pitcher Addie Joss accurately predestined Johnson for greatness during his rookie season. By the end of his 21-season career, Johnson was a two-time MVP, 12-time 20-game winner and set a major league record with 110 shutouts.
“That young fellow is another Cy Young. I never saw a kid with more than he displayed. Of course, he is still green, but when he has a little experience he should be one of the greatest pitchers that ever broke into the game.” –Addie Joss (per baseballhall.org)
Starting out as a 19-year-old rookie in 1907, Johnson was a career-long member of the Washington Senators. Although his record suffered due to an erroneous defense, he managed to post a 1.88 ERA in his first season.
The first flash of his shutout capability came during his sophomore season in 1908. In the midst of another losing season for the Senators, Johnson shut out the New York Highlanders in three consecutive games. From September 4-7, he allowed a total of 12 hits in one of the greatest pitching performances of all time.
En route to his first MVP award in 1913, Johnson went 36-7 with an incredible 1.14 ERA. On top of that, he threw a career-high 11 shutouts.
Even with the changing value of certain baseball statistics, Johnson’s numbers are still remarkable. He pitched more shutouts than Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean combined. He was rightfully inducted into the Hall in 1936 and is still the standard of greatness for modern pitchers.
The beautiful thing about baseball is that fame is not always determined by a player’s obvious talent. While many ballplayers make a name for themselves from what is recorded on their stat sheet, Johnny Vander Meer’s road to baseball fame looked quite different. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to throw back-to-back no-hitters, regardless of how his career looked on paper.
Needless to say, Vander Meer was the unlikeliest of candidates to throw a pair of consecutive no-hitters for the Cincinnati Reds. He struggled through his rookie campaign in 1937, finishing 3-5 with a 3.84 ERA, but showed improvement in 1938. In fact, leading up to his first no-hitter, Vander Meer was 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA.
On June 11, 1938, Vander Meer took the mound against the Boston Bees and threw his first no-hitter. No Bee reached second base and Vander Meer finished the game with four strikeouts and three walks.
Four days later, Vander Meer faced future Hall of Famers Leo Durocher and Kiki Cuyler in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ lineup. After crowd control issues delayed the game, Vander Meer ducked in and out of trouble to come out with his second no-hitter. He completed his no-hitter with eight walks and seven strikeouts after walking the bases full in the ninth. His parents, sister, girlfriend and 500 fans from his hometown witnessed his second no-hitter.
Although his career did not pan out the way his 1938 campaign implied, the immense difficulty of his feat makes replication nearly impossible for present day pitchers.
A no-hitter is second to a perfect game as the most impressive feat a pitcher can accomplish in a single outing. Although a perfect game eluded Nolan Ryan through his entire career, he is remembered as one of baseball’s most incredible pitchers. His reputation was built, in part, on the record-setting seven no-hitters he threw throughout his career.
During a career that spanned over four decades and 27 seasons, Ryan played on four different teams, including the Houston Astros, California Angels, New York Mets and Texas Rangers. Despite spending nine seasons and a majority of his career with the Astros, most of his no-hitters came during his years as an Angel.
Bound for his second All-Star Game, Ryan threw his first no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on May 15, 1973. Two months later, the Detroit Tigers fell victim to Ryan’s second no-hitter of the year and his career. By striking out 17 Tigers, Ryan sat down the most batters in any of his seven no-hitters.
Before heading to Houston in 1980, Ryan threw two no-hitters in 1974 and 1975 with the Angels. During his nine-year stint with the Astros, Ryan no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 26, 1981. He threw the final two no-hitters of his career as a member of the Rangers.
On June 11, 1990, Ryan came his closest to a perfect game when he held the Oakland Athletics to two walks with 14 strikeouts. Furthermore, Ryan became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter at the age 43. On the verge of retirement, Ryan threw his last no-hitter on May 1, 1991 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Although a number of active pitchers own multiple no-hitters, the likelihood of anyone taking the all-time no-hitter record away from Ryan is unlikely.
Regardless of the historically unsteady interest of the Midsummer Classic, the All-Star Game is set aside for the best in baseball during the given year. Needless to say, Hank Aaron was no stranger to the All-Star Game during his 23 seasons in the major leagues. In fact, he leads baseball as a 21-time All-Star with 25 All-Star Game appearances.
His experience in the Midsummer Classic was made unique by baseball’s doubleheader experiment. In order to spark interest in the event, baseball decided to add a second game to the All-Star festivities in 1959. Although the doubleheader tradition ended in 1962, it allowed Aaron to play in an additional four All-Star Games in his career.
After his rookie season, in which he batted .280 and collected 69 RBI in 122 games, Aaron appeared on the All-Star roster from 1955-1975. Starting in 1957, Aaron consistently started in right field for the National League in 12 seasons and 14 All-Star Games. When he was not starting in right field, Aaron started in left field in 1966, center field in 1967 and first base in 1973. Furthermore, he was on reserve in 1955, 1956, 1961, 1962, 1964 and 1975. Overall, Aaron busted two home runs, scored seven times and drove in eight runs in his All-Star career.
During the same year he set his name above Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, Aaron tied Stan Musial for the most All-Star Game appearances in 1974. One year later, Aaron appeared in his 25th All-Star Game and broke Musial’s record.
Currently, Ichiro Suzuki and Miguel Cabrera are the closest active players to Aaron’s record. However, the amount and consistency of Aaron’s All-Star Game appearances safely sets his record well above breakability.
Regardless of the stigma that comes with Barry Bonds, he proved himself to be one of baseball’s most feared batters. Setting aside his steroid use and dealings with BALCO, Bonds’ dominance at the dish struck fear into even the most confident of pitchers.
Their fear resulted in intentionally walking Bonds 688 times in his career. Although Albert Pujols owns the second most intentional walks, he falls nearly 300 short of Bonds’ record.
On one occasion, the Arizona Diamondbacks intentionally walked Bonds with the bases load. Trailing by three by the bottom of the ninth, the Giants cut their deficit to 8-5 with an RBI groundout.
Gregg Olson’s third walk of the inning loaded the bases and brought Bonds up to the plate. Fully aware of his hitting ability, manager Buck Showalter order his closer to intentionally walk Bonds and sacrifice a run. In the end, the skipper made the right call as the Diamondbacks beat the Giants 8-7.
Bonds took four intentional walks in a single game twice in 2004. On May 1, Bonds scored once after being walked four times as the Giants beat the Florida Marlins. Five months later, Bonds went 1-for-1 with one RBI against the Houston Astros, who walked the slugger four times.
Regardless of his high number of walks, Bonds dethroned Hank Aaron and became the new home run champion of baseball. The probability of another hitter beating Bonds’ intentional walk record is practically impossible, due to the overwhelming threat he owned at the plate.
For the 1941 New York Yankees, their 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 15 furthered their miserable start to the season. They quickly fell out of second place after dropping five games in a row, resulting in a 14-15 record.
Eight seasons later, DiMaggio smacked 15 homers, 55 RBI and batted .408 during his long-lived hitting streak. The streak spurred the Yankees from 5.5 out of first to a six-game lead. After DiMaggio won the AL MVP in 1941, the Yankees went on to win the World Series.
The streak came dangerously close to ending on June 24 during Game 35. Already 0-for-3 in the game, he singled off of Bob Muncrief after he refused to walk DiMaggio in the bottom of the eighth. His streak remained intact until July 17, when Joltin’ Joe was held 0-for-3 by the Cleveland Indians.
Proving the difficulty and near impossibility of his record ever being broken is the small number of players who fall behind DiMaggio on the all-time hitting streak list. Since 2000, the closest player to break DiMaggio’s streak was Jimmy Rollins, who hit in 38 straight games in 2005-2006.
What made him stand out on an impressive Yankee roster, forever penned him in the baseball record books.
Baseball is one of the only sports where one can fail in seven out of 10 plate appearances and yet be considered great. That success rate not only would keep a ballplayer in the major leagues, but gave them a very good reason to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Given the overall batting average in 2016 was .255, it only makes Ty Cobb‘s .366 career batting average even more impressive.
Cobb began his historic career as an 18-year-old in 1905. After he batted .240 during his rookie season, he became the Tigers’ everyday center fielder and rewarded their faith. As it turned out, 1905 was the only year Cobb batted under .300, including hitting over .400 in three seasons. After 1905, his batting average never sunk below .316 and he received the 1909 AL Triple Crown and 1911 AL MVP.
His ruthless drive to win earned him the reputation as one of the meanest ballplayers to take the field. Consequently, his malice potentially held him to only one MVP award when he was qualified to win more.
Needless to say, his record is safely out of reach for active ballplayers. Currently, only 13 swingers own career batting averages over .300. After 14 seasons, Miguel Cabrera holds the highest career batting average with .320, which falls well short of breaking Cobb’s record.