Seven Unbreakable Baseball Records

by J. M. Pressley
First published: May 24, 2010

Baseball has had a rich history of seemingly unattainable records. Here are seven all but guaranteed to remain unbroken.

When Babe Ruth retired in 1935, he owned most of the power-hitting records. Among those records were two that many thought might never be broken: 60 home runs in a season, and 714 career homers. Time and steroids have proven the naysayers wrong on both counts.

There's another much more obscure home run record, however, that has stood for over a century. The owner: Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett, a diminutive outfielder nicknamed "The Crab," who hit 75 home runs over a 16-year career ending in 1905. For the era, 75 home runs is reasonably impressive. More impressively, Burkett scored 55 of those home runs inside the park. That's not hitting the ball over the fence and trotting the bases; Burkett had to sprint 360 feet to beat a throw home 55 times.

That's a record not likely to be broken in this century, either.

Baseball has had a rich history of seemingly unattainable records. Many have fallen. Some seem destined to be surpassed given enough time and games. Then there are these seven, which are all but guaranteed to endure.

Career Wins: 511 (Cy Young)

This number is why the award for the best pitcher in a season is named the Cy Young. By the end of his 22-year career, Young had won more games than any pitcher before—or since. It's been nearly a century, and the next closest competitor is fellow Hall of Famer Walter Johnson with 417 wins. Those are the only two human beings with 400-plus wins in the majors, making it one of the most exclusive sports clubs in history. To put this into proper perspective, a pitcher would have to average 20 wins a season for 20 years just to reach 400. The modern era's five-man rotation, career relievers, and pitch counts have collectively assured that Young's win total will never be surpassed. Incidentally, Cy Young also holds the record for most career losses at 316.

Complete Games: 749 (Cy Young)

Yes, it was an utterly different era. There is not one pitcher in the top 20 in this category who was born in the twentieth century. In the top 50, there are only seven pitchers born in 1900 or later. For all the reasons why no one will ever win more games than Cy Young, no one will ever pitch more complete games than him, either. Young averaged 34 complete games a season for his career. In comparison, a modern starter will typically make 34 starts at most in a season. Pretty sobering math for anyone wanting to break that record.

Shutouts: 110 (Walter Johnson)

Walter "Big Train" Johnson was perhaps the first power pitcher in baseball history. The scout who discovered Johnson in 1907 told the Washington Senators that the young man threw fastballs "so fast you can't see them." Ty Cobb said Johnson had "the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park." It's hard to argue with the results. His 417 wins are second only to Cy Young; his 110 shutouts are a record that stands to this day. In September of 1908 alone, Johnson recorded three consecutive shutouts in four days against the New York Highlanders. Compare that to the top modern-era pitcher, Warren Spahn, who totaled 63 shutouts in his Hall of Fame career.

Career Batting Average: .366 (Ty Cobb)

Ty Cobb was a bastard by any generation's definition. To quote Cobb himself, "If I hadn't been determined to outdo the other fellow at all cost, I doubt I would've hit .320...my lifetime batting average has been increased at least fifty points by qualities I'd call purely mental." Or obsessive, barely controlled rage, if you prefer. Whatever demons drove Cobb to greatness, he retired with around 90 major league records in 1928. His 4,189 hits were a record that no one thought would be broken until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1985 (making Rose and Cobb the only two players in history with over 4,000 hits). His .366 lifetime batting average, however, still ranks as the best ever. In comparison, Ted Williams, regarded as the best modern pure hitter, had a career batting average of .344. Don't expect to ever see another player retire with a better batting average than Cobb.

Career On-Base Percentage: .482 (Ted Williams)

Consider what on-base percentage means in a game largely defined by failure. Ted Williams, over the course of 19 seasons, was statistically on base nearly half the times he came to the plate. He led the league in that category for 12 of those seasons. His career OBP is higher than any player in history, including Babe Ruth (.474), Lou Gehrig (.447), and Barry Bonds (.444). The highest career OBP for an active player is currently Albert Pujols, whose lifetime .427 OBP is 55 points below Williams. If Bonds and Pujols can't come within 30 points of this record, no one will.

Career Triples: 309 (Sam Crawford)

Sam Crawford was, as strange as it may sound, one of the premier sluggers of the deadball era. He was the first player to lead both the American and National Leagues in home runs. He also had speed; the Tigers right fielder retired in 1917 with 309 triples. His former teammate, Ty Cobb is second on that list with 295. No one else even comes close to 300; only nine players in history have hit 200-plus triples. This is another statistic driven by the deadball era and older stadiums. The current active leaders going into the 2010 season were Johnny Damon and Jimmy Rollins, both with 95 career triples. That tied for 182nd on the all-time list. The smart money is on Crawford keeping that record.

Most Games Played without a Postseason Appearance: 2,528 (Ernie Banks)

It makes sad sense that the player nicknamed "Mr. Cub" holds this futility record. In 19 seasons, all spent with the Cubs, Ernie Banks played in 2,528 major league games without playing a single inning in the playoffs. In this day and age of multiple divisions, wild card teams, and free agency, it is difficult to imagine that any contemporary player will ever approach this record. Your current active leader is 36-year-old outfielder Randy Winn*, who entered the 2010 season having played 1,601 games without a playoff appearance—more than 800 games short of Banks.

*2014 Update: Randy Winn retired after the 2010 season, ending his streak at 1,717 games over 13 seasons. The current active leader is White Sox slugger Adam Dunn, who entered the 2014 season having played 1,870 games without a playoff appearance.

Over the last five years, Dunn has averaged 147.8 games per season. That pace would have him breaking this record sometime before the All-Star break in the 2018 season at the age of 38. Dunn would also be all but guaranteed by that time to own a new unbreakable record for career strikeouts.

Sources

Baseball Almanac, Baseball-Reference.com, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.