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Can these baseball records ever be broken?

This is in regards to Newsday’s article from the May 15 2011 edition, “In honor of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941 … twenty other baseball records that may never be broken.” (Because on May 15, 1941 DiMaggio started that famous record. Sorry for no hyperlink – you need to be an online subscriber. I have the actual newspaper article in my hand). I will give my 2 cents on each record listed. Note that the order is created by editor Dave Whitehorn, and not myself. I am not sure if there is any order to this list. It doesn’t seem to be by level of difficulty. Number 0 is the famous hit streak itself; for I must comment on that itself.

0. Joe D’s 56 game hit streak – this is the most overrated baseball record. Yes, it is tough. Yes, the closest any major leaguer has come in modern times is Pete Rose in 1978 with 44. But breaking this record is plausible because it can be accomplished within one season. Most of the others are career (i.e.: lifetime) records – records that can only be broken after player 20+ years in the majors. That means you must be not only a Hall of Famer, but an all-time great to reach these other records. This can be theoretically be broken by a one-year wonder. Yes, the media scrutiny will be enormous, but then again so were Babe Ruth’s home run records of 60 HR in a year, and 714 career HRs, and both were eventually broken.

  1. Cy Young’s 511 career victories. As a Newsday commenter notes, his 316 career losses will also never be broken either. This is the baseball record that will never be touched. A mere award for best pitcher is not enough to honor his greatness.
  2. Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average (BA) of .367. Since 1950, only 8 NL batting champs, and 6 AL batting champs had an average over .367 for the year. i would say this probably will not be reached any time soon.
  3. Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts – the implication here is these are complete games, i.e.: pitch 9 innings. Complete Games (CGs) are rare these days. Although, if a starting pitcher is on the mound in the 9th inning, he probably has been pitching a shutout. Nevertheless, this is untouchable. No one will ever come close.
  4. Dutch Leonard‘s 0.96 ERA in 1914 – He was a starting pitcher, not a reliever. He pitched 2242/3 innings that year, and gave up only 24 earned runs. A relief pitcher can match that ERA, but he’ll only pitch somewhere between 60 – 90 innings. For starting pitchers, this record is untouchable.
  5. Roger Hornsby’s .424 BA in 1924 – This is the untouchable batting record. Most pundits agree that a .400 BA is near untouchable these days since it hasn’t been done since 1941. This is a much harder single season record than DiMaggio’s hitting streak.
  6. Ed Walsh‘s 464 innings pitched (IP) for the 1908 White Sox – most pitchers don’t pitch 464 innings in a career. This is for one year. Whitehorn notes this is more than 51 complete games. There should be an Award named after Walsh for most IP for a year. The average Walsh winner since 1995 averaged only 247.1 IP.
  7. Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 16 shutouts in a year for the 1916 Phillies – Roy Halliday is the current active career shutout leader with 19 in 14 seasons. In this age of pitch counts, this record is unreachable for the time being.
  8. Cal Ripken’s 2632 consecutive games played – Everyone though Lou Gehrig’s record of 2130 would never be reached, until Ripken reached it. Yes it will take more than sixteen seasons, but it’s not improbable.
  9. Nolan Ryan’s 7 career no-hitters. Justin Verlander now has 2, and Koufax is in second place with 4. With pitching on the rise, and hitting on a decline, I would not say this is unreachable.
  10. Mickey Mantle’s 266 HRs at old Yankee Stadium – Huh? Is this a record for any one stadium in general, or just Yankee Stadium itself. Why is this on the list? With modern-day band boxes, a slugger like Ryan Howard, Joey Votto, or Albert Pujols can hit 267+ HRs in their respective home ballparks.
  11. Jack Chesbro’s 41 victories for the 1904 NY Highlanders  – This record will never be touched. No starting pitcher even makes 41 starts in a year, so if anyone could reach 40 wins, it would have to be a reliever. But it can’t be a closer, since that means he blew over 40 save opportunities. It would take an inordinate amount of luck for a middle reliever to enter in a game with his team trailing or tied, and then his team rallies to take the lead before he leaves. Since any reliever reaching 10 wins is rare, 40 seems improbable.
  12. Connie Mack’s 53 years as a manager (record of 3731-3948) Of course it helps if you are part owner of your team (Philadelphia A’s). Nowadays, an owner is prohibited from managing (Ted Turner tried in the 1970’s). No one, in any industry, can work 53 years at one job. No one has that job security.
  13. Nolan Ryan’s 5714 career strikeouts. Very impressive. At first glance, it doesn’t seem unreachable when you see batters striking out all the time today. But when you realize this is the Age of the Pitch Count, no contemporary pitcher will pitch enough innings (one would have to strike out the side more than 1905 time to break this mark). It’s safe for now.
  14. Sam Crawford’s 309 career triples – Too bad Jose Reyes is about to leave to the New York Mets – since Citi Field is the most likely place to hit that many triples. Reyes currently has only 89 three baggers. Carl Crawford is the current active leader with 106. Neither one is likely to triple their triple output. So, yeah, this is more impressive than Barry Bonds’ HR records.
  15. Joe Sewell’s 114 strikeouts in 7132 at-bats (ABs) – Many everyday players strike out 114 times a season. Sewell’s ratio of one K per 62.56 ABs. Lloyd Waner is second with a ratio of 1 K per 44.92 ABs. With such a wide gap between #1 and #2, (and mind you these two guys played in the 1920’s and 30’s), I’d say that no one will come close to this.
  16. Mickey Mantle’s 18 HRs in the World Series (WS) – even with free agency, it is hard for a player to reach multiple World Series. Throw in the expanded post-season, it makes Mantle’s record more untouchable. So post-season records will be broken all the time, but WS only records will be hard to break.
  17. Johnny VanderMeer‘s back-to-back no-hitters for the 1938 Reds – Could any pitcher tie this record? Yes. Can anyone pitch three consecutive no-nos? Not likely.
  18. Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastremski playing 23 consecutive years on one team – This is the last glamorous record on the list. Yes having a 23 year career in baseball is impressive and enviable. But records of longevity are not exciting. If someone like Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera matches this, I wouldn’t care less.
  19. Joe McGinnity pitching 2 CGs in a doubleheader three times in one season (1903 Giants) – WHAT?! Doubleheaders are no longer scheduled – they only occur after rainouts. No manager will ever use the same pitcher to start both games. And McGininity started and finished both games – THREE TIMES! Folks, I try my hardest to ever use the word “never.” I’m making an exception here: this will never be touched.
  20. Fernando Tatis hits 2 Grand Slams in one inning (April 23, 1999) – See #17. For someone to hit 3 GS in one inning, a team must score at least 20 runs. The record for most runs in an inning is 18, set in 1883. A bunch of records will have to be broken in this inning before this one. That seems quite doubtful.

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