As the saying goes, records are made to be broken. Baseball, however, is a sport that loves its records. They are treated as though they are living breathing entities not to be tampered with. The rules have largely remained the same since the first truly professional team took the field in 1869. This unique aspect allows us to compare the stats of players who’s lifetimes never overlapped let alone playing careers. While the game itself is largely the same, the way in which it has been played has varied greatly throughout its nearly 150-year history. Hitting has changed a lot over the years but as the records below will indicate its the approach at the plate that has changed more than the player’s ability. While not every record below is from an era before we were all alive the most unbreakable ones are. I have chosen to simply list these in no order since I believe that none of these records can or will ever be approached.
Single Season Batting Average – .440
Career Batting Average – .366
Single Season Runs Scored – 198
Single Season Triples – 36
Career Triples – 309
Single Season Walks – 232
Single Season Intentional Walks – 120
Consecutive Games Played – 2,632
Hitting Streak – 56 Games
Career Sacrifice Hits – 512
This record was set back in 1894 by Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy. There have only been 22 times when a player has hit .400 or better in a season and 15 or those happened in the 19th century. The last player to hit .400 or better was when Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. The last time anyone finished a season within 20 points of Duffy’s record was in 1924 when Rogers Hornsby hit .424. I can say with absolute certainty that no one will ever break this record.
This record is held by the man many people consider the best hitter in Major League Baseball history, Ty Cobb. Cobb was such a good hitter that he hit at least .319 in all 24-years of his career except his first year when he hit .240 in 150 at-bats as an 18-year old. He hit over .400 in three different campaigns and higher than .380 nine times including a four-year stretch when he hit .383, .420, .409, and .390. Only two players since 1950 have finished their careers with averages over .330 – Ted Williams (.344) and Tony Gwynn (.338). Since Cobb retired in 1928 only 38 players have hit .366 in a single-season and those 38 men did it a total of 55 times with Tony Gwynn doing the most, 4 times. Cobb’s record is safe.
This record was set the same year the single-season batting average record, though by a different Hall of Famer, Billy Hamilton. Hamilton crossed the plate an incredible 198 times in just 132 games. The most runs scored since the turn of the 20th century by a player not on a Yankees team that had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was when Chuck Klein scored 158 times in 1930. Only two players have come within 48 runs of the record since 1949; Jeff Bagwell scored 152 in 2000 and Ted Williams scored 150 in 1949. It will take some kind of miracle for anyone to approach this record.
This record held by Chief Wilson is not so much the result of a bygone era as much as it is a result of changing field dimensions. Only three players have ever hit 30 or more triples in a season and Wilson is the only player to do so after the 19th century. While 20 triples have been reached four times in the last 20 years no player has come within 10 of Wilson’s total since Kiki Cuyler hit 26 in 1925. With fields continuing to shrink or at least not get any bigger I suspect that Wilson can rest easy knowing that his record will remain his alone.
Hall of Famer Sam Crawford owns what appears to be a safe record. Only seven other players in history have 200 career triples and the last two to eclipse the 200 mark both retired in 1928. Crawford hit 20 or more in a season five times. There are three active players with more than 100 three-baggers; 35-year old Carl Crawford (123), 33-year old Jose Reyes (121), and 38-year old Jimmy Rollins (115).
This might be the most eye popping statistic on this list. In 2004 Barry Bonds came to the plate 617 times and walked in 37.6% of those plate appearances. Bonds also has the second and third most walks in a season. Babe Ruth has the most walks in a season for a player not named Bonds with 170 in 1923. That’s 62 fewer than Bonds record. It’s always dangerous to say never with counting stats but right now it seems darn near impossible that anyone could ever approach this mark.
While Bonds 232 walks in a season is probably the most eye popping stat on this list this is the most ridiculous. Accumulated in the same year, 2004, opposing teams opted to issue Bonds an intentional free pass instead of pitching to him. 19.4% of the time Bonds walked to the plate the opposing team said go ahead and take your base, 19%! Intentional walks were not official tracked until 1955 so there is no telling how many times Babe Ruth or Ted Williams were issued intentional walks but it’s really hard to believe that it would have occurred 120 times in one season. The most intentional walks issued to anyone not named Bonds in one season was when Willie McCovey was given 45 free passes in 1969, or more than 2.5 times fewer than Bonds.
Cal Ripken did what was once thought impossible, he broke Lou Gehrig‘s record and kept on going. Again, with counting stats we should never say never but to put it into perceptive tying this record would require a player to play every single game for over 16 full seasons. This requires both luck to stay healthy enough to continuously be in the lineup but also a good amount of talent to stay on the field for that many years without getting a day off. The most recent consecutive games played streak of note ended in 2007 when Miguel Tejada played in 1,152 consecutive games.
Joe DiMaggio pulled off what might be one of the most amazing sports feats in history. The Yankee Clipper got a hit in every game between May 15 and July 17. Since he set the record in 1941 only one player has come within 12 games of his streak, Pete Rose in 1978. Several players since have had streaks for a month or more but no one has ever been able to come within 11 or fewer games. And with bullpen specialization prevalent throughout today’s game this streak seems nearly impossible to reach. Though the occasional flirting is fun.
Eddie Collins, a career .333 hitter, would never be allow to “give away” an out 512 times. But that’s exactly what he did. With sabermetricans telling us all that sacrifices are not a good use of outs since you only get 27 of them per game I don’t think anyone will ever come close to this record. Collins record is already 120 more than second place and the active player with the most is Elvis Andrus with 99. Collins will most likely also hold this record for the rest of time.