One of the wonders of baseball is there is a record for everything. You set the criteria, plug it into Baseball-Reference’s Stathead search feature and it’ll tell you who owns the record. The most starts to begin a career with three or fewer runs allowed? The record is 24 and belongs to Zac Gallen, who snatched it last year from Aaron Sele. The most successful stolen base attempts to begin a career? Tim Locastro’s 29, breaking a record previously owned by Tim Raines. And there are far more obscure records than that.
This is not a list of those records. For this piece, we’re sticking to some of the most notable records in the history of Major League Baseball. Some are more famous than others and you’ll know them by the numbers alone — 762; 56; 4,256. All were chosen somewhat arbitrarily, although I tried (for the most part) to stick to records set in baseball’s modern era.
The tiers below, and the records that populate them, are just as subjectively chosen. What you need to know about them is that I am right and will brook no arguments from you lot. And by “brook no arguments,” I mean that if confronted, I will immediately fold and concede the correctness of your position. So why bother yelling at me at all, right?
Anyway, here are 22 baseball records, broken down by unbreakability.
I. Absolutely unbreakable
Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played
Like most of the records in this tier, Ripken’s mark will stand for eternity not only because of his incredible reliability but also because the game has moved irrevocably away from being played in a way that makes a record like this possible. For more than 16 seasons without interruption, Ripken was in the lineup. In 2019, the last time a full 162 games were played, only five players managed to appear in every single game. Only one of them, Whit Merrifield, has played in every game since.
It takes longevity and everyday-type production to stay in the lineup. But it also requires bucking what teams have come to realize about the value of rest and off days. Clubs recognize now that 150 games of a rested player often can be better than 162 games of a more exhausted version. It’s hard to see the game ever going back to the literal meaning of “everyday player,” so Ripken’s record is safe.
Watch out for: Merrifield was sitting on 417 games in a row entering Tuesday. He’s got, oh, only more than 2,000 to go before he even tastes Ripken’s dust.
Cy Young’s 511 wins
It may be a while before we see another 300-win pitcher, let alone anyone who gets within 100 wins of Young’s mark. More than a century has passed since Young retired, and pitcher usage has changed countless times since then. Starters don’t pitch nearly as often as they did the days Young started more than 40 games a year. The bullpen revolution of the ’70s and ’80s meant fewer complete-game opportunities. Now, the win statistic is all but irrelevant as the game has moved on to more specific metrics.
It’s hard to imagine any future in which starters begin stacking up wins like they did in Young’s heyday. Openers and bulk pitchers are in, guys facing the top of the lineup a fourth time are out. Entering Tuesday, starting pitchers were averaging 5 1/3 innings and 84 pitches per start. That pendulum will never fully swing back the other way.
Watch out for: The active leader in career wins is Justin Verlander. He’s got 226 and is 38 years old. The youngest player with more than 100 is 30-year-old Gerrit Cole with 111. They’ve got no shot.
Hugh Duffy’s .440 single-season batting average
Which is actually the record here is a matter of debate. With the recognition of the Negro Leagues as major leagues, that brings Josh Gibson’s .466, Tetelo Vargas’ .471 and Charlie Smith’s .451 into the mix. But their marks came in seasons of less than 100 games, sometimes far less. Duffy played in 125 when he hit .440 in 1894.
No matter whose mark you favor, nobody is reaching it ever again. No one’s even flirted with .400 since Tony Gwynn in 1994.
Watch out for: DJ LeMahieu has two batting titles since 2016, topping out at .364. Keep dreaming.
Barry Bonds’ 645 intentional walks
Feel free to argue amongst yourselves, but for the sake of debate, let’s say Mike Trout is the best hitter currently in baseball. The last guy in the game any pitcher or opposing manager wants to see in the batter’s box. He’s been intentionally walked 109 times. Bonds was walked more than that in 2004 alone. He was walked with the bases loaded!
There may be future hitters as feared as Bonds was — maybe — but front offices are too analytics-heavy now to stomach allowing so many free passes.
Watch out for: The descriptor “most-feared hitter of his generation” certainly fits Albert Pujols, and he’s got the longevity that matters with counting stats. He’s also not even halfway to Bonds’ mark, with 315 intentional walks.