There is an old saying that records are made to be broken.
Major League Baseball has been around since 1876. No other sport is as obsessed with statistics as our National Pastime. From Cy Young’s 511 career wins to the New York Yankees 27 World Series titles, the game is awash in numbers. Thousands of records have been established in the 14 decades that baseball has been played, a sum so enormous that even Bill James can’t keep track of them all.
While the quest to become the first to bat .400 since Ted Williams or eclipse Joe DiMaggio’s vaunted 56-game hitting streak is riveting, it ain’t going to happen. Defensive shifts, detailed scouting reports and the endless parade of fresh relief pitchers used in today’s game virtually ensure these marks will stand forever.
But Teddy Ballgame and Joltin’ Joe are not alone. Today we bring baseball’s most unbreakable records.
Pete Rose amassed 4,256 career hits. In the past eight decades, only Ichiro Suzuki has topped 250 hits in a season, when he collected a record 262 in 2004. To catch Rose, a player would have to gather more than 250 hits over 17 seasons.
Joe Sewell is the toughest hitter to strike out in the history of baseball. In 1932, the Indians infielder whiffed only three times in 576 plate appearances. On Opening Day 2019, a dozen players struck out three times in the same game.
Sam Crawford belted 309 career triples. Wahoo recorded 16 ten-triple seasons. No player in this decade has had more than 16 triples in a season. For a player to threaten Crawford’s mark, he’d have to average 15 three-baggers over 20 seasons.
Ed Walsh posted a career ERA of 1.82. While Bob Gibson amassed an unfathomable 1.12 ERA in 1968, it was for only one season. The lowest career ERA in today’s game belongs to Clayton Kershaw, whose 2.42 places him tied for 28th on the all-time list.
In 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. broke a hallowed record-long considered unbreakable. On September 6 of that year, the Iron Man played in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Iron Horse Lou Gehrig’s record set 56 years earlier. Ripken would add another 500 games to set a new mark of 2,632 straight.
The pitching marks set during the Dead-Ball Era will never be touched. In 1879, Will White hurled 75 complete games. Jack Taylor pitched 202 consecutive innings between June 1901 and August 1906. And Old Hoss Radbourn won 59 games in 1884.
Orator Shafer had 50 outfield assists for the Chicago White Stockings in 1879. Since 1900, no player has had more than 38, and nobody has had more than 30 since 1936. The ChiSox right fielder was a dandy, leading the league in outfield assists four times.
Rickey Henderson stole 1,406 career bases. The next closest player is the incomparable Lou Brock, with 468 fewer stolen bases at 938. Henderson swiped 100 bags in three different seasons and had thirteen 50-steal seasons. Dee Gordon has led MLB in steals three times. His best year came in 2014, when he swiped 64. To catch Rickey, a player would have to average better than 70 stolen bases for 20 seasons.
In 1894, Hugh Duffy batted .440 for the Boston Beaneaters, a single-season record that still stands. Tip O’Neill is second on the list, having hit .435 for the 1887 St. Louis Browns.
The 1899 Cleveland Spiders hold the MLB record for most road losses in a single season, with 101. The Spiders were woeful that year, setting still-standing records for single-season losses  and lowest winning percentage [.130]. While the other records on this list are theoretically possible [but highly improbably broken], this record cannot be broken. Today’s season consists of 162 games; 81 at home and 81 on the road. So even if a squad went winless on the road for an entire season, they’d still come up 20 losses shy of the 1899 Spiders. The Baltimore Orioles take solace in that.
Mariano Rivera earned 652 career saves. Trevor Hoffman is closest, with 601. Baseball’s current career active saves leader is Craig Kimbrell, who has amassed 40 or more saves in a season five times. For a player to reach Mo, he would need 16 seasons with more than 40 saves.
Nolan Ryan collected 5,714 career strikeouts during his Hall of Fame career. The Ryan Express pitched for 27 years, starting 773 games and throwing 5,386 innings. Justin Verlander is one of the most dominant power pitchers of his era. The Astros right-hander has led the league in strikeouts five times, including 2018, when he whiffed a career-best 290 batters. In order to match Ryan, Verlander would have to replicate his best year for 20 seasons.