29 years ago today, Rickey Henderson declared himself the greatest of all time.
While his base stealing contributions to baseball may not warrant that title -- unless he was solely talking about stealing bases, in which case he’s right on -- the record itself could potentially be viewed as the greatest MLB record of all time. It’s really impressive when you break it down, considering how far ahead of second place he landed and how no one has even hinted at coming close to challenging him.
But in the hierarchy of MLB records, there are a lot of noteworthy candidates to choose from. Never mind if Rickey Henderson himself is the greatest of all time... is his record even the greatest of all time? Is his record even the greatest baseball accomplishment to occur on this date, seeing that Nolan Ryan recorded his seventh no-hitter on the same exact day in 1991?
We don’t think either are the greatest of all time, though we can unofficially give all of these records the title of “unbreakable.” Given the trend of baseball over the years into its modern form, we really don’t expect any of these records to be surpassed. Still, some of them can be held in higher esteem given just how far past the cusp of realistically being broken they really are.
Before we get into the list, here are some honorable mentions:
Nolan Ryan: Seven Career No-Hitters
Sam Crawford: 309 Career Triples
Ty Cobb: .367 Career Batting Average
Hack Wilson: 190 RBI (Single Season)
Billy Hamilton: 198 Runs (Single Season)
Bob Gibson: 1.12 ERA (Single Season)
Now, without further ado...
10. Connie Mack: 3,731 Managerial Wins, 3,948 Managerial Losses, 7,755 Games Managed
Cornelius McGillicuddy -- Connie Mack has a nicer ring to it -- was known as the Grand Old Man of Baseball for a reason. It may have had something to do with the fact that he managed for over 50 years in the bigs and compiled the most impressive managerial record, quantity-wise, that we’ll ever see.
He has nearly 1,000 more wins than John McGraw, who is in second place. He has nearly 1,600 more losses than Tony La Russa, who is in second place in that department.
Needless to say, he’s managed a lot more games than anyone else. A whole lot more, as a matter of fact, as the second-place La Russa trails mack by more than 2,600 games managed.
Rocco Baldelli was made the youngest manager in the league at 37 years old in 2017, so all he has to do now is coach the Twins in that capacity until he’s at least 87 and the record is all his. - Jordan Cohn
9. Cal Ripken: 2,632 Consecutive Games Played
In one of the most memorable accomplishments in baseball history, Cal Ripken broke the long-standing Iron Horse record of 2,130 consecutive games played set by the great Lou Gehrig. That record stood for 56 years, and all Ripken did was tack on another 500 games to make it an even more unreachable feat.
When you break it down, you realize that it requires a legitimate stretch of 16 or so years in which you’re constantly producing at a high enough level and remaining durable, literally never taking off. In today’s game, where keeping stars healthy is important as ever, the longest consecutive games played streaks are not nearly as impressive as Ripken’s. In fact, they’re literally a fraction of what Ripken was able to accomplish.
For instance, at one point during the 2018 season, the active leader in consecutive games played was Freddy Galvis with 256 games played in a row. 256 games. Not even one-tenth of Ripken’s record.
How on earth is someone going to be able to replicate this? - Jordan Cohn
8. Rickey Henderson: 1,406 Career Stolen Bases
Whether it’s the greatest of all time or the eighth greatest record of all time, there’s little doubt that it’s a record that should remain untouched given the evolution of the game. Stolen bases are a lost art and look to be on the decline for the most part. Henderson broke Lou Brock’s record of 938 stolen bases on today’s date in 1991 and added an additional 468 throughout his career to become the only 1,000-base stealer and officially stake his claim as the record-holder with 1,406 total.
The list behind Brock has some notable names on it, like Tim Raines (808), Vince Coleman (752) and Kenny Lofton (622), but the other names near the top are all old-timers who played in a time when stealing 70+ bases happened with relative consistency. Ty Cobb’s 897 stolen bases can’t really be compared to today’s game because of just how different everything is.
In terms of modern players who approached the record or looked like they were on pace… there really aren’t any. Jose Reyes was a prolific base-stealer, consistently among the league leaders when healthy, and he finished with 517. Ichiro barely passed the 500-mark. Perennial lead-off threats Carl Crawford and Jimmy Rollins couldn’t break that barrier.
1,406 is way too much to overcome. - Jordan Cohn
7. Joe DiMaggio: 56-Game Hitting Streak
When Philadelphia Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins recorded a 38-game hitting streak between 2005 and 2006, it was one of the more noteworthy accomplishments of the decade. Rollins’ hitting streak was the eighth-longest hitting streak in MLB history, and to this day is the longest hitting streak in baseball since 1987.
Still, it was 18 games shy of New York Yankees’ Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, who had a hit in 56 consecutive games in 1941. The second longest hitting streak in MLB history was the 45-game hitting streak that Hall of Famer Willie Keeler put together for the Baltimore Orioles between the 1896 and 1897 seasons. Of the six longest hitting streaks in MLB history, Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978 is the most recent.
For better or for worse, there’s less emphasis in the modern game on putting the ball in play. Strikeouts are not viewed as negatively as they once were. Players that consistently walk are held in very high regard in today’s game. All of these factors contribute to it being highly unlikely that anyone ever approaches DiMaggio’s hitting streak record.
6. Pete Rose: 4,256 Career Hits
Whether Pete Rose ever gets a chance to be on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot or not, he hasn’t been stripped from the MLB record books. And in the case of his all-time hits record, it’s unlikely anyone else will ever approach him.
In 24 seasons that he spent with the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos, Rose tallied a record 4,256 career hits. That’s 67 more hits than Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, who played his last game in 1928. It’s 485 more hits than Hank Aaron, who played his 23rd and final season in 1976. Over the last four-plus decades, Derek Jeter has the highest career hits total at 3,465. That total helped Jeter to be elected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but it’s “only” sixth all time and is nearly 800 hits behind Rose.
The best bet to break Rose’s hits record may have been Ichiro Suzuki, who finished his baseball career with 4,367 total hits. Unfortunately for Ichiro, he didn’t play in the MLB until his age-27 season. 3,089 from age-27 on is unreal consistency, but not nearly enough to challenge Rose’s MLB record. - Tim Kelly
5. Chicago Cubs: .763 Winning Percentage in 1906
Perhaps some team will be able to challenge this in what’s likely to be a very abbreviated 2020 season - if there’s a season at all - but in terms of seasons that were 124 games or longer, the 1906 Chicago Cubs are unrivaled.
In a 152-game season, the Cubs went 116-36, posting a .763 winning percentage, the highest total a team has posted in an individual season in MLB history. Even if the Cubs had played in a 162-game season and lost all 10 extra games, they still would have had the same record as the 2001 Seattle Mariners, whose 116-46 record is the best individual record a team has posted in the last 65 seasons. Of course, there’s no evidence that the Cubs would have lost 10 consecutive games to finish the season either.
The crazy thing is that like the 2001 Mariners, the 1906 Cubs ultimately weren’t able to cap off one of the most dominant regular seasons in MLB history with a championship. Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and the Cubs lost in the World Series to the cross-town rival White Sox in six games. Still, a team wins the World Series every year. Over 100 years later, no team has ever approached the .763 regular season winning percentage that the Cubs posted in 1906. - Tim Kelly
4. Barry Bonds: 120 Intentional Walks in a Single Season
In 2004, Bonds won his seventh and final National League MVP. Though he hit 28 less home runs than his record-setting season three years prior (more on that in a minute), Bonds still posted a staggering 11.9 fWAR in 2004.
Part of that was because he hit .362 with 45 home runs and 101 RBIs. But he also posted a staggering .609 on-base percentage thanks in part to the fact that he walked a staggering 232 times. That record alone may be pretty unbreakable, but of those 232 walks, 120 were of the intentional variety.
Bonds owns the top three seasons in MLB history in terms of most intentional walks. The 120 that he racked up in 2004 are 75 more than any other player in MLB history has ever had in one season. Willie McCovey and Albert Pujols have the next two highest totals and neither of them even had 50 intentional walks in one individual season. - Tim Kelly
3. Walter Johson: 110 Career Shutouts
On the surface, 110 shutouts sounds like a lot. But it may not give off the same sound of “unbreakable” that some other records may.
Since 1960, the pitchers with the most career shutouts are Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, tied atop the list with Bert Blyleven trailing them by just one shutout. These pitchers would have to nearly double the amount of shutouts that they pitched in their careers to catch The Big Train, as Ryan and Seaver recorded 61 apiece.
The feat becomes even more unreachable when you consider the frequency with which today’s pitchers record shutouts. The league leader in shutouts in 2019, the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara, recorded a grand total of two. The year before, eight pitchers were tied for the league lead with a single shutout. And that’s it. For someone to average over five shutouts per season over the span of a 20-game career just isn’t something we can ever expect to happen again, barring some monumental change to the game’s rules or another extremely unforeseen factor. - Jordan Cohn
2. Barry Bonds: 73 Home Runs in a Single Season
We can debate what factored into Bonds setting the single-season home run record in 2001, but the record books aren’t especially interested in that type of nuance. As far as they are concerned, Bonds is the single-season home run king, and that may never change.
Sure, Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record just three seasons after he became the first player in MLB history to hit 70 home runs, but McGwire has since admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in his career. Sammy Sosa, the only player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in a single season three different times, is believed to have used PEDs as well.
The trio of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa account for five of the eight seasons in MLB history where a player has hit 60 or more home runs in a single season. Before the Steroid Era, Roger Maris’ 1961 season - where he hit a then-record 61 home runs - was the last season a player hit 60 or more home runs in a single season. Pre Maris, Babe Ruth’s 1927 season was the only season in MLB history where a player hit 60 or more home runs. Since the conclusion of the Steroid Era, no one has hit 60 home runs in a single season - with Giancarlo Stanton (59 in 2017) and Ryan Howard (58 in 2006) falling just shy in their respective National League MVP seasons.
Consider this: Alex Rodriguez is one of the most accomplished hitters in MLB history and has acknowledged using PEDs for portions of his peak. And the most home runs that he ever hit in a single season was 57 in 2002 with the Texas Rangers, a season that he admitted to cheating during. It may just be that the combination of Bonds being one of the smartest hitters in MLB history and - we think - using PEDs created one of the most unbreakable records in MLB history. - Tim Kelly
1. Cy Young: 511 Career Wins (and 369 Career Losses)
Let us get one thing out of the way first. Perhaps the more unbreakable (redundant, but whatever) record associated with pitching wins is the single-season record that belongs to Old Hoss Radbourn. Formerly set at 59 wins, a recent discovery affirmed, as much as possible, that Radbourn recorded 60 wins in his 1884 season. Along with 441 strikeouts and a 1.38 ERA, this is one of the greatest statistical seasons we’ve ever seen, and the $3,000 he made over the course of that campaign was well deserved.
But because none of that was accomplished in the modern era of baseball, we’re going to default to another unbreakable wins record, this one the cumulative total of 511 wins that Cy Young was able to collect throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Using a pitcher like CC Sabathia as an example, who has turned in a Hall of Fame career and decided to retire this past season after a 19-year career, shows you just how unrealistic it is to ever expect someone to approach this. Sabathia was durable as far as starters go, starting more than 28 games in all but three years of his career. In total, he started 560 games over a lengthy and primarily healthy career. Had he wanted to reach 511 wins, he would have needed to record a 91.3% winning percentage and pitch into the game where his team had the lead and kept it in all of those instances.
It’s just not going to happen. - Jordan Cohn