By Father Gabe Costa
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Numbers are fascinating. Mathematicians and statisticians love them. And, in a real sense, the only way to understand baseball is from a quantitative approach.
In their classic book, "The Hidden Game of Baseball" (ISBN13: 9780385182843), authors John Thorn and Pete Palmer write: "Baseball may be loved without statistics, but it cannot be understood without them."
While growing up as a kid and hanging out with my friends on the corner of Second and Monroe Streets in Hoboken, when we weren't playing stickball, boxball or touch football, we would be talking sports. Since baseball was our favorite sport, a lot of our conversations centered on the National Pastime.
And certain numbers always came up; numbers, such as, 714, 892, 3508 and 2130.
None of us even had to reference or contextualize these figures. Everyone knew that these four numbers represented Babe Ruth's lifetime home run total, Ty Cobb's lifetime stolen base total, Walter Johnson's career total of batters he fanned, and Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record, respectively.
Not one of us figured any of these marks would ever be surpassed. They were Magic Numbers.
Well, decades later, we certainly know better. Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have both hit more than 714 home runs. Rickey Henderson, for one, has left Ty Cobb in the dust.
Nolan Ryan and others have far surpassed the Big Train in total strikeouts. And we all know that Cal Ripken has bettered the Iron Horse's skein by about 500 games.
Still, it always came down to the numbers. And, of course, thanks to Bill James and many, many others, we have had the advent of sabermetrics… talk about numbers!
Lately I've been wondering whether there are any truly "unbreakable" records. That is, I asked myself if there are numbers so "magic," that they will never be surpassed? To get some input, I contacted some of my old pals from Hoboken – John Conforti, Bobby Lemke, Kenny Riordan and Jimmy Vincenti – to ask them to give me some suggestions.
In this episode of By The Numbers we list, a la David Letterman, some seasonal and career records which range from very difficult to virtually impossible (?) with respect to being overtaken.
These are some of the records we came up with:
HARDEST SEASONAL AND CAREER RECORDS TO BREAK
10. Most RBIs in a season (currently held by Hack Wilson with 191)
9. Most career strikeouts by a pitcher (currently held by Nolan Ryan with 5714)
8. Most career steals of home (currently held by Ty Cobb with 54)
7. Most wins by a pitcher in a season (currently held by Jack Chesbro with 41)
6. Most consecutive games with a hit (currently held by Joe DiMaggio with 56)
5. Most consecutive games played (currently held by Cal Ripken with 2632)
4. Most career shutouts by a pitcher (currently held by Walter Johnson with 110)
3. Highest career slugging percentage (currently held by Babe Ruth with .690)
2. Most career complete games by a pitcher (currently held by Cy Young with 749), Most career wins by a pitcher (currently held by Cy Young with 511), Most career losses by a pitcher (currently held by Cy Young with 316)
1. Most consecutive no-hitters pitched (currently held by Johnny Vander Meer with 2)
Can these numbers be surpassed? Will these records ever be broken? Let Father Gabe know in the comments below...
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