|Only one player has gotten more than 750 hits
from age 39 on: Pete Rose. (US Presswire)
Twitter is a remarkable thing. On Saturday, I discovered that Pete Rose is on Twitter. Anyway, it SEEMS to be Pete Rose … based on the fact that this Twitter page is linked from Rose’s official Web site.
But, even though it is linked, there seems some dubious things about it. For one thing, the account had been active for like two weeks and yet when I first checked in, Pete had like only 500 followers (at last check, it was a bit more than 2,000). For another, there were a few tweets that didn’t exactly sound like Pete — a whole lot of “Check out PeteRose (dot) com”-type pitches. But, like I said, it is the account that links from the official site, and there WERE some pretty cool tweets on there. So I decided to test it out.
I tweeted: “Let’s find out if Pete Rose is real. What is the most unbreakable record in in baseball besides the hit record?”
There are three things I thought about as I tweeted this. One, there is no way — absolutely no way — Pete Rose could resist answering. Pete Rose, for whatever else you can and will say about him, loves talking baseball. It is an obsession with him. I have interviewed him numerous times and every time he seemed reluctant to talk at the start, and every time he ended up talking for hours because the guy can’t help himself. He loves talking about pitching, about hitting, about the ways kids play today, about that one time in San Francisco, about that other time at Shea, about Derek Jeter’s chances for 4,000 hits (laughter) about how he would hit Mariano Rivera (back off the plate so a cutter would not saw him off) and on and on and on. Of course, with Pete, beyond the baseball, you get plenty of color commentary about other things, but the context is baseball. He loves it.
Two, I figured Pete would appreciate the “besides the hit record” line.
Three, I’ve already asked him this once before, in one of our interviews, and he gave the great answer: The most unbreakable record, he said, was Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters because, to break it, someone would have to throw THREE no-hitters in a row. I figured that if Pete gave that as his answer, I would know he was the man.
As it turned out, Twitter Pete did not give that as his answer. He said the most unbreakable record was Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Of course, this doesn’t mean Twitter Pete is not Real Pete. He could have been just joking about Vander Meer. He could have changed his mind. He could have been standing nearby when someone running his Twitter account asked him and he just said, off the top of his head, “Yeah, just type in DiMaggio.” I don’t have the illusion that Pete himself is standing at the computer typing in Twitter responses day and night.
But if that’s not fun enough — engaging Twitter Pete Rose on a Saturday afternoon — I got a bunch of other people responding what they think the most unbreakable record is in baseball. So, for fun, I thought I’d throw together off the top of my head the 10 baseball records that are unlikeliest to be broken, in order:
1. Cy Young’s 511 victories.
I’ve written before that I don’t even think this should count as a record. Young won 72 of those games when the pitcher’s mound was 50 feet from home plate, won another 425 games before the ball had a cork center and won all 511 of his games when the spitball was legal. He averaged 43 starts a year his first 13 full seasons, and his first four full seasons he started 46, 49, 46 and 47 games. This is not to downplay Cy Young’s greatness, it is only to say that it was a different game.
But as long as that counts as the official record, it is unbreakable. No pitcher has won 25 games in a season since 1990 — and to get to 511 you would have to win 25 games 20 YEARS in a row, and then win another 11 somehow. It cannot be broken, not the way the game is going.
With the 511 victories goes other unbreakable Cy Young records — his 749 complete games, his 7,356 innings pitched, and probably his 316 losses, though the last record is the most reachable, I think. Nolan Ryan came staggeringly close with 292 losses. Phil Niekro (274 losses), Gaylord Perry (265 losses) and Don Sutton (256 losses) suggest the loss record is not quite as unbreakable as the others.
2. Old Hoss Radbourn’s 59 wins in a season.
Same theme as Cy Young’s win record: can’t ever happen again unless there’s a titanic change in the way the game is played, and the rules that govern it. Old Hoss’ numbers from that year, 1884, are so much fun to see.
3. Sam Crawford’s 309 triples.
Again, this comes from a different time … Crawford played in the deadball era when, one year, he led the league with seven home runs. In the triples Top 10 list, the only one who played after World War II was Stan Musial, and his 177 triples is a long way down from Crawford. Willie Wilson has the most triples for anyone over the last 50 years, and he did not have even HALF as many as Crawford. The active leader for triples is Carl Crawford, with 112; if he could get healthy again, he might pass Wilson. He won’t get within a direct flight of unrelated Sam Crawford.
4. Nolan Ryan’s 2,795 walks.
I do believe Ryan’s strikeout record is achievable. I’m not saying that I’m betting on it; I’m just saying it’s possible. Strikeouts are way up around baseball. And the truth is that Randy Johnson came within 850 or so, and Johnson did not have his first 200-strikeout season until the year he turned 27. If Johnson had reached the big leagues at 23 or 24 and still pitched into his 40s, he would have broken the record. That’s a big if, I understand, but I’m just saying it’s possible.
The walks record? Impossible. Won’t get broken. Ryan walked almost 1,000 more batters than anyone else in baseball history. He walked almost twice as many batters as Roger Clemens. How good do you have to be to be that wild and have that long of a career? Good enough that it will never happen again.
5. Connie Mack’s 3,731victories and 3,948 losses as a manager
Tony La Russa was actually someone who might have challenged the victories record, had he been allowed to manage until he was 80 (which, at times, it appeared he might be).
Think of it this way: To get to 3,731 victories, a manager would have to win 100-plus games 37 YEARS in a row. No manager other than Mack has ever managed 37 years at all. In many ways, the losses record — like Ryan’s walk record — is even more impressive.
6. Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts
Most shutouts by decade:
1901-10: Christy Mathewson, 63
1911-20: Pete Alexander, 77
1921-30: Dazzy Vance, 26
1931-40: Larry French, 32
1941-50: Hal Newhouser, 32
1951-60: Warren Spahn, 36
1961-70: Juan Marichal, 45
1971-80: Nolan Ryan, 42
1981-90: Fernando Valenzuela, 29
1991-2000: Randy Johnson, 26
2001-2010: Roy Halladay, 18
If Halladay had five more decades like the last one … he would still fall short of Walter Johnson’s record.
7. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
I know this was Twitter Pete’s choice, and it’s the choice of many people and I certainly admire the streak very much. It probably won’t be broken for all the reasons that have been discussed through the years — the ridiculous challenge of maintaining that kind of consistency, the building pressure as you get closer, the media circus that would undoubtedly make life miserable and so on. But unlike some of these other records, it COULD conceivably happen. The game’s evolution would prevent anyone from breaking Young’s record or Crawford’s or Johnson’s … it would take a fundamental shift in the very structure of baseball for anyone to break one of those records.
The DiMaggio record, meanwhile, would not take that kind of seismic change. It would take a batter getting a hit in 56 straight games. I don’t mean to downplay that … it’s obviously a Herculean task, one that mathematicians have called all but impossible. But compared to the league suddenly allowing pitchers to start 45 or 50 games in a season, it could happen.
The way I figure it: It would take an Ichiro-type player, a leadoff hitter who did not strike out or walk very much. It would help if he played in a great hitters’ ballpark, like Colorado in the 1990s or Fenway Park in the 1980s. And it really would take someone with the attitude of Pete Rose, not only someone determined to get a hit every day, but someone who THRIVES in the spotlight, loves the attention. Rose’s 44-game hitting streak was just two weeks shy of DiMaggio’s, and Rose was 37 at the time. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect to see this record broken in my lifetime. But unlike the top six, I could not say I GUARANTEE it won’t be broken in my lifetime.
8. Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases
As I’ve written before, I like to look at career records by dividing them by 20 years. For instance, Barry Bonds’ career home run record of 762 (or, if you prefer, Hank Aaron’s record of 755) divides out to 38 home runs per year over 20 years. That’s a GOOD number, but it’s not unheard of; last year, five guys hit 38 or more home runs. In 1996, 21 players hit 38 or more home runs.
Rose’s hit record breaks down to 213 hits for 20 years, which is high, but guys get that many hits. Tris Speaker’s doubles record of 792 divides out to 40 doubles a year. Guys do that every season.
Rickey Henderson’s stolen base record averages out to more than 70 stolen bases every year for 20 years.
Since 2000, exactly ONE player has stolen more than 70 bases in a season (Jose Reyes in 2007). Only 11 times in baseball history has more than one person in a season stolen more than 70 bases, and six of those seasons one of the players was Rickey Henderson.
It’s possible — not likely, but possible — that the game will shift back to the running game. Even if that happens, I doubt anyone ever will get within 500 stolen bases of Rickey Henderson.
9. Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits
I think about Ichiro. He played his first year in America when he was 27 years old. At 27, Pete Rose already had 900 hits (well, 899 to be exact). So if you added those 899 to Ichiro’s total, he would have 3,387 hits … and he’s 38 years old.
At the end of his 38-year-old season, Rose had 3,372 hits … so if you give Ichiro Rose’s start, Ichiro would be ahead of Rose … perhaps 100 or 150 hits ahead of him by the end of this season.
But, that would STILL leave Ichiro some 750 hits shy of the record. You know how many people have gotten more than 750 hits from age 39 on? One: Pete Rose. And that’s because he was an effective hitter until he turned 40 (a rarity), and he was determined and ingenious enough to stay in the game and get a lot of at-bats until he was 45 (an even greater rarity).
For someone to break Pete Rose’s record they would need to want it AS MUCH AS PETE ROSE did. Not impossible. Highly unlikely, though.
10. Barry Bonds’ .609 on-base percentage for a single season.
Yes, everybody has an opinion about what Barry Bonds’ unmatchable stretch of baseball, what was behind it, how much steroid use impacted it, whether or not it should count and so on. But the record is on the books — nobody will ever get on base 61 percent of the time again. To give you an idea, the year Ty Cobb hit .420, his on-base percentage was .467. The year George Brett hit .390, his on-base percentage was .454. In Babe Ruth’s greatest year, his on-base percentage was .545. Even Ted Williams, the greatest on-base machine the game has ever known, never finished a season within 50 percentage points of Bonds’ record.