MLB roundtable: What’s the most unbreakable record in baseball history?


The 2020 Major League Baseball season is on indefinite hiatus because of the threat that is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Spring training was shut down in March and Opening Day has been pushed back indefinitely. When will baseball return? No one knows for sure, though MLB hopes it will be early July.

Between now and Opening Day my fellow CBS Sports MLB scribes and I will bring you a weekly roundtable breaking down, well, pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed pro athletes in other sports we’d like to see try baseball. Now on to this week’s roundtable.

What is the most unbreakable record in baseball history?

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants

Barry Bonds holds many MLB records, but are any unbreakable?
Getty Images

R.J. Anderson: Complete games in a season. I’m not even talking about the all-time record (Will White’s 75), but the Integration Era record of 33 set by Robin Roberts in 1953. Last season, the league leaders tied with three complete games apiece. Maybe, at some point in the distant future, the pendulum will swing from its current bullpen-heavy ways and pitchers will be allowed to again work deeper into games. I’m skeptical that baseball will ever return to the days where pitchers are throwing complete games in every start. As such, Roberts’ record seems about as safe as they get. (And don’t even think about White’s.)

Matt Snyder: I think there are a pretty large number of unbreakable records.

  • Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games. That’s more than 16 seasons without missing a game. That’s never going to happen again. 
  • Cy Young’s 511 career wins is ridiculously safe. 
  • The active leader in triples is Dexter Fowler with 82. The career record is 309 (Sam Crawford). It’s hard to see anyone getting to that. The single-season record of 36 (Chief Wilson, 1912) is probably not getting close to being touched ever again. 
  • I don’t think we’re very likely to ever see Barry Bonds’ season mark of 73 homers fall and his 762 career home runs are probably safe as well. 
  • The single-season batting average record is .440 (Hugh Duffy, 1894). Ty Cobb’s career mark of .366 seems untouchable as well. 
  • A pitcher would have to average more than 285 strikeouts per season for 20 years to get to Nolan Ryan’s 5,714. 

But I think it’s the most unbreakable is complete games, as R.J. mentioned. The 75 in a single season simply aren’t possible. Cy Young’s 749 in his career are completely out of the realm of possibility, too. Similarly, we could throw in innings pitched. Will White’s 680 in 1879 and Cy Young’s career mark is  7,356. 

Dayn Perry: Yeah, to repeat the general point, so many of these pitcher records from the pre-World War II era will never be approached. It’s hard to peg the most unbreakable one, but I’ll highlight Walter Johnson’s 110 career shutouts. To put that in perspective, the active leader in career shutouts is Clayton Kershaw with 15. To put that in further perspective all of MLB over the last four seasons has 108 shutouts thrown by one pitcher (as opposed to team shutouts). That covers a span of almost 20,000 pitcher starts. Johnson racked up his 110 shutouts in 666 starts. Modern pitcher usage means this record will never be sniffed unless the game undergoes unimaginable changes.

Katherine Acquavella: Good points were brought up regarding some of the pitching records that will likely never fall. I’ll switch course and bring up a record on the offensive side that I don’t think we’ll see be broken in our lifetimes. Pete Rose’s MLB all-time hits record of 4,256 hits. Yes, there’s the Ichiro Suzuki technicality with him achieving 4,367 total between Japan and MLB but, we’ll just go off of what MLB currently recognizes.

Just to reach a total of 4,000 hits, a player has to get 200 hits/season for 20 straight years. And in baseball, there’s only been two players to reach the 4K hits mark: Rose and Ty Cobb. As of now, the closest active players to Rose’s hits record are Albert Pujols (age 40, 3,202 hits) and Miguel Cabrera (age 37, 2,815 hits). The last season where all of the top-10 hitters reached the 200 mark was back in 1937. Last season, just two players amassed 200 hits (Whit Merrifield and Rafael Devers).

Mike Axisa: The “correct” answer is almost certainly one of those pre-World War II pitching records like Cy Young’s 511 wins or 7,356 innings, or maybe Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played. Hard to see that ever getting beat.

For the sake of variety, I’ll go with the intentional walks records, both single season and career. Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 688 times in his career, more than any other two players combined (Albert Pujols is second with 311 and Stan Musial is third with 298). The all-time single-season intentional walks leaderboard is laughable:

  1. Barry Bonds, 2004: 120
  2. Barry Bonds, 2002: 68
  3. Barry Bonds, 2003: 61
  4. Willie McCovey, 1969: 45
  5. Albert Pujols, 2009: 44

There are only three other instances in history of a player being intentionally walked at least 40 times in a season: Bonds was given a free pass 43 times in 1993 and 2007, and McCovey was intentionally walked 40 times in 1970. Cody Bellinger was intentionally walked an MLB-leading 21 times last season and the Dodgers and Phillies tied for the lead with 47 intentional walks as a team. No player will ever be intentionally walked 100-plus times again. An entire team may never again reach 100.

The intentional walk still has its uses with the National League, particularly when there’s traffic on the bases and the pitcher is on deck, otherwise it is a dying strategy. There were only 753 intentional walks last season — the 2019 Astros became the first team ever to issue zero intentional walks during the regular season — the fewest since 1961, the final year of the 154-game schedule. Teams don’t like giving out free baserunners and I don’t see any player ever getting the Bonds treatment. Plus, with the DH likely coming to the National League at some point, intentional walks will come down for good. No one’s ever catching Barry.





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