Baseball’s Greatest Records – Which All-Time Mark Will Fall Next?

Baseball has retained the loyalty of millions of devoted fans in the face of strong challenges from the more perpetually active pro football and basketball. Much of its sustained appeal seems to stem from continued assaults, often successful, on long-standing records.

The Record Setters
Although major league baseball, in the form of the National League, goes back to 1876, most of its pre-1900 achievements are lost in the fog of antiquity. Field conditions, equipment, and rules governing such matters as balls and strikes and foul balls were so different that, for the most part, individual and team records are not compared with subsequent accomplishments. The Twentieth Century brought not only the new American League but also a relative stabilization of rules and conditions in both leagues.

By the 1920’s, players and fans were keenly aware of batting and pitching records. With former pitcher Babe Ruth gaining national hero status by hitting unprecedented numbers of home runs, baseball executives reengineered the ball to become “livelier.” Ruth, whose record high with the “dead ball” had been 29, proceeded to smash 54 in 1920 and 59 in1921. In 1927, when he began to threaten his own record, fans were treated to a competition with his teammate, Lou Gehrig, which ended with Gehrig at 47 and Ruth at a new mark of 60.

When that total withstood challenges in the 1930’s from Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg of 56, 58, and 58, respectively, it began to take on the aura of the unattainable. So, too, Rogers Hornsby’s .424 batting average for one season, Ty Cobb’s lifetime average of.367, his 4,191 basehits, his season and career stolen base records, and Ruth’s career total of 714 homers. Add to that Gehrig’s string of 2,130 consecutive games played which was cut short in 1939 only by his falling victim to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

That same year, the Baseball Hall of Fame was opened, and the records of the first two generations of immortals were enshrined with their achievers. Sports publications and broadcasts made baseball aficionados increasingly informed about the aforementioned records and others like Cy Young’s 511 career wins, Walter Johnson’s 56 consecutive scoreless innings, Christy Mathewson’s three shutouts in one World Series, and George Sisler’s 257 basehits in one season.

The Record Breakers

Ironically, Ruth’s season record was the first of the “unattainables” to go. In 1961, Yankee teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle reprised the Ruth-Gehrig duel of 1927, with Maris reaching 61 on the last day and an injured Mantle falling short at 54. The addition of seven games to the schedule that year led to some hesitation about recognizing Maris’s total as a new record, but it went into the books. In fact, it had lasted three years longer than Ruth’s when Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals walloped 70 in 1998. McGwire was surpassed in only three years by Barry Bonds’s 73, and both totals are now viewed with some skepticism because of suspicions of performance drug use by both stars.

Ruth’s lifetime record endured until 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, and Aaron’s eventual 755 was surpassed by Bonds in 2007. Johnson’s scoreless innings record was exceeded by L.A. Dodgers Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser in the 1960’s and 80’s, respectively. Gehrig’s “Iron Man” standard fell to Cal Ripken in 1995. Sisler’s basehit record lasted the longest, 84 years, until Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners stroked 262 in 2004.

Maury Wills of the Dodgers broke Cobb’s season record with 104 stolen bases in 1962, and he in turn was far outdistanced 20 years later by Ricky Henderson’s 130. Henderson finished with 1,406 career steals, more than 500 above Cobb’s mark. Pete Rose, who played most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, topped Cobb’s career basehit record by reaching 4,256 in 1986.

What Will Endure
With so many “unattainables” having fallen by the wayside, it’s hazardous to predict which will endure. But changes in some playing conditions and practices give some clues. Although a few batters have flirted with a .400 average, no one has stayed that high for a full season since Ted Williams in 1941. While it’s possible that a Suzuki or some yet unknown star may achieve it, Hornsby’s .424 seems safe. With the prevalence of night baseball, fresh pitchers in late innings, and greater rewards for home runs, Cobb’s .367 lifetime average is probably also out of reach. And with pitchers neither starting nor completing as many games as their counterparts of the first half of the last century, no one is likely to approach Cy Young’s 511 career victories.

What’s the most tantalizing of the remaining long-lasting records? On the relatively few but recurring occasions when someone hits safely in 30 or more consecutive games, some pundit will reexamine Joe DiMaggio’s record of 56 in 1941 for vulnerability. Rose’s 44 in 1978 is the closest anyone has come, but 12 more doesn’t seem implausible. Stay tuned. 해외스포츠

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