Cody Bellinger Emphasizes Difficulty of Breaking Baseball Records

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Cody Bellinger set a Major League Baseball record for the most RBI, 37, before May 1st during a Monday night game against the San Francisco Giants. He has had quite the historic first month, with a seemingly fictitious .434/.508/.906 slash line. His 14 home runs as of April 30th also tie a baseball record for the first month.

Historic Pace for Cody Bellinger

As for his RBI record, 37 in 30 games puts him on pace for 199 over a full 162-game season. The single-season record was set in 1930 by Hack Wilson, who drove in 191 runs while playing in 155 games that season. The MLB season only lasted 154 games back then, and the Cubs replayed a game to make it 155. If Bellinger only played 155 games, like Wilson, he would still tie the record at this pace.

So much can happen over the course of a 162-game season such as injuries and slumps, but one thing that is certain is the level of difficulty it takes to break Wilson’s record. In the last 80 years, Manny Ramirez came the closest to breaking this record in 1999, but still fell 25 RBI short.

So many of the game’s greatest records appear as out of reach as Wilson’s. Therefore, here are five of the hardest records to break in baseball:

Rickey Henderson, Stolen Bases — 1,406

Rickey Henderson transcended the game of baseball with his ability to steal bases. Once he reached first base, opposing teams knew he was going to steal, and yet they still had a hard time throwing him out. He successfully stole over 80% of bases he attempted to steal.

Eleven times the league leader in stolen bases and thrice swiping over 100 bags, Henderson set the record at 1,406. Lou Brock, the next closest player, has 938. If a player stole exactly 70 bases (a total that is hard to find by one player in any given year) for exactly 20 seasons, he would still need six to tie the record.

Cal Ripken Jr., Consecutive Games Played — 2,632

In 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. helped bring baseball back from the infamous strike of the year before when he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. He would extend that streak through 1998 to 2,632. The longest streak since he set the record is Miguel Tejada, who played in 1,152 from 2000-2007, less than half of Ripken’s.

Ripken’s streak spanned 17 seasons where he played through the highs of success but also the lows of slumps and injuries. Forget the fact that the majority of careers in MLB history do not even last 17 years-the new wave of analytics find that rest is crucial throughout the season to contribute to overall team success. Therefore, planned days off are implemented for most everyday players in baseball today. Even Cody Bellinger has already had a day off this season despite his historic start. 

Cy Young, Wins — 511

Cy Young pitched in a vastly different era, but that does not discredit his record for career victories. From 1890-1911, Young won 511 games. The next closest is Walter Johnson at 417. A pitcher winning 300 games is considered the benchmark for automatic first-year entrance into the Hall of Fame. Even that number is out of reach for some of today’s great pitchers, and Young’s record is almost twice that.

This record may be untouchable given the circumstances surrounding the game today. Starting pitchers are only asked to go five or six innings and let the bullpen takeover. This modern reliance on bullpens has diminished the value of a starting pitcher, and they do not win as many games as even 20 years ago, let alone 120 years ago. Young also pitched during a time that allowed starters to pitch in 40-50 games a season while today’s starters make 35 starts at most in a given year. 

Pete Rose, Hits — 4,256

The longevity and consistency displayed by Pete Rose in breaking the hit record, previously held by Ty Cobb, is unprecedented. His first hit came in 1963 and his last in 1986. His final total was 4,256. He and Cobb are the only players to amass 4,000 hits in MLB history.

Rose also has ten 200-hit seasons, another record he shares with Ichiro Suzuki. A player would need 21 seasons with exactly 200 hits in order to be within 56 of tying the record. Derek Jeter came the closest to the record since Rose set it. Despite a very consistent and healthy 20-year career, Jeter still fell 791 hits short.

Walter Johnson, Shut Outs — 110

The aforementioned career wins runner-up, Walter Johnson holds the record for the most shutouts by a pitcher. The same argument stands for shutouts as does for wins. Being able to complete a game, regardless of a shutout, is becoming a lost art in MLB as bullpens reign supreme in strategic management.

Even before this wave of dominant relief pitching took form, Johnson’s 110 shutouts seemed out of reach for a while. Nolan Ryan, who had 61, is one of the most recent names found on the all-time list, and he barely has half the total of Johnson, despite playing six more years.

Whether Cody Bellinger comes close to Hack Wilson will not be a slight on him. Rather, it serves as reminder as to why these records are so hard to beat in the first place. His impressive start to the season does not take away from the fact that he is chasing a record that seems nearly as unbreakable as the five listed above. 

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