Cieradkowski: Walt Malmquist and correcting a baseball record

From SABR member Gary Cieradkowski Jr. at Studio Gary C on August 25, 2018:

No matter how you look at it, baseball is all about numbers. From ERA to batting average to the digits worn on a ballplayer’s back, the game lives and breathes numbers. Some numbers have taken on a life of their own and just the mention of them evoke a special moment in the history of the game: 714, 755, 406, 42, 7.

For decades, one of the most unassailable numbers in baseball has been 477. That number sits at the top of the all-time single-season batting average list, so close to perfection that no one came close until Gary Redus hit .462 in 1978. But as baseball historians were quick to point out, .462 wasn’t .477, and a long forgotten shortstop named Walter Elmer Malmquist remained the all-time professional baseball batting champ.

The thing was, he wasn’t.

In the 1970s, David Kemp of the Society for American Baseball Research began chipping away at the Malmquist myth. In this pre-internet ear, Kemp had to cull through microfilm of Nebraska newspapers trying to reconstruct Malmquist’s 1913 season. Kemp was able to gather 97 of Malmquist’s 110 games and came up with the more terrestrial batting average of .342. Nothing to sneeze at, but not even close to his attributed .477. Despite Kemp’s research, Malmquist and his .477 remained as the all-time champ. There’s a few reasons why this is so, the most prevalent being the insurmountability of trying to change a long-established baseball statistic.

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Originally published: August 27, 2018. Last Updated: August 27, 2018.