Keyser: Why some major league records will never be broken (and which ones might)

From Hannah Keyser at Mental Floss on April 7, 2014, with SABR member John Thorn:

If there’s anyone who is qualified to comment on the evolution of rules and conditions in baseball, it’s John Thorn. He is a prolific writer on the history of the game and the Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball. I talked to Thorn about some of the conventionally considered “unbreakable” baseball records and what makes them unbreakable—or if they even are.


Cy Young’s career ended over a century ago, but his legacy lives on in the award named in his honor that celebrates the best pitcher in each league every year. He is a fitting source of aspiration as the record holder for most career wins and most career complete games in baseball history. A member of MLB’s “All-Century Team,” Young was an undeniably top-rate pitcher, but to achieve those specific records—and keep them out of reach from any modern ace—he had a little help from the era in which he played.

“No one will get to 511 career wins because we don’t have a four-man rotation. In fact, for much of Young’s career he was in a three-man rotation with the fourth starter being the spot starter, as the fifth starter came to be in the 1950s and ‘60s,” Thorn says.

Not only did Young get more chances on the mound, but the turn of the century was also particularly pitcher-friendly. “Young pitched in the dead-ball era, which means that not only did he pitch more frequently but he was facing softer lineups. There were two or three batting positions in every club that you could coast by.”

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Originally published: April 7, 2014. Last Updated: April 7, 2014.