One for the Books

Baseball Records and the Stories Behind Them

As baseball fans, we are fascinated by the game’s records. We discuss, compare and debate them. We even memorize those special records that have reached a near-sacred status in the game’s lore.

Record books tell the basic facts: the who, what, when and where. However, these sources fail to reveal the most telling information: the how and why. How did a ballpark affect the record? Why did a pitcher take the mound so often? How has new research altered past numbers?

The more we learn about the how and the why, the more it becomes clear that records are not simple facts, and that comparing record holders is like comparing apples and oranges: a risky endeavor, but food for thought.

One for the Books: Baseball records and the Stories Behind Them features over 200 artifacts, videos of memorable record-setting moments, trivia games and an interactive "Digital Top Ten Tower." Exciting and entertaining for both the casual fan and the hardcore enthusiast, the exhibit highlights hundreds of records including ...

Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees, hitting in his 56th consecutive game, Cleveland, July 16, 1941 - detail from BL-5595-95 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Most Consecutive Games with a Hit

Joe DiMaggio

56. The number evokes what is arguably the most revered record in all of sport, let alone baseball history: Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak of 1941. The feat has never seriously been approached and it retains a unique fascination: generations of baseball fans have been awed by its seeming impossibility, while mathematicians have debated its (im)probability. Though all records are aided by some amount of luck, there must have been something about Joltin’ Joe’s ability to find a groove. After all, it was the same DiMaggio who eight years earlier fashioned a 61-game streak while with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

Detail of Cy Young baseball - B-83-37 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Most Wins in a Career

Cy Young

Cy Young won 511 career games. Generations of fans have memorized the number. In return the number continues to mesmerize all who try to comprehend it. Just how many is 511? In the century since Cy Young’s final big league season of 1911, just 30 big league pitchers have even started 511 games. If a pitcher won 25 games every year for 20 years, his 500 wins would still be a dozen games short of breaking Young’s astounding total. It is no wonder that just weeks after Young passed away in 1955, Commissioner Ford Frick chose to name the award for pitching excellence in memory of the all-time wins leader.

Sophie Kurys, detail from a team portrait of the Racine Belles, 1947 - BL-304-2010 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Most stolen bases in a season
(All-American Girls Professional Baseball League)

Sophie Kurys

Comparing records is a dangerous game, because not all conditions are identical. In 1946, Sophie Kurys of the Racine Belles stole 201 bases, a record for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) that more than doubled the post-1898 big league mark at the time: Ty Cobb’s 96 stolen bases in 1915. But how can one compare the two records? In 1946, AAGPBL bases were set 72 feet apart compared to 90 feet in the big leagues, and the AAGPBL baseball was over 50 percent larger than the men’s. Still, Kurys swiped 201 bases in 203 tries for a 99 percent success rate, while Cobb succeeded 72 percent of the time. One more thing: Cobb wore sliding pads under his pants, while Kurys stole with bare legs … in a skirt.

Detail of Frankie Frisch glove - B-399-51 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Most assists in a season as a second baseman

Frankie Frisch

Most consecutive errorless games as a second baseman

Plácido Polanco

Baseball gloves have evolved over the years, with each improvement helping players better field their position. Even so, a number of fielding records set long ago still remain: a testament to the abilities of great players no matter what hardware they used. Bid McPhee did not use a glove in 1886 when he set the single-season mark for putouts as a second baseman. When Frankie Frisch notched a record 641 assists at second base in 1927, he used a surprisingly simple model that still required two-handed fielding. Today’s advanced gloves, with laced fingers and hinged pockets, have helped the modern player set astonishing records, such as second baseman Plácido Polanco’s 186-game errorless streak from 2006 to 2008.

Detail of New York Yankees Championship trophy - B-127-97 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Most World Championships

New York Yankees

In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago preaches to his young apprentice: “Have faith in the Yankees, my son.” The New York Yankees have rewarded the faith of generations like no other franchise in big league history. Though they started slow, playing for two decades before capturing their first World Championship in 1923, the club made up for lost time, racking up world titles at an unparalleled pace. Winning their sixth World Series in 1937, the Yanks passed the Philadelphia Athletics for most championship crowns and have never relinquished the record. The Yankees’ 27 World Championships, 15 more than the runner-up Cardinals, is a mark of sustained excellence revered throughout all baseball.

George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the Yankees for seven of their 27 World Championships, donated this replica World Series trophy to the Hall of Fame following the club’s 1996 victory in
the Fall Classic.

Related Information