By their very nature, notable records do not fall very often. In 2006 Trevor Hoffman claimed the all-time saves lead from Lee Smith, and in 2007 Barry Bonds claimed—albeit not without some controversy—the all-time lead in home runs.
But baseball is a game of statistics, and with so many things recorded, records are forever being broken or challenged with virtually no fanfare. In 2004, for example, Mark Loretta came within four sacrifice flies of breaking Gil Hodges‘ record of 19, set in 1954.
And not for lack of chances did Loretta miss the record. While I doubt he would trade the eight hits he recorded with a runner on third and less than two outs for sac flies, such an exchange would put him well ahead of Hodges. (To say nothing of the occasions Loretta made out without bringing in a run.)
Not all records are easily threatened. In 1917, Ray Chapman, who would sadly become better known for the unfortunate circumstances of his death, laid down 67 sacrifice hits. That is lot of sacrifices, especially given that Chapman was in a lineup that also featured a pitcher hitting. In fact, Chapman gave himself up in nearly 10 percent of his plate appearances.
Last year’s leader in sacrifices was Willy Taveras of Colorado, who put down just 15. Not only did no players come close to Chapman’s record for sacrifices, but none came close to the percentage. Ivan Ochoa of San Francisco had seven sacrifices in 134 plate appearances, but even that is barely half of the percentage Chapman managed.
Of course, the sacrifice has been deployed considerably less in modern baseball than in the past. Only three seasons of the top 25 of all-time took place after the 1910s, and none past the 1920s. In the 21st century, the sacrifice king is Royce Clayton, who put down 24 in 2004, also playing for the Rockies.
The all-time leader in sacrifice hits is an all-time great, Eddie Collins. That mostly has to do with the length of his career. He is 120 sacrifices ahead of the second-place man, Jake Daubert, but came to the plate nearly 3,300 more times.
While we can debate the strategic merits of the sacrifice, at least it is a deliberate plan, designed with a very specific goal in mind. Grounding into a double play, meanwhile, is a disastrous outcome; it is a rally-killer and a source of endless frustration to fans.
Despite this, both the all-time and single-season leaders in the GIDP category are Hall of Famers, which in a way makes a lot of sense. Hall of Famers get a lot more at-bats than non Hall of Famers (being better players with generally longer careers), and tend to hit higher in the order, so are likely to bat with men on more often.
Illustrating this point is that Cal Ripken, whose 350 GIDP are the most ever, led the league only once, and appears in the top 25 GIDP seasons only for that 1996 season. Meanwhile, if you were looking for someone who could really hit into some double plays, recent (and controversial) Hall of Famer Jim Rice is your man.
Rice owns the first, second and ninth spots in the single season GIDP top 10. He is not the all-time leader in the statistic only because of his relatively short career; given the same number of plate appearances as Ripken, Rice would have hit into nearly a hundred more double plays.
Hitters are not the only ones capable of holding strange records. We all know that Barry Bonds, during his performance-enhanced prime, was given an absurd number of intentional walks as teams took their chances with the jokers hitting behind him. Bonds thus dominates the single season IBB list (he holds all but one of the first six spots) and the all-time list, where he has more than twice as many free passes than the next man.
But what of the men issuing those four balls high and outside? Would the all-time leader be one of Bonds’ opposite number from his BALCO heyday, or perhaps a pitcher from the 1960s when men were men and pitched hundreds of innings?
The single season leader in intentional walks by a pitcher is Gene Garber, who gave up 24 in 1974. Those 24 represent an incredible 54 percent of Garber’s total walks that season. A righty sidearming change-up specialist, Garber—best known for ending Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak—gave a majority of his 24 IBBs to lefties, putting them on base with no resistance in 10 percent of their appearances.
Given their weakness against opposite-handed batters, sidearm and submarine-style pitchers appear all over the intentional walk single-season list, with Kent Tekulve as the most prominent. And Tekulve continues that prominence on the all-time list, where his 179 intentional walks rank ahead of Greg Maddux and his 177. (Maybe that’s why Maddux retired: He wanted to stay second.)
Carlton holds an obscure record himself, being the post-1956 leader in balks. Carlton had 90, exactly twice as many as the second place man. (To be fair, Carlton is also, by a large margin, the post-’56 leader in pickoffs, with 144.)
Despite his top spot on the career balk list, Carlton did it with season-by-season consistency, only appearing at ninth on any single season top 10 list. The all-time leader in balks in a season is Dave Stewart, who had 16 in 1988. (A change in the balk rule, abandoned after the ’88 season, led to a huge increase in those calls that year; the major league record for most total balks in a season was broken on May 15.) All but two of the top 13 balk seasons took place that year.
Obviously these are not records going on anyone’s Hall of Fame plaque, even the favorable ones like Carlton’s pickoffs or Hodges’ sacrifice flies. But they are records nonetheless and the next time you see an intentional walk issued or a double play hit into, remember that someone did that more than anyone else in history.