If there’s one thing that we sports fans love, it’s our numbers (and baseball fans like me are the worst about it). We love to track stats from one game to the next, one season to the next, and even one career to the next. We keep track of records… the only player to do this, the player with the most of these, etc. And we also track which players are closest to the most hallowed records and who has a chance to break them. With Peyton Manning’s breaking Brett Favre’s career TD pass record recently, I thought it would be interesting to write about a different kind of record: records so stratospheric that I believe they will never be broken.
10. John Stockton: 15,806 career assists (2003)
John Stockton belongs on any short list of the greatest point guards of all time. As a member of the Utah Jazz from 1984-2003, he and Karl Malone ran the pick-and-roll to perfection and led the Jazz to their most prosperous era in franchise history. They’d likely have won a title had they not run into the buzzsaw that was the Michael Jordan-era Bulls in the two NBA Finals appearances they made.
For the uninitiated, the pick-and-roll consists of a larger forward setting a pick for a smaller guard by standing in front of their defender and blocking their way. The defender then must choose which of those two players to guard. If they guard the guard, the forward can “roll” toward the basket to accept a pass. If they choose to guard the forward, the guard can “roll” toward the basket and score on a layup or jump shot. It’s a very simple play, but when executed well, it can be very difficult to defend. It is easy to see how Stockton racked up so many assists using this play. While NBA and college teams still use the pick-and-roll plenty, hardly anyone uses it to the extent Stockton and Malone did in the 90s. I ranked this record #10 because there’s always a chance another new play fad could emerge that enables someone else to challenge Stockton’s record, but as of now I think it’s safe.
This one isn’t so much a record as an achievement that I don’t believe will ever be done again. The Splendid Splinter is thought of as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) hitters who ever lived, and it’s easy to see why from looking at his career stats. Many baseball records are thought of as unassailable because of the way the game has evolved over the years. Back when Williams set his record, most starting pitchers would pitch for most of the game, if not the entire game. Relievers were rarely brought out of the bullpen at all, and teams didn’t carry as many of them. These days, managers use heavily specialized bullpens, oftentimes with a pitcher for each of the late innings. Just look my breakdowns of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals for proof. With teams touting out fresh arms every inning late in games, it is much more difficult to rack up enough hits to crack the .400 mark. Especially when you consider that many of these relievers can go balls-to-the-wall and uncork 100-mph fastballs with regularity, since they only pitch one inning and don’t have to worry about blowing out their arms over a long stretch of game.
8. Teemu Selanne: 76 goals in a rookie season (1992-93)
The NHL, like baseball, has quite a few records that are thought of as unassailable. I’m a little partial to this one because Selanne spent most of his career with my favorite team, the Anaheim Ducks. The Finnish Flash burst onto the scene in 1992 with the Winnipeg Jets, potting an astounding 76 goals. Sometimes, one player just gets all the bounces and goes on an incredible hot streak that is unlikely to ever be duplicated. I think that’s the case with Selanne. His rookie season is an insane outlier when compared to similar seasons throughout history. Only one rookie (Alexander Ovechkin) has scored even 50 goals since Selanne’s stellar season. The season was even an outlier in Selanne’s own career, as he never again scored 55 goals in a season, let alone over 70.
7. Wayne Gretzky: 215 points in a season (1985-86)
One thing hockey has in common with basketball is that it’s very easy to identify the greatest players of all time in those sports: Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky rewrote the NHL record books during his illustrious 20-year career, and had what was perhaps the greatest season ever in 1985-86, when he scored 52 goals and dished out 163 assists for an astounding 215 points! This led the league by a wide margin. To put this number into perspective, the closest anyone has come to this record in the last 14 years is Joe Thornton in 2005-06, with… 125. I think, with the league just recently emerging from the Dead Puck Era, it will be a long time before we see any serious challenge to this record, and I don’t believe it will ever fall. Amazingly, this season was not an outlier in Gretzky’s career, as he had three others of at least 200 points, including one where he potted 92 goals!
6. Emmitt Smith: 18,355 career rushing yards (2004)
Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record is another that will probably endure due to changing trends in the game that I don’t see changing. Back in Emmitt’s day, teams relied on one workhorse running back that they gave the vast majority of carries to, allowing those backs to rack up a lot of yards quickly. However, with defenders hitting harder than ever, backs are starting to wear down much quicker too. This has led many teams to employ a rotation of two or three running backs, splitting the carries and thus the yards among them. That trend, along with the increasing concern over concussions in the NFL, will make it very hard for one back to play long enough to break Smith’s record.
5. Joe DiMaggio: 56-game hitting streak (May 15-July 16, 1941)
The Yankee Clipper is another of the greatest pure hitters of all time, which was never as clear as during his streak of 56 games in which he recorded at least one hit. His record will stand for many of the same reasons as Ted Williams’s above. One other trend that could contribute to the endurance of both records is the sharp increase in strikeouts in recent years in baseball. For each of the last eight years, players have set a new record for number of strikeouts as they have been encouraged to swing away and less emphasis is placed on small-ball tactics such as bunting (although, ironically, the two teams in the World Series right now are two that have employed such strategies the most this year). This has also contributed to a decline in hits. The closest anyone has come to DiMaggio’s record in the modern era is Pete Rose, who had a 44-game streak in 1978.
4. New York Yankees: 27 championships and counting (latest in 2009)
There have been many studies done on why the Yankees have been able to amass so many more championships than the next best team (St. Louis Cardinals, 11). But the biggest factor these days is simply resources. The Yankees are located in a huge market with a gigantic number of fans, who keep coming to and watching games, filling the team’s coffers to the bursting point. This vast financial advantage over most teams enables them to sign many high-profile free agents, and fill any holes in their roster relatively easily. This strategy does not always work, but the Bronx Bombers’ 27 world titles show that it works often enough. The only drawback is that a team that spends so prolifically can end up trapped in expensive contracts with aging players and a depleted farm system, a state in which the current Yankees are in now. However, last year’s team still managed 84 wins despite that, so it’s likely that they won’t be down for long.
3. Wilt Chamberlain: 100 points in an NBA game (March 2, 1962)
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is one of those historical events about which only stories can be told, as the game was not televised in 1962. And it’s a feat that we will never see again. Wilt’s case is another of a record being an extreme outlier. The closest anyone has come since is Kobe Bryant, with 81 in a 2006 game. If possibly the best pure scorer in the history of the NBA can’t touch this record, I doubt anyone else can. Teams these days are also less reliant on one player to score a ton of points, as we see with recent Big Three teams in Miami, Boston, and San Antonio. Big men like The Stilt are also used more as defenders than scorers in the modern era, with forwards and guards assuming more of the scoring load.
2. Cy Young: 511 wins (1911)
Denton True Young holds the record that most people take for granted as unbreakable: 511 wins as a pitcher. No wonder he has an award named after him. In baseball, the pitcher that is in the game when his team takes the lead for good is credited with the win. The sabermetric analysis trend has devalued the win as a pitching statistic, and thus players and coaches are not as focused on earning them as they once were. For instance, Felix Hernandez won Cy’s namesake award in 2010 with just 13 wins, a total that would’ve been considered lackluster just 15 years earlier. Bullpen specialization has also made this record invincible.
1. Tony Dorsett: 99-yard touchdown run (January 3, 1983)
The only record I regard as less breakable than Young’s is a record that is physically impossible to break. Since a football field is 100 yards long, with positioning starting at the one-yard line (there is no zero-yard line), a 99-yard run is the longest any back can possibly run. Only Dorsett has achieved this feat. There are a few records like this in football, such as a 99-yard pass play (which has been done 13 times), and a 109-yard kickoff return (achieved by Cordarelle Patterson in 2013). So unless we get a radical rule change, these records can only be tied.
So that’s just a sampling of many unbreakable records. Which other sports records do you regard as unbreakable? Let me know in the comments!