When it comes to some records, it’s OK to be the worst
Greg Jayne: By the Numbers
Friday, June 11, 2010
As Nolan Ryan once said, you have to be pretty darn good to lose as many games as he did.
Or maybe he was talking about bases on balls. Because you have to be pretty darn good to walk as many batters as Ryan did.
I don’t remember the exact quote, and I can’t find it on the Internet, so maybe it never happened. But we’ll pretend that Ryan did say that, because it makes a lot of sense — you have to be good to achieve certain milestones in futility.
Pitchers who have allowed the most home runs in major-league history:
Robin Roberts 505
Jamie Moyer 502
Ferguson Jenkins 484
Phil Niekro 482
Don Sutton 472
Frank Tanana 448
Warren Spahn 434
Bert Blyleven 430
Steve Carlton 414
Randy Johnson 411
NOTE: Totals through Friday’s games.
Did you know?
Of the 502 home runs that Jamie Moyer had allowed through Friday, 10 were off the bat of Manny Ramirez — the most by a single opponent.
Through the 1956 season, Murry Dickson held the record of giving up 269 career homers. Then Robin Roberts passed him on the way to allowing 505.
Ryan lost 292 games, which is the third-highest total of all-time and the highest in the past 100 years. He walked 2,795 batters, which is nearly 1,000 more than anybody else. He threw 277 wild pitches, which, alas, ranks only second on the all-time list.
All those things are bad. But if Ryan hadn’t been a pretty good pitcher and an extraordinarily durable one, he would not have been sent to the mound often enough to have so many lousy moments.
All of which brings us to Jamie Moyer. Because Moyer is on the verge of becoming baseball’s all-time home run king. That is, he is about to set the record for the most home runs allowed.
Considering that it was 18 years ago when Moyer’s career appeared to be over because no team wanted him, it’s quite remarkable that he is about to set any sort of longevity record.
It’s quite remarkable that after Friday’s start against Boston, Moyer had 264 wins, nearly 4,000 innings, and a grand total of 502 home runs hit against him.
That’s nipping at the heels of the record 505 allowed by Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Which got us thinking about some other records for baseball futility:
• The record for strikeouts by a batter? That’s held by Reggie Jackson, who also did some positive things in his career — like 563 home runs and five World Series titles.
Jackson struck out 2,597 times, which is well ahead of the 2,341 by second-place Jim Thome. When Jackson broke the record in 1982, he surpassed Willie Stargell, who had held the mark for four years after passing Mickey Mantle.
The fact that Mantle now ranks 20th in career strikeouts points out the reason Jackson likely won’t hold the record much longer. Strikeouts are much more prevalent these days.
In 1973, when Jackson won his only MVP award, the average team struck out 5.24 times a game; last year, the average was 6.95 — a 33 percent increase. In that climate, surely somebody will challenge Jackson’s status as the Wizard of Whiffs in the coming years, and it might be Thome.
• As Jackson demonstrated over and over, one of the good things about a batter striking out is that he isn’t grounding into a double play. Nobody did that more times than Cal Ripken, who accounted for 700 outs on just 350 at-bats during his career.
Ripken is in good company — he broke the record held by Hank Aaron.
• Aaron also held the record for most outs used up by a batter. That is, until Pete Rose surpassed him. Rose’s 4,256 hits are impressive, but they pale in comparison with his 10,328 outs.
If somebody played every game and never got on base, it would take him more than 14 years to break Rose’s record for outs. Then again, if they always made an out, they wouldn’t be allowed to play every day.
Which is kind of the point about negative records — you have to be good to set them. And you also have to come around at the right time. Records, positive or negative, rely upon playing under the proper conditions.
Take strikeouts. The top eight pitchers on the career list and the top 18 hitters all played in the past 30 years. That’s attributable to their talent, but also to the nature of the game at the time.
Rickey Henderson stole 1,406 bases in his career — 468 more than anybody in history. Had Henderson played during the 1950s, when the typical league-leading total was something like 35 steals, he never would have set the career record.
He also wouldn’t have set a negative record — most times caught stealing, with 335.
By the same token, Herman Long’s record of 1,137 errors in a career appears safe. Long, who played from 1889-1904, was nicknamed “Germany” and “Flying Dutchman,” so there might have been some sort of ethnic identity crisis.
Or maybe it’s just the fact that when Long played, errors were nearly four times as common as they are now.
But I digress. The point is that it sometimes takes a great player to set a lousy record. Like Ryan, who, if he had been a little better — or is it worse? — might have challenged the all-time record for losses. That one is held by somebody named Cy Young.
Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne