The old saying “records are made to be broken” reinforces that, no matter how great the achievement, someone will eventually surpass it. The record holder is reminded to be humble, recognizing that his/her accomplishment is significant but not permanent. Everyone else is encouraged to continue to push their limits, knowing that someone will eventually break the record.
A recent near-record performance got me wondering whether there were any records which were unbreakable. It might technically be possible for these records to be broken but statisticians would say the probability is near zero. The rest of us would say: it ain’t gonna happen.
After some research, I decided the most unbreakable record in sports is Cy Young’s 749 career complete games. If you’re a baseball fan, you might have expected me to cite Cy Young’s 511 wins over his 22 year career. I agree that’s remarkable and highly unlikely to be broken. But the complete games record is iron clad safe.
To put the complete game record in perspective, only three pitchers (Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, and Don Sutton) even made at least 749 starts in their careers. Furthermore, these days relief pitchers appear in virtually every game which means complete games are now a rarity. No active pitcher has 40 complete games. With an average of 3 complete games per season, Clayton Kershaw would have to pitch for 274 more years to break Cy Young’s record.
Cy Young’s complete game record will never be broken.
Here are some other unbreakable records, listed one per sport:
Wayne Gretzky, NHL: 2,857 Career Points Scored
The only active player with even half of Wayne Gretzky’s total is Jaromír Jágr with 1868 career points. Jágr has averaged 1.147 points per game in his career. At age 44, Jágr would have to play at least 11 more seasons to catch Gretzky. That’s not going to happen.
Archie Griffin, NCAAF: Two Heisman Trophies
Griffin won the Heisman for most outstanding college football player twice, in 1974 and 1975. No one else has won it twice before or since. With the lure of NFL riches, no future two-time Heisman winner would stay in school to try to win the award a third time. This record will not be broken.
Fernando Tatis, MLB: Two Grand Slams in One Inning
Unless you’re a Cardinals fan, you might not have heard of Tatis who hit two grand slams in one inning on April 23, 1999 against the Dodgers. To put that in perspective, only thirteen players have hit two grand slams in the same game and no one has done it more than once in a career. Maybe one day someone will hit two in an inning again but not three.
Wilt Chamberlain, NBA: 50.4 Points Per Game In A Season
It would probably be heresy not to choose Wilt Chamberlain to represent the NBA in this list. Wilt holds more than 70 NBA records, including several that may never be broken. Of all of his records, the most unbreakable might that Wilt scored an average of 50.4 points per game in the 1961 season. That’s an average of more than 50 points over an 80 game season. The closest that anyone has ever come to Wilt’s record is the 37.1 points per game that Michael Jordan scored in the ’86 season.
Otto Graham, NFL: 10 Consecutive Championship Game Appearances
I had a tough time choosing which unbreakable record would represent the NFL. I was tempted to go with Don Shula’s 347 career coaching victories but Bill Belichick could conceivably catch him. Instead, the NFL’s most unbreakable record comes from Otto Graham, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns played in the championship for their last four years in the All-America Football Conference and their first six years in the NFL, winning 8 of these 10 championship games. And Otto was the QB for all ten. An unbreakable record.
What unbreakable record do you think I missed?
Michael Phelps 24 Olympic Gold Medals!
Cal Ripken Jr’s 2,632 consecutive games played. Ultimate iron man.
Based on a number of emails I have received, lots of readers think I should have included Ripken’s ironman accomplishment.
Highest margin of victory in Field Hockey in Olympics history (India 24 – USA 1) in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics
DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak might be safe. Beyond the physical feat, players have to deal with the mounting pressure and media attention. Of those you listed, I think Archie Manning’s feat is the most likely of them to fall. A great NCAA football player that is considered a so-so pro prospect (like Tim Tebow) would be the right kind of candidate.