In today’s analytic game, a player’s Batting Average (BA) has lost some of its appeal and importance. Most fans realize that On-Base Percentage (OBP) is more important…both to the player’s value and team’s win-loss record. Without using the Internet, do most fans even know who had the best BA last season? Or, which player leads that category for 2019? The answers are Mookie Betts and DJ LeMahieu.
From a historical standpoint however, Batting Average has an exalted place in the game. For over a hundred years, it was the measurement of a hitter’s greatness and the stat we looked at first on the back of a baseball card. Even the Sunday paper listed every player in order of their BA…how else could we have determined the “Mendoza Line”?
In the modern era (starting in 1903), baseball has seen 27 players exceed 500 Home Runs, 32 pass the 3,000 Hits mark and 21 others have at least 1,800 RBI’s. But hitting .400? It has only been accomplished a dozen times and those seasons belong to only seven legendary players. And, due to numerous changes in the game, there’s a reasonably good chance it will never happen again. Let’s take a look at those magic numbers…
> 1911, Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers) .419 – This should come as no surprise, as “The Georgia Peach” has the highest lifetime BA in history at .366. This was his 7th season in the big leagues and his first over the .400 mark…but it wouldn’t be his last.
> 1911, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Cleveland Naps) .408 – An impressive first full-season for Joe, as he also led baseball in OBP with .468. His lifetime BA is .356 but he was banned from baseball as a result of the “Black Sox” scandal. His final year in baseball was 1920 and he hit .382 at age 32!
> 1912, Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers) .409 – Back-to back for Cobb in a season where he swiped 61 bases and had an OPS (On-Base + Slugging) of 1.040. Jackson was second in BA at .395.
> 1920, George Sisler (St. Louis Browns) .407 – The first .400 hitter in the “live-ball” era, he had 257 Hits and 122 RBI’s.
> 1922, George Sisler (St. Louis Browns) .420 – He “slumped” to .371 in 1921 and then came back with another amazing performance that included 51 SB’s and 18 Triples.
> 1922, Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis Cardinals) .401 – One of the greatest stat-lines of all time…250 Hits, 42 HR’s, 152 RBI’s.
> 1922, Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers) .401 – He was slowing down at age 35, but still had another .400 season in him.
> 1923, Harry Heilman (Detroit Tigers) .403 – In his prime at age 28, he had an OPS of 1.113 and beat out Babe Ruth for the batting title by ten points. In ’25, he hit .393 and in ’27, hit .398.
> 1924, Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis Cardinals) .424 – This is the highest BA of the modern era. “Rajah” also drew 89 Walks for a .507 OBP!
> 1925, Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis Cardinals) .403 – Also led the NL with 39 HR’s & 143 RBI’s.
> 1930, Bill Terry (New York Giants) .401 – 254 Hits, 129 RBI’s and a 1.071 OPS.
> 1941, Ted Williams (Boston Red Sox) .406 – 6-for-8 in a double-header on the last day of the season got him over .400 and no player has done it since. He was 22 years old and opposing Pitchers walked him 147 times. When you add it all together, his OBP was .553…the highest ever until Barry Bonds discovered needles.
You are also slightly acquainted with one other person who has “hit 400”. Back in February of 2012, the great guys at mastersball.com invited me to contribute an article each week that touched on baseball and numerous related topics. It was a great relationship and I treasure their friendship to this day. After 200 columns, the Old Duck ventured into the blogosphere and today’s piece is number 200 under the byline of rotisserieduck.com.
After 7+ years and something over 250,000 words, there’s still a rush when I’m able to share my thoughts about baseball with family, friends and acquaintances. Some of you are occasional readers and others are dedicated “regulars” but you’re all appreciated.
Hope to see you at the ballpark.