By its very nature, baseball is the sport that is most conducive to endless debates and arguments over the relative merits of its players. Since each of the ballparks is unique with respect to the size and shape of their outfields and the height of their fences, there will never be a logical way to determine the definitive “best” pitcher or hitter. Unlike basketball or tennis, for example, baseball is not played in a uniform setting which makes comparing the statistics of players, who play half of their games in their own unique home stadiums, dubious at best.
There are, however, rare player accomplishments in baseball history which transcend the differences of the playing fields, or the weather conditions at the time, or anything else for that matter. They are noteworthy for both their tremendous infrequency and their high level of achievement… and they also provide excellent material for baseball trivia questions. I suspect fans will argue over which feat is the most impressive for some time to come. Here are a few to consider:
- The Immaculate Inning – Three batters are struck out in the same half inning on just 9 pitches thrown by the same pitcher. This feat has been accomplished only 47 times in Major League Baseball history. Forty-four pitchers have done it once during their careers while 3 have done it twice. You realize it’s a rare event when you look at the number of possible opportunities versus the number of actual occurrences. In each game, pitchers have 8 or 9 opportunities to pitch a half inning. Each of 30 teams play 162 games each. That’s a range of between 38,880-43,740 chances for all pitchers to pitch an Immaculate Inning… and that is during only ONE season! Multiply those numbers by, say, only 30 seasons and you get 1,166,400 – 1,312,200 opportunities. Now compare that to only 47 actual occurrences. It’s mind boggling!
- 4 Home Runs In One Game By Same Batter – Only 16 players in the history of Major League Baseball have hit 4 home runs in one game. No batter has hit more than that and no player has hit 4 in a game more than once during his career. Again, the numbers are staggering: 9 players have an opportunity to hit 4 home runs in each of 162 games. There are 30 teams. The total opportunities are 43,740 in one season. If we multiply that number as we did in the first illustration by only 30 seasons, we get a grand total of 1,312,200 opportunities. We then compare 16 occurrences to that number. I’d say the 4 home run game is a baseball rarity!
- The Baseball Triple Crown For Batting – This award is given to the hitter who led his league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average all in the same season. Since the first Baseball Triple Crown was awarded for hitting in 1878, only 17 players have won it making it one of the rarest of all achievements in baseball. 17 winners in 135 years!
- The Baseball Triple Crown For Pitching – To win this award, a pitcher must lead his league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average all in the same season. While not as rare as the batting Triple Crown, this prize has been awarded only 38 times since it was first presented in 1877.
- The Perfect Game – A perfect game is achieved when a pitcher throws to the minimum number of batters from the opposing team and not one of them reaches base over nine innings. This means no hits, walks, hit batters, errors, catcher’s interference or strikeouts with passed balls or wild pitches. Since there are 3 outs per inning and there are 9 innings, a pitcher must retire 27 batters in a row to achieve a perfect game. How rare is this? A total of only 23 perfect games have been pitched in Major League history since the first one in 1880. Statistically less rare (due to far less playoff games) but equally impressive is the one perfect game pitched in post-season history; Don Larsen of the New York Yankees needed only 97 pitches to make history in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
- Home Run During First At-Bat – In the history of Major League Baseball, only 113 batters have hit a home run in their very first at-bat. Of those 113 hitters, a mere 28 hit their respective home run on the very first pitch. Everyone was a rookie at some point in their careers so every player that ever got to the plate had a chance to hit a home run in his first at-bat. As it turns out, this accomplishment is one of the most rare events in baseball history.
In the Major Leagues, teams play 162 regular season games. The games’ lengths are determined only by the time it takes to play 9 or more innings and not by a time clock. The pace is generally slow and deliberate. Winners and losers are not determined until the final out is recorded. Teams do come back from large deficits to win games when the odds are overwhelmingly not in their favor. Just one final pitch or swing of the bat can make history. The lack of time constraints can provide moments of great drama and rare feats of accomplishment.
We have discussed some of these rare feats, some of which took just a few seconds to accomplish while others occurred over the course of one game or an entire season. Our list was far from exhaustive but it does include some good material for baseball trivia questions! Did you think of any other baseball rarities? If so, we invite you to share them at our site.