Let’s take hits for example. Going back half a century, the player with the most career hits entering the 1966 major league campaign was Ty Cobb with 4,189—and at that time it was believed his hit total was 4,191, but researchers found an error in his total and it has been corrected to the 4,189 number. Before the ’66 season began, only eight players had 3,000 or more career hits and Sam Crawford was 10th on the all-time hit list with 2,961.
Jump into our time machine to the current rankings in the year 2016 and we see there are now 29 players with 3,000 or more hits and Crawford has plunged from No. 10 on the hit chart to No. 31. Over the last 50 years, 21 players have joined the 3,000 hit club—an elite group that still merits Hall of Fame status, unless gambling (Pete Rose) and performance enhancing drug use (Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro) interfere with a players legacy as a big league performer.
Babe Ruth was the king of the home run as the only player with 600 or more lifetime dingers and his 714 total appeared to be an unbreakable mark 50 years ago. Ruth was one of only five players with 500 or more. As the 1966 season got started, Duke Snider was 10th on the all-time HR chart with 407. Hank Aaron ranked 12th with 398 and Chuck Klein’s 300 homers put him among the top 25 power hitters in the history of the game.
Today, Klein’s name has been far removed from the leader board of MLB’s top home-run hitters, spiraling downward from No. 25 to No. 138 over the last five decades. Ruth has been joined by seven other sluggers with 600-plus homers and has been surpassed in the 700-club by Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, with A-Rod only 28 homers shy of eclipsing the Babe’s career total.
At the end of the 1965 season, Del Ennis (288), Bob Johnson (288), Hank Sauer (288) and Frank J. Thomas (286) were ranked 27 through 30 on the all-time HR chart. Today, their totals don’t seem too impressive as Ennis, Johnson and Sauer are tied for 149th and Thomas is tied for 157th among HR hitters.
As for pitching, the top seven victory leaders have not changed over the last half-century. Warren Spahn retired after the 1965 season with 363 career wins, tops among left-handers and sixth on the all-time list. Entering the 2016 campaign, he still holds those positions, but the total number of 300-game winners has jumped from 14 to 24.
The list of the top career strikeout leaders for pitchers has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. As the 1966 season got underway, Hall of Famer Walter Johnson was the lone member of the 3,000 Strikeouts Club. In fact, at that time registering 2,000 lifetime whiffs was as big as the 3,000 plateau is today. There are currently 16 pitchers with 3,000 or more strikeouts, while 50 seasons ago there were only 15 hurlers with at least 2,000—a number that has now catapulted to include 74 pitchers.
At the beginning of 1966, the legendary Bob Feller was fourth on the career strikeout list with 2,581. Today his total ranks 26th. Fifty years ago Chief Bender was 31st on the strikeout chart with 1,711 Ks, a total that today is an afterthought among strikeouts artists, dropping him into the 128th slot among career leaders.
It does appear Nolan Ryan’s mark of 5,714 strikeouts will not be approached and that we may have seen the last of the 300-game winners. But rest assured, we will continue to see newcomers into the 3,000-Hit and 500-Home Run club in the near future.