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Legendary Minor League records

Benchmarks that are almost untouchable
April 5, 2005
NEW YORK -- When the discussion about baseball records comes up, names like Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Cy Young will automatically get thrown into the hopper. After all, what baseball fan isn't familiar with the exploits of these Hall of Famers?

But who has ever heard of Ike Boone? What about Spencer Harris? Spider Baum? Smeade Jolley? Anyone, anyone, Bueller? Thought so.

When discussing baseball records, there is a whole world of standards around that get no notoriety. Minor League Baseball, with its collections of characters and legendary figures, has benchmarks of its own that are almost as untouchable if not more so than some of the Major League records currently in place.

Many of the career marks in Minor League Baseball were established decades ago simply because more teams and players actually played in the lower levels longer. There were no first-round picks shooting their way through the system and few half-season wonders at Double-A that got the call to the big leagues.

Consider that before 1958, there was no Major League Baseball played west of St. Louis. Baseball was being played for a half century out West before the Dodgers and Giants made their way to California, so there were plenty of leagues making waves, and records being set. Here's a closer look at some of the bigger marks in Minor League Baseball.

Cobb holds down the all-time record for career batting average in the bigs at .366. But Ike Boone tops that mark, checking in at .370. In fact, Cobb would only be tied for third because Oscar "Ox" Eckhardt totaled a .367 batting average during his career. Cobb also won 11 career batting titles while Jolley took home a Minor League best six. Spencer Harris holds the career records for hits [3,617], runs [2,287], and doubles in the Minor Leagues [743], none of which would be big-league standards. He would have checked in right behind Tris Speaker [792] and Pete Rose [746] for third on the doubles list, though.

Rose had 10 200-hit seasons during his career but Arnold "Jigger" Statz collected 11 200-hit seasons in the minors.

Hector Espino holds the career home-run mark with 484, far below the 755 Aaron belted in the Major Leagues. A Mexican League legend, the "Chihuahua Superman" as he was known, retired in 1984 at the age of 44, having spurned offers from the Mets, Cardinals and Padres to remain in his native land.

Merv Connors, Nick Cullop and Espino each had a dozen 20-homer seasons though that wouldn't even break the top 20 when compared to Major League standards. Aaron leads the way with 20 20-homer seasons. Aaron also holds the record with 15 30-homers seasons with Buzz Arlett leading the way down below with eight.

Joe Bauman and Gordon Nell have five 40-homer seasons apiece in the Minor Leagues while Babe Ruth has 11. Ruth also has four 50-homer seasons, along with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Bauman is tops in the Minors with three 50-homer campaigns.

Aaron's 2,297 RBIs are tops in the Major Leagues, easily outdistancing the 1,857 Cullop put up during his career down below. In fact Cullop would be 11th on the all-time list, sandwiched between Mel Ott and Carl Yastrzemski, had he drove in that many runs as a Major Leaguer.

Joel Riggart [228] holds the career mark for triples, which would be sixth on the all-time Major League list, while George Hogriever's 948 stolen bases would be second only to Rickey Henderson's 1,406.

Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth each have 13 100-RBI seasons to their credit. Arlett leads the minors by hitting the century mark a dozen times, which would equal Barry Bonds and Al Simmons for second-most in the Major Leagues.

The discrepancy between the Major and Minor Leagues when it comes to all-time pitching marks is a bit greater. Bill Thomas has the most appearances in the Minor Leagues at 1,015, which would place him eighth among Major Leaguers. Thomas' 383 victories would be third behind Young [511] and Walter Johnson [417].

Nolan Ryan's 5,714 career strikeouts appears almost untouchable on any level, especially when you consider George Brunet's 3,175 would only be good enough for 12th on the all-time Major League list.

Meanwhile, Baum collected nine 20-win seasons in the Minor Leagues, as did Tony Freitas. While impressive, they would only be tied for seventh on the Major League list. Young tops the charts with 15. As for winning percentage, John Ogden's .674 mark is certainly impressive but he would check in at the ninth spot among Major Leaguers. Spud Chandler holds the mark at .717.

When it comes to single-season marks, the Minor Leaguers put up some startling numbers. For instance, Nap Lajoie's .426 average in 1901 is considered the modern Major League record. It wouldn't even break the top-20 amongst Minor Leaguers. Gary Redus, who never hit higher than .288 in a 13-year Major League career, holds the all-time Minor League mark [minimum 200 at-bats] with .462 at Billings of the Pioneer League in 1978. Demond Smith of Monterrey in the Mexican League led the Minor Leagues with a .406 average.

Ichiro Suzuki set the standard for hits in a season last year when he collected 262 for Seattle. That wouldn't even be in the top five for the Minor Leagues. Paul Strand paced the Pacific Coast League in 1923 while playing in Salt Lake City, collecting 325 hits.

Bauman's 72 homers for Roswell of the Longhorn League in 1954 was the professional standard until Bonds belted 73 homers in 2001. Ruth scored 177 runs for the Yankees in 1921 but it was his future teammate Tony Lazzeri who would set the Minor League mark four years later with 202 while playing for Salt Lake City.

Hack Wilson's 191 RBIs for the Cubs in 1930 is considered untouchable. Well, he would be no better than 11th on the Minor League list. Bobby Crues drove in 254 for Amarillo of the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1948 while Bauman knocked in 224 in '54. Lazzeri drove in 222 in '25 for Salt Lake while Ike Boone had 218 for Mission of the Pacific Coast League in 1929.

Other Minor League seasonal hitting marks include Lyman Lamb's 100 doubles for Tulsa of the Western League in 1924, Jack Cross's 32 triples for London of the Michigan-Ontario League in 1925. The Major League leaders for doubles and triples are Earl Webb [67, 1931 Red Sox] and Chief Wilson [36, 1912 Pirates], respectively.

Vince Coleman swiped 145 bases for Macon of the South Atlantic League in 1983, the same year Donell Nixon stole 144 for Bakersfield of the California League. Henderson's 130 for Oakland in 1982 remains the Major League standard.

As for pitching, Jack Chesbro's 41 wins for the 1904 Yankees remains the professional modern standard though Charley Radbourn's for Providence [NL] in 1884 is considered the all-time mark. The Minor League record for victories in a season is shared by a pair of Pacific Coast League hurlers. Doc Newton [Los Angeles, 1904] and Harry Vickers [Seattle, 1906] each collected 39 wins.

Ryan struck out 383 for the Angels in 1973, bettering by one the mark Sandy Koufax set eight years earlier with the Dodgers. They would check in at seventh and eighth, respectively, on the Minor League chart. Grover Lowderinilk struck out 465 for Decatur Maltoon of the Three I Eastern Illinois League in 1907. Bill Kennedy had 456 for Rocky Mount of the Coastal Plain League in 1946 while Virgil Trucks rounds out the top three with 418 for Andalusia of the Alabama-Florida League in 1938.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for Lloyd Johnson, the editor of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, and the Elias Sports Bureau contributed to this report.