The Rarest Feats In Major League Baseball

Professional baseball is America's most venerable sport. While it is debatable as to when the national pastime began, the Baseball Hall of Fame dates the first openly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, to 1869. Collecting statistics started almost simultaneously. Between then and now is a lot of time to amass records, and baseball players have had many chances to carry off some truly improbable feats.

For example, the most vaunted record in Major League Baseball (MLB) history, which many experts say is unbreakable, is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak set in 1941. The "Baseball Research Journal" (via Society for American Baseball Research) calculated that the odds of carrying off the streak were .00054% or, in their estimation, a feat that can only occur once every 18,519 years. So while DiMaggio's record is theoretically breakable, you may have to wait till the next Ice Age to witness such a hitting streak happen again. Only Pete Rose came somewhat close with a 44-game streak in 1978.

While not all records are as untouchable as DiMaggio's, there are some fantastic feats on the diamond that are so rare and some so singular you would consider yourself blessed by the ghosts of Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams if you witnessed them in person. So let's go out to the ballgame and look at some crazy and rare MLB feats.

.400 batting average

The batting average is a time-honored statistic used to determine how well a baseball player bats. Averages are calculated by dividing the number of hits a player makes by the number of at-bats.  According to MLB, the average for major leaguers is about .250, meaning that a typical player will make a hit one-quarter of the times he is at-bat. An average of over .300 is considered awesome, but over .400 is historic.

In MLB history, there have been 35 players who have reached a .400 or higher season average (per Baseball Almanac). The last time this occurred was in 1941 when Ted Williams of the Red Sox slugged .406. It was touch and go. The last games of the season were a doubleheader against the Athletics and Williams was at an even .400. It had been over a decade since the previous.400 average, and everybody was on edge. Williams was slated to face some rookie pitchers he never squared off against, which made him uncomfortable. According to MLB, he was given the option of sitting out the doubleheader to preserve his average. 

Williams, however, played ball and entered the history books. He went 6-for-8 between the two games, raising his average to .406. There have been no .400 averages since, and it is generally considered nearly impossible to break .400 since the talent pool of players has grown less variable (meaning that the general skill level of everybody has increased). 

Grand Slam on first pitch in majors

For countless little leaguers, the fantasy of fantasies is hitting a home run in a major league baseball game. So imagine how thrilling it must be to do it on your first at-bat in the majors. Baseball Almanac lists 137 players who have homered at their first at-bat in the big leagues. Of these, four players took the fantasy to a new height and smacked a grand slam. Then two of these managed to whack their bases-loaded homer on the very first pitch they saw as major leaguers: Kevin Kouzmanoff (2006) and Daniel Nava (2010).

Kouzmanoff struck his blow for Cleveland (then going by their former name) as they battled the Rangers. He recalled to the Society of American Baseball Research, "I'm walking up to the plate, I figured, 'Great, I'm a rookie, bases loaded, here we go.'" So he hit it as hard as he could and entered the history books as the first player to get a grand slam home run on their first-ever pitch.

It wouldn't be long until a second player matched Kouzmanoff's feat. According to the New York Times, Nava had been signed with the Red Sox in 2007 but didn't have a go at the plate until three years later when they were playing against the Phillies. Luckily, or perhaps fate intended it, both Kouzmanoff and Nava's parents happened to be in the stands for the respective game to watch their sons' big league debuts. One cannot help but think these two must have felt like Roy Hobbes when they knocked these shots into the history books.

Stealing three bases within a single plate appearance

Stealing base is one of the critical aspects of small-ball baseball strategy. Instead of swinging for the fences, small ball teams try to advance runners to scrape an advantage base by base and run by run. Carrying off a successful steal in the big leagues requires superb agility, timing, and sprinting power. To take it up a notch, there have been baserunners who have managed to steal second, third, and home in one inning — 55, in fact. That's pretty rare, but to push the bar even higher, there are even rarer players who have stolen second, third, and home in one plate appearance. According to MLB, only two players have achieved this feat in recent decades: Rod Carew (1969) and Elly De La Cruz (2023).

De La Cruz has rocked the big leagues as a rookie with the Reds. In a game against the Brewers on July 8, 2023, De La Cruz hit a single to drive in a run. With the next batter up, De La Cruz easily stole second on a 1-0 pitch and then snatched third on a 1-2 pitch without a throw. Then, the Brewers pitcher, Elvis Peguero, was preparing for the next set and seemed to forget about De La Cruz. Big mistake. Before he could get ready to pitch the phenom rocket slid into home for the steal. It was a truly exciting, and very historic, baseball feat. 

Two grand slams in one Inning

If hitting one grand slam in a major league game isn't enough, how about knocking out two within the same inning? This is such a rare feat that in 150-plus years of professional baseball, it has only occurred once.  On April 23, 1999, Fernando Tatis did this and secured his place among the immortals of baseball lore.

Tatis was playing third base for the Cardinals against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. MLB reported at the beginning of the third inning the Dodgers were leading 2-0 when the Cardinals went on a rally against power pitcher Chan Ho Park. The bases loaded up, and Tatis knocked a towering shot over the left field bullpen.  The Cards took the lead 4-2 and continued to rally until the score became 7-2. Then Tatis got another go at Park, again with bases loaded. Park, worn out by the Cardinal pummeling, loaded the count before hurling a juicy breaking ball that Tatis bashed into the stands for his second grand slam.

Curiously, Tatis' son, Fernando Tatis, Jr., also became a major leaguer, and 22 years to the day after his dad performed the grand slam feat, he also executed two home runs in a single game at Dodger Stadium. But while remarkable, they weren't the slams that his daddy made.

Unassisted triple play

In fielding feats, the triple play is a rare spectacle that has occurred 734 times in MLB history. Yet as rare as the triple play is, much more infrequent is the unassisted triple play in which a fielder puts three batters out by himself. The unassisted triple play has only occurred 15 times since 1900 and relies on a fielder being at the right place at the right time.

The last time this happened is an excellent example of how luck is involved. On August 23, 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies rested their regular second basemen and put in Eric Bruntlett when they faced off against the New York Mets at Citi Field. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Phillies up 9-7, the Mets were staging a rally and had runners at first and second. Jeff Francoeur came to the plate and hit a laser line drive to Bruntlett, who rushed to cover second. He stomped on the bag to put the second base runner out and then tagged out the first base runner who was trying to skid back to first. The play, over in seconds, ended the game. It was the only unassisted triple play that ended an MLB game.

This play proved to be the high watermark of Bruntlett's major league career. He ended his career with a respectable but fairly pedestrian .231 average and was assigned a replacement rate of .8, which ranked him at the reserve level. Still, he has achieved baseball glory forevermore.

Pitching a perfect game

The most vaunted feat any MLB pitcher can achieve is the perfect game. This is when the same pitcher retires all 27 batters of the opposing team with none reaching base either by hit, error, walk, etc. It is arguably the hardest deed a professional pitcher can achieve. Over the hundreds of thousands of games played throughout major league history, it has only occurred 24 times.

Of these 24 games, the most notable is Don Larson's perfect game thrown on October 8, 1956, against the Dodgers, where he faced the likes of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Gil Hodges. Larson was considered a solid, but middling pitcher who would end his career with an 81-91 record. However, Larson rose to the occasion since his perfect game was the only one thrown in a World Series. His immortality is cemented in the iconic image of catcher Yogi Berra embracing the pitcher.

Yankees starter Domingo Germán hurled the latest perfect game on June 28, 2023, against the Oakland Athletics. Germán, much like Larson, was no stellar pitcher but rather was known for uneven performances and even had been suspended earlier in the season for using foreign substances on the ball (per the New York Times). However, everything that day clicked, and in the bottom of the ninth, even the hometown Oakland fans were rooting for the curveballer to finish the job. This he did despite feeling incredible pressure.

Back-to-back no hitters

The no-hitter is rightly considered an awesome pitching feat. After all, any pitcher who can limit any major league lineup to not reaching base on a hit is truly giving a stellar performance. There have been 322 of these pitching gems in baseball history, but only one pitcher managed to throw two of them back-to-back: Johnny Vander Meer.

Vander Meer was a left-hander for the Cincinnati Reds, and according to the Society of American Baseball Research, on June 11, 1938, he blanked the woefully bad-batting Boston Bees, 3-0 with a no-hitter. The Reds Manager, Casey Stengel, commented that Vander Meer, who had only been brought up the year before, was "a real pitcher." The next time Vander Meer took the mound was on June 15 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. By the time Vander Meer got to the ninth inning, he had the Brooklyn crowd cheering him on. The double no-hitters were the crowning achievement of Vander Meer's career since he proved to be an average pitcher, hurling a career record of 119-121.  He would end his baseball work as a pitching coach before joining the Schlitz Brewing Company.

Two triple plays in one game

Triple plays are rare events in major league baseball, but you can expect to see a few a season since well over 700 of them are on record. However, one singular triple-play feat went down on July 17, 1990, when the Minnesota Twins pulled off two triple plays in a single game. It is the only time it has ever happened.

The Twins were squared off against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first triple play happened at the bottom of the fourth when the Red Sox loaded the bases. The Society of American Baseball Research reports that the Twins' third baseman, Gary Gaetti, quipped to Wade Boggs who was the baserunner on third, "Wade, a 5-4-3 triple play is coming up right here." Boggs later said this made Gaetti like "Nostradamus, the Amazing Kreskin, and Karnak the Magnificent" since that is exactly what happened. Gaetti picked up a grounder, stepped on the bag, and threw it to second baseman Al Newman who tossed it to Kent Hrbek at first to complete the play. Then, the same type of triple play happened again in the bottom of the eighth — it was unprecedented.

Despite the defensive feats the Twins couldn't get their offense going. They lost the game 1-0.

Intentional walk with bases loaded

Batters get walked intentionally all the time in the majors. It's a backhanded compliment to the batter saying, "You are so good we'd rather put you on first and limit the potential damage." What is even more complimentary to the batter is when the slugger's offense is so scary that the opposing team is willing to give up a run by intentionally giving him a base on balls with the bases loaded. This act of contrition and humiliation has only occurred eight times in MLB history. 

Perhaps the most well-known bases-loaded intentional walk was that of Barry Bonds, who was the MLB intentional walk king with 688 pitch outs to his name. On May 28, 1998, the Diamondbacks' manager Buck Showalter gave the order to intentionally walk the Giants slugger and suffer the run rather than risk a grand slam. The bemused look of Bonds is the stuff of internet memes.

The latest occurrence was in 2022 when Angels' manager Joe Maddon ordered pitcher Austin Warren to give Corey Seager the Barry Bonds treatment with the bases loaded. What was strange about this, and utterly unique to MLB history, is that the Angels were already down 3-2. Madden, in fact, is the only manager to order bases-loaded intentional walks two times. He also ordered it for Josh Hamilton in 2008.

Hitting for the cycle topped with a grand slam

One of the most vaunted feats in baseball is "hitting for the cycle." This entails a batter hitting a single, double, triple, and home run within a single game. While a somewhat notable occurrence, hitting for the cycle occurs with some regularity. However, hitting for the cycle and making the homerun a grand slam is rare, having happened only nine times in MLB play.

The last time hitting for the cycle with a grand slam occurred was on July 16, 2010, when the Rangers were playing the Red Sox at Fenway Park. According to Sports Illustrated, Ranger catcher Bengie Molina, known for being an okay hitter (he had a lifetime batting average of .274) and slow on his feet, had the best day of his career. He clubbed a single, double, and a grand slam before lumbering out the needed triple in the eighth inning, injuring his leg in the process. Molina retired after the 2010 season, but he is sure to remember the game against the Red Sox as one of his best baseball memories.

Four homers in one game

Any little leaguer fantasizes about hitting a home run, and the same must hold true for baseball professionals. Yet some exceptional sluggers have entered an elite club of only 18 players who belted out four homers in a single game.

Some of these players are legends: Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays, and Gil Hodges. Others are less well-known but just had excellent days. One example of these is "Hard-Hittin' Mark Whiten," who on September 7, 1993, blasted four shots for the Cardinals against the Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader. The tone was set when he started with a grand slam in the first. Three lesser homers followed through the game amassing him 12 runs batted in, a tie for the major league record of RBIs in a single game, per the Society of American Baseball Research.

Whiten's incredible feat has been chalked up to his focused mind and existing in the present. He said afterward, "Maybe if it had been a World Series, I would have gotten a little emotional."

Pitching an immaculate inning

Theoretically, a pitcher can pitch a complete game on 81 pitches (9 strikes per inning) or even just on 27 pitches if every batter pops out on the first pitch every time. While these feats have never been accomplished (and likely never will), some pitchers have pitched through an inning on nine thrown strikes. This accomplishment has been dubbed an "immaculate inning" and is a pretty rare pitching feat. NBC Sports Chicago reported that between 1876 and 1989, pitchers threw a total of 31 immaculate innings. The frequency grew after that so that between 1990 to 2022, there had been 80 immaculate innings. And the list seems to be growing. For example, in 2023 MLB tells us there were two in May alone.

The strangest immaculate innings occurred on June 15, 2022, when the Houston Astros faced the Texas Rangers. In this game, there were two immaculate innings pitched by two Astro pitchers, starter Luis Garcia in the 2nd inning and reliever Phil Maton in the 7th. What made it even stranger was that the batters who these hurlers struck out were the same three batters: Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran, and Brad Miller. Quite a feat, and MLB notes it is the only time that it has ever occurred in the history of the majors.