In 1903 Hugh Jennings retired, except for the occasional special appearance, holding one of the most important offensive career records even though he probably never knew it. That year he was hit once for the 287th and last time which to this day is the record. However, without hardly and fan fair the record was almost broken with very little recognition. Such as shame for such an important record.
Craig Biggio came into the 2007 season 5 hit by pitches short of the record. He was hit by a pitch 15 times in 2004, 17 times in 2005 and 9 times in 2006. So, he had an established level of hit by pitches of 12.7. Since we know that Biggio played one more year we can assume that when calculating the percentage to reach the goal. Basically, he was favored to break the record. Unfortunately, despite 555 plate appearances Biggio was hit by a pitch only 3 times, a big disappointment to baseball fans everywhere. What happened? Was Biggio afraid to get by a pitch at age 41 and that is why he retired? His on base percentage for the year was only .281 so you would think he would try anyway to get on base. He did obtain his 3,000 hit that year, but that wasn’t a major league record.
This made me wonder when did Biggio get hit in 2007. The first time was April 17th. This was good as he only had to be hit once a month. The next time was June 29th. This was in the Astro’s 80th game of the year and put him on pace to get 4. However, Biggio was hot on getting hit by a pitch and got hit again on July 7th pulling him within 2 at 285 and on pace to get hit 2.5 more times so he should tie the record and possibly break it. Sadly, this was the last time Biggio got hit by a pitch. He would make more than 200 more plate appearances and didn’t get hit by a pitch ever again. In the first half of the season Biggio had an Ops plus of 87, below average, but not too bad. He really faded in the second half with an Ops plus of 56, which is really bad. A few hit by pitches would have helped him.
Maybe it’s just as well Biggio didn’t break the record as Hugh Jennings might still be considered the best hit by pitch player in major league history. I like looking at pitchers of the top 24 in categories and for hit by pitches for a season, Hugh Jennings was first, both third places and twelfth. He led the league 5 consecutive years. They had real men then. This helped him achieve a lifetime on base percentage of .391. In 1896 he was hit 51 times which helped him obtain and on base percentage of .472. It also prepared him for the pain of managing Ty Cobb for 14 years.
Number 2 Craig Biggio. He made the top 24 seasons twice. He tied for ninth with Curt Welch and he tied for 23rd with 3 others. Biggio was more consistent. He was hit by a pitch 10 or more times for 11 straight years. Like Jennings Biggio led the league in hit by pitches 5 times, but it was in that 11-year period. He had 15 seasons in the top 10. He had a solid lifetime on base percentage of .363 but was in the top 10 four years in his prime.
Number 3 Tommy Tucker was hit by a pitch 272 times in his career. That isn’t far from the two leaders. He retired with the record for hit by pitches. Jennings broke it in 1901, but nobody had any idea in those days. Tucker had 3 years in the top 24. To show getting hit by a pitch is a young man’s game Tucker led the league 5 of his first 6 years. He played 7 more years never winning another title. His lifetime on base percentage was about the same as Biggio’s .364. He also led the league in on base average in 1889 at .450.
Number 4 Don Baylor was hit by a pitch 267 times. He was more consistent than Biggio. He led the league 8 times in hit by pitch and was in the top 10 17 times. He led four straight years in his late 30s. He had two seasons in the top 24 seasons. Baylor was often hit in the shoulder with the ball bouncing forward. He showed no pain or joy. It was like if you want to put me on first that’s fine with me. He didn’t walk that much so being hit by pitches help make up for that. He was even hit in the 7th game of the 1987 World Series. That’s a big game to get a baserunner on for the team.
Number 5 Jason Kendell was hit by a pitch 254 times. You would think a catcher would get enough bruises just catching. Kendell only won one hit by pitch title. He was 12 times in the top 10. In both his second and third year of his career Kendell was hit by a pitch 31 times. Those two years are tied with two other players seasons for the 13th most of all time.
Number 6 Ron Hunt was hit by a pitch 243 times. He was the only player I know of who said he went up to bat saying he was trying to get hit. He had the second greatest season of all time getting hit 50 times in 1971. However, it is the highest total after 1899. It beats second place Baylor’s total in that category by 15. Hunt said he tried to get hit as he was trying to stay in baseball. In 1971 he got on base between walks and hit by pitches 108 times. This led to a .402 on base average. It helped make his lifetime on base average .368 and made him an above average offensive player.