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All-time Progressive Hits Leaders

Posted by Andy on May 13, 2010

This plot shows the year-to-year ratios of the active career hits leaders. Please take a look at my recent similar post for strikeout leaders to understand how it's done. Basically, I take the number of hits for the active leader at the end of each season and divide by the total for the year from the previous season.

(click on the image for a larger version)

As with the strikeout chart, the big dips occurs when the active leader retires and the new leader has a much lower total.

A few things to notice:

  • The highest point on this graph is in 1953, when Stan Musial registered a ratio of nearly 1.10. This is pretty much an artifact of how the plot works. Between 1952 and 1953, Musial posted 200 hits, running his career total from 2,023 hits to 2,223 hits. When Joe DiMaggio stepped aside after 1951, he left Musial as the active hits leader with a fairly total total. Most other times in baseball history, the active career leader has been around 3,000 hits. So when Musial had that 200-hit season in 1953, he boosted his own career total by about 10% and jumped to the top.
  • Jim O'Rourke managed to stay as the active hits leader despite not adding any hits at all from 1894 to 1903. He didn't play in the majors during that time.  He came back to play in 1 game in 1904 so he gets credit for being active the whole time and amazingly nobody had a higher total than he did the entire time.
  • The plot shows lots of bumps in the last 10 years. This is because of lots of changes in the active hit leaders. After Gwynn took over from Molitor, there was Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey, and the current leader, Derek Jeter.

6 Responses to “All-time Progressive Hits Leaders”

  1. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Cap Anson was the active hits leader every season from 1880 to 1897 — eighteen straight years.

  2. Gerry Says:

    I disagree with the decision to consider O'Rourke active from 1894 to 1903. I'd like to see a graph with the real active leaders from those years.

    By the way, one of my favorite trivia questions is, who was the active home run leader at the start of the 1948 season? You won't find the answer at because that lists leaders at the end of the season, and the leader at the start of 1948 wasn't the leader at the end of 1947 or 1948 (or any other year).

  3. Raphy Says:

    Rudy York?

  4. DavidRF Says:

    @2 and @3

    I believe it is Rudy York. Here's what I have for the all-time HR list after 1947

    714 ruthba01 (1935)
    534 foxxji01 (1945)
    511 ottme01 (1947)
    493 gehrilo01 (1939)
    331 greenha01 (1947)
    307 simmoal01 (1944)
    301 hornsro01 (1937)
    300 kleinch01 (1944)
    288 johnsbo01 (1945)
    277 yorkru01 (active - for 31 more games)
    264 dimagjo01 (active)
    257 mizejo01 (active)

    Many of the first wave of live-ball sluggers all retired within a few years of each other.

  5. DavidRF Says:


    I looked into who the active hit leaders were during the period O'Rourke was listed as active due to his 1904 single-game appearance with the Giants. To be listed, you had to have played that year.

    To do these searches, I use the Lahman database and there are some minor descrepancies between the hit data listed there and here at bb-ref. Just a heads up with the numbers don't jive exactly with what's reported by this site. Not sure which data is better, so I'll list the top 3 each year in case there are any close calls.

    Data below does include NA numbers (1871-75) as does the totals reported at bb-ref.

    1897 - ansonca01 3418, connoro01 2467, mcphebi01 2025
    1898 - mcphebi01 2146, mckeaed01 2011, thompsa01 1972
    1899 - mcphebi01 2250, ryanji01 2123, duffyhu01 2116
    1900 - vanhage01 2255, ryanji01 2238, delahed01 2174
    1901 - vanhage01 2437, delahed01 2366, duffyhu01 2257
    1902 - delahed01 2544, vanhage01 2460, burkeje01 2396
    1903 - delahed01 2596, burkeje01 2547, vanhage01 2532
    1904 - burkeje01 2703, becklja01 2680, (orourji01 2643), crossla01 2327

    By the time of O'Rourke's cameo, Burkett and Beckley had passed him.

    A lot of action on the leaderboard during the post-Anson period. McPhee, Van Haltren, and Delahanty. Of course, by the end of 1903, Delahanty was dead so we wasn't really "active", but he did play that season.

  6. Gerry Says:

    Rudy York it is. Thanks for digging up the 1897-1904 data.