The .400 Club
In Major League Baseball there is an exclusive club of players who have finished a season with a batting average above .400. It is such a rare feat that in the history of pro baseball only 28 players have achieved it.
To put into perspective, it is considered to be an excellent season at the plate when a hitter closes a season with an average above .300. There has never been a Major League Baseball season in which the batting champion at season’s end finished with an average above .300. Carl Yastrzemski came the closest in 1968 when he hit just .301 to lead the American League.
The next four highest averages to lead a league were: 1905 Elmer Flick-Cleveland Naps (.308), 1945 Stuffy Sturnweiss (.308), 1988 Tony Gwynn (.313), and 1966 Frank Robinson (.316). To hit .300 means getting three hits in every 10 at-bats. That doesn’t sound too difficult on the surface but it is considered something special when a player hits .400.
Hitting .400 is so rare and difficult that it has not been done in 77 years, not including 2019. Ted Williams, “The Splendid Splinter” is the last player to finish above .400 when he hit for a .406 clip in 1941. Tony Gwynn was the last player to come close and flirt with a .400 average when he hit .394 in 1994. Harry Hellmann, Left O’Doul, and Cap Anson in the years 1927, 1929, and 1881 respectively all came close to joining the exclusive club of 28 .400 hitters when they finished with averages of .398, .398, and .399 again in the order as they were listed above.
The fact that 77 years have gone by and no player has been able to crack the .400 mark indicates how difficult the club is to become a member. To break down the .400 club a little further, 15 players entered the club in the 1800s. Only Nap Lajoie could reach .400 from 1901-1910. In the next decade one of the greatest players ever, Ty Cobb hit .400 twice and did it in back-to-back years in 1911 and 1912 by finishing with averages of .419 and .409.
Cobb was such a great hitter he is a three-time member of the club when he hit .401 in 1922. The 20’s produced the most .400 hitters ever when joining Cobb were George Sisler (1920), Rogers Hornsby (1922), Sisler again in 1922, Harry Hellmann (1923), then Hornsby joined Cobb as a three-timer by going over .400 in 1924 and ’25.
Then there was Bill Terry who hit .401 in 1930 and not another player until Ted Williams turned the trick in 1941, 11 years after Terry and the last player to hit the magical number. To summarize players who reached .400 multiple times Ed Delahanty did it three times as did Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb. Both George Sisler and Jesse Burkett hot .400 in a season twice. The two highest averages above .400 were Hugh Duffy who finished with a mark of .440 in 1894 and Tip O’Neill in 1887. The two lowest averages above .400 in history were Cobb’s .401 in 1922 and Hughes Jennings’ mark of .401 In 1896.
Turning to more modern times specifically the last five Major a league Baseball seasons, in 2015 the Major League leader for batting average was Miguel Cabrera playing for Detroit and finishing with a .388 mark. A season later New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu was the top hitter at .348. Two years ago as his Houston Astros won the World Series, José Altuve led the majors in batting average by hitting .346. Then last season another World Series champion the Boston Red Sox produced a batting champion in Mookie Betts who hit .346.
This season as baseball returns from its annual All-Star break DJ LeMahieu is leading the American League in batting at just .336. The Mets’ Jeff McNeill is the National League leader with an average of .349. Neither is flirting or threatening going over .400 which again spells the difficulty of reaching the elusive .400 club. Will we ever see another player reach a season average of .400 or better? Most likely not.
Hitting .400 might be one of those records that never falls or is matched just like say Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Hack Wilson’s 190 RBI’s in a single season. No player will probably hit 73 home runs again as Barry Bonds did nor will anyone steal 138 bases in one campaign as Hugh Nicol did in 1887 or in the modern era when Ricky Henderson came close with 130 in 1982. Since 1900 a pitcher once won 41 games in a season as Jack Chesbro did in 1904. That obviously will never be seen again. Finally, complete games by a pitcher is a thing of the past and two years prior to Chesbro’s 41 victories was Vic Willis’s 45 complete games.
The .400 club remains exclusive with its 28 players and after 119 years of baseball since 1900, we may have to wait another 100 years before we see another .400 hitter.