In the Major Leagues 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 professional baseball history only 28 players have ever accomplished it.
To put it in perspective, a great season at the plate is considered when a batter closes a season with an average above .300. There has never been a major league season in which the batting champion at the end of the season finished with an average above .300. Carl Yastrzemski came 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). Batting .300 means getting three hits in every 10 at-bats. That doesn’t sound too difficult on the surface, but it’s considered something special when a player hits .400.
Hitting .400 is so rare and difficult that it hasn’t 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, came close to joining. the exclusive club of 28,400 batters when they finished with averages of .398, .398 and .399 again in the order listed above.
The fact that 77 years have passed and no player has been able to surpass the .400 mark indicates how difficult it is for the club to become a member. To further break the .400 club, 15 players entered the club in the 19th century. Only Nap Lajoie was able to hit .400 from 1901-1910. In the next decade, one of the best players in history, Ty Cobb hit .400 twice and did so in consecutive years in 1911 and 1912, finishing with averages of .419 and .409.
Cobb was a great hitter who is a three-time club member when he hit .401 in 1922. The 1920s produced the most .400 hitters when he joined Cobb were George Sisler (1920), Rogers Hornsby (1922), Sisler again in 1922, Harry Hellmann (1923), then Hornsby joined Cobb as a triplet going from .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 magic number. To sum up the players who hit .400 multiple times, Ed Delahanty did it three times as did Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb. Both George Sisler and Jesse Burkett hit .400 in one season twice. The two highest averages above .400 were Hugh Duffy, who finished with a .440 mark in 1894 and Tip O’Neill in 1887. The two lowest averages above .400 in history were .401 from Cobb in 1922 and the Hughes Jennings brand. 401 in 1896.
Going back to more modern times, specifically the last five major league seasons, in 2015 the major league leader in 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 best hitter at .348. Two years ago, when 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, when baseball returns from its annual All-Star break, DJ LeMahieu leads the American League in batting at just .336. The Mets’ Jeff McNeill leads the NL with a .349 average. Nor is it flirting or threatening to go above .400, which again indicates the difficulty of getting to the elusive .400 club. Will we ever see another player hit a season average of .400 or better? Probably not.
Batting .400 could be one of those records that never falls or is equaled just like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Hack Wilson’s 190 RBIs in a single season. No player is likely to hit 73 home runs again like Barry Bonds did, nor will anyone steal 138 bases in a season like Hugh Nicol did in 1887 or in the modern era when Ricky Henderson was close to 130 in 1982. Since 1900, a pitcher once won 41 games in a season like Jack Chesbro did in 1904. That obviously will never be seen again. Finally, a pitcher’s complete games are a thing of the past and two years before Chesbro’s 41 wins were Vic Willis’s 45 complete games.
The .400 club is still 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.