Special Report

27 Professional Athletes With Record-Breaking Seasons

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

The four major sports leagues — NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB — have all been around for decades in various forms. After all those years, the record books are full of truly remarkable seasons from all-time great players. Every so often, another talented athlete breaks some record for points, goals, touchdowns, or home runs. While these are remarkable feats, some records are so unusual and impressive they seem nearly unbreakable.

Barry Bonds’ 73-home run season is legendary and rightfully so. But for all the home runs Bonds hit, he never hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season. Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle is the only player to accomplish that feat, slugging 50 homers and 52 doubles in 1995.

24/7 Wall St. combed through the histories of the four major sports leagues to find the most impressive seasons in sports history. Many of these seasons, such as the year Wayne Gretzky scored 92 goals, are the stuff of legend and still discussed to this day. Yet many of these seasons have received less notoriety — but are no less impressive.

Click here to see 27 professional athletes with record-breaking seasons.

To determine the athletes with the most impressive seasons in sports history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of statistical accomplishments in the four major U.S. sports leagues — the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. All NFL, NHL, and NBA seasons were considered. Only MLB seasons beginning in 1901, the first year in which there were two leagues as there are today, were considered. Data was compiled from the Sports Reference family of sites.

1. Albert Belle, 1995
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Outfielder, Cleveland Indians
> Feat: 50 HR, 50 doubles

In 1995, Albert Belle recorded one of the most impressive power-hitting seasons ever. Belle became the only player in MLB history to hit at least 50 home runs and 50 doubles. The slugging Cleveland Indians outfielder hit 50 home runs and 52 doubles with a .317 batting average and 126 RBIs. He helped the Indians post a record of 100-44, one of the highest win percentages in MLB history.

[in-text-ad]

2. Bobby Orr, 1970-1971
> League: NHL
> Position, team: Defenseman, Boston Bruins
> Feat: 124 plus/minus

When Bobby Orr was on the ice during the 1970-1971 season, the Boston Bruins outscored their opponents by 124 goals, a figure that has never been matched. Plus/minus isn’t the best way to express a players’ value to their team, but Orr was certainly the main reason for the Bruins success. He tallied 102 assists in 78 games and won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. That season, the Bruins lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens. However, the team won the Stanley Cup the season before and again the season after.

3. Craig Kimbrel, 2012
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
> Feat: 16.66 strikeouts per 9 innings

Craig Kimbrel has proven to be one of the toughest pitchers to make contact against. He’s made the All-Star team seven of the past eight seasons, racking over 300 saves and counting. While with the Atlanta Braves in 2012, he struck out 116 batters in under 63 innings — good for an MLB record of 16.66 strikeouts per nine innings among qualifying pitchers. The only other pitcher to come close to Kimbrel’s record was Kimbrel himself. He had 16.43 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017 as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

4. Darrelle Revis, 2009
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Cornerback, New York Jets
> Feat: 31 passes defended, 6 INT

Darrelle Revis established himself as an all-time great cover cornerback in 2009. In that season, Revis set an NFL record with 31 passes defended, meaning he was the only player in NFL history to bat down or deflect more than 31 pass attempts in a single season. He also added six interceptions and was named first team All-Pro for the first time in his career.

[in-text-ad-2]

5. Devin Hester, 2007
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Kick returner, Chicago Bears
> Feat: 6 special teams touchdowns

Devin Hester set an NFL record with five special teams touchdowns — three punt returns and two kickoff returns — during his rookie year of 2006. The next season he outdid himself, taking four punts and two kickoffs to the endzone to break his own record.

6. Drew Brees, 2017
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
> Feat: 72% completion percentage

While most pro athletes are past their prime or retired by age 38, Drew Brees may just be getting warmed up. The New Orleans Saints quarterback threw for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2017 — his 17th year in the league. But most impressively, he completed 72.0% of his pass attempts, the highest rate by any starting quarterback in NFL history.

[in-text-ad]

7. Dutch Leonard, 1914
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
> Feat: 0.96 ERA, 19-5

If a starting pitcher ends the year with an earned run average around 2.00, he may be one of the best pitchers in the game. Having an ERA around 1.00 is practically unheard of. Only Dutch Leonard has posted an ERA below 1.00 for a full season. In 1914, Leonard went 19-5 with a 0.96 ERA for the Boston Red Sox. He was just 22 at the time.

8. Eric Gagne, 2003
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
> Feat: 55 saves, no blown saves

Los Angeles Dodger Eric Gagne perfected the art of closing out a baseball game in 2003. Gagne converted all 55 of his save opportunities that year — the only time any pitcher saved more than 50 games with no blown saves. He posted a 1.20 ERA and won the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the National League.

9. George Hainsworth, 1928-1929
> League: NHL
> Position, team: Goalie, Montreal Canadiens
> Feat: 22 shutouts, 0.92 goals against average

George Hainsworth posted what is likely the greatest season ever by a goalkeeper in hockey history. During the 1928-1929 season, Hainsworth and the Montreal Canadiens defense held opponents scoreless 22 times, the most shutouts in NHL history for one netminder. The next highest total is 15. Hainsworth also allowed just 0.92 goals per game on average that season. He is still the only goalkeeper to allow fewer than one goal per game in an entire season.

[in-text-ad-2]

10. Hardy Nickerson, 1993
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
> Feat: 214 tackles

In 1993, Hardy Nickerson was one of the busiest men in football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker made 214 tackles, or more than 13 per game. No player made more tackles in a season before or since. For his effort, Nickerson was named first team All-Pro.

11. Jacques Plante, 1970-1971
> League: NHL
> Position, team: Goalie, Toronto Maple Leafs
> Feat: .944 save percentage

Jacques Plante proved to be one of the most durable goalkeepers in NHL history. He played well into his 40s and even set the NHL record for save percentage at 42. Plante blocked 94.4% of shots hit his way as a Toronto Maple Leaf in the 1970-1971 season. Plante broke the record he set two years earlier as a member of the St. Louis Blues, when he saved 94.0% of shots.

[in-text-ad]

12. John Stockton, 1989-1990
> League: NBA
> Position, team: Point guard, Utah Jazz
> Feat: 14.5 assists per game

John Stockton led the NBA in assists for nine straight seasons, perfecting the pick and roll with Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone. In the 1989-1990 season, Stockton dished out 14.5 assists per game, the highest average of all time. Of the six seasons with the most assists per game, five belong to Stockton.

13. Ken Houston, 1971
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Strong safety, Houston Oilers
> Feat: 5 defensive touchdowns

After being drafted in the ninth round of the NFL Draft, not much was expected from Ken Houston. But he turned into an all-time great ballhawking safety with the Houston Oilers. In 1971, Houston set an NFL record with five defensive touchdowns — four interceptions returned for touchdowns and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. Houston would go on to make 12 Pro Bowls and the NFL Hall of Fame.

14. LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Running back, San Diego Chargers
> Feat: 28 rushing touchdowns

LaDainian Tomlinson set the NFL ablaze in 2006, rushing for a record 28 touchdowns and adding three receiving touchdowns for good measure. In that season, Tomlinson also led the NFL in rushing with over 1,800 yards. Tomlinson also set the NFL record for most fantasy football points in a season.

[in-text-ad-2]

15. Mark Eaton, 1984-1985
> League: NBA
> Position, team: Center, Utah Jazz
> Feat: 5.6 blocks per game

At 7 feet 4 inches tall, Mark Eaton was born to be a basketball player. Eaton developed into one of the greatest rim protectors in NBA history, leading the league in blocks four times. His best defensive season came in 1984-1985, when he averaged 5.6 blocks per game. No other player has ever averaged more than 5.0.

16. Michael Strahan, 2001
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Defensive end, New York Giants
> Feat: 22.5 sacks

Michael Strahan was a dominant force for the New York Giants defense for his entire 15-year career. He reached his peak in 2001, when he brought down the opposing quarterback 22.5 times, setting the record.

[in-text-ad]

17. Nolan Ryan, 1973
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Pitcher, California Angels
> Feat: 383 strikeouts

Nolan Ryan was notoriously difficult to make contact against. The Texas fireballer holds the MLB record with 5,714 strikeouts in his career. He struck out over 300 batters in six different season, with his best season in 1973. As a California Angel, Ryan struck out 383 batters, a modern era MLB record. That season, he threw two no-hitters.

18. Oscar Robertson, 1961-1962
> League: NBA
> Position, team: Point guard, Cincinnati Royals
> Feat: Averaged a triple double

For more than 50 years, Oscar Robertson was the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a whole season, that is averaging double digits in three major statistical categories, usually points, assists, and rebounds. Russell Westbrook has accomplished the feat twice recently for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Robertson averaged more rebounds, at 12.5, and assists, at 11.4, than either of Westbrook’s triple double seasons.

19. Peyton Manning, 2013
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Quarterback, Denver Broncos
> Feat: 55 touchdowns, 5,477 yards

Peyton Manning rewrote the record books in his 2013 season with the Denver Broncos. At age 37, Manning set NFL records for touchdowns with 55 and yards with 5,477. Manning broke the passing yardage record only by a single yard over Drew Brees, but he shattered the pass touchdown record, as the previous record was 50 touchdowns, held by Tom Brady.

[in-text-ad-2]

20. Richard “Night Train” Lane, 1952
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Defensive half back, Los Angeles Rams
> Feat: 14 INTs

Richard “Night Train” Lane had one of the most impressive debut seasons in all of sports history. As a rookie in 1952, Lane intercepted his opponents 14 times — a record that still stands today. What makes the record even more impressive is that the NFL season was only 12 games long.

21. Rogers Hornsby, 1922
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Second baseman, St. Louis Cardinals
> Feat: 42 HR, .401 batting average

Hitting .400 or above is one of the most difficult feats in baseball. No one has done it since Ted Williams in 1941. Hitting for a high average while also hitting for power is even more difficult. St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Rogers Hornsby is the only player to hit over .400 and hit over 40 home runs in a season.

[in-text-ad]

22. Steph Curry, 2015-2016
> League: NBA
> Position, team: Point guard, Golden State Warriors
> Feat: 402 made threes

In recent years, the Golden State Warriors have revolutionized the NBA with their high-scoring offense that is largely built around good three-point shooting. The key to the offense is point guard Steph Curry, one of the great long-distance shooters in basketball history. Curry obliterated the record books in the 2015-2016 season when he hit 402 three-point shots, hitting more than 45% of his three-point attempts. For context, the previous record had been 286 threes — set by Curry the year before.

23. Terrell Davis, 1998
> League: NFL
> Position, team: Running back, Denver Broncos
> Feat: 2,008 yards, 21 touchdowns

Terrell Davis had nearly a perfect season in 1998. The Denver Broncos running back racked up 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns — making him the only player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards and notch 20 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Davis was named NFL MVP that season and led the Broncos to their second consecutive Super Bowl title.

24. Wayne Gretzky, 1985-1986
> League: NHL
> Position, team: Center, Edmonton Oilers
> Feat: 215 points

By 1985, Wayne Gretzky had already established himself as the best player in hockey. That season, he broke his own record for most points — goals plus assists — in a single season. The Great One notched 52 goals and 163 assists for 215 points. He actually scored 21 fewer goals than the previous season, but his assist numbers were so high that it didn’t matter.

[in-text-ad-2]

25. Wayne Gretzky, 1981-1982
> League: NHL
> Position, team: Center, Edmonton Oilers
> Feat: 92 goals

Wayne Gretzky is a frequent fixture in the NHL record books, so it should come as no surprise that he is the only athlete featured on this list twice. During the 1981-1982 season, Gretzky shattered Phil Esposito’s record of 76 goals in a season, lighting the lamp an astonishing 92 times. His incredible season included 10 hat tricks, also an NHL record.

26. Willie Mays, 1957
> League: MLB
> Position, team: Outfielder, New York Giants
> Feat: 35 home runs, 20 triples

Hitting a home run requires power. Hitting a triple requires speed. Hitting a lot of both requires a truly special baseball player. Willie Mays hit 35 home runs and 20 triples in 1957, and he is still the only player in major league history to accomplish the feat. That year, he also stole an MLB-leading 38 bases and won a Gold Glove as a center fielder.

[in-text-ad]

27. Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-1962
> League: NBA
> Position, team: Center, Philadelphia Warriors
> Feat: 50 points per game, 25 rebounds per game

Wilt Chamberlain had many impressive feats in his career, including his famed 100-point game. However, what may be even more astounding is his 1961-1962 season. Chamberlain averaged more than 50 points per game to go along with over 25 rebounds per game. The 50.4 points per game is still an NBA record, more than 5.0 points per game ahead of second place — which was set in Chamberlain’s next season. The 25.7 rebounds per game was the third-highest of any player. The only two seasons with more rebounds per game also belong to Chamberlain.

Sponsored: Want to Retire Early? Here’s a Great First Step

Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?

Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.

Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.