Comparing athletic accomplishments across sports ain’t easy. But we’re sports fans, and sports fans like to debate these things because, well, sports is fun to debate about. After all, if we’re arguing about our favorite fruit, sometimes we do need to compare apples and oranges.
And as long as we’re treading on forbidden ground, why not try to compare some of the records from other major sports to those in baseball?
To get an estimate, I used the historical distributions of records in other sports leagues (NFL, NHL and NBA) compared to those in Major League Baseball. Rather than say “log-normal distribution” over and over again, let’s go straight to the comparisons.
Quarterback Peyton Manning‘s exploits
Records: 55 passing TDs in a season; 539 career passing TDs
MLB comps: 71 home runs in a season; 869 career homers
Passing touchdowns seem to be the sexiest number for quarterbacks, so it seemed fitting to compare it to the sexiest number for baseball hitters: home runs. No matter the sport, records tend to be set in conditions most conducive to setting those records. Home run records are generally set in home run-prevalent time periods, and the all-time ERA list is loaded with pitchers from the dead-ball era (1901-1919). Meanwhile, elite NFL quarterbacks tend to throw more touchdowns today than they did in past generations. So it should come as no surprise that both the passing TD and home run records happened at a time very conducive to those records being set. It also should come as no surprise that their respective records equate similarly; Manning’s 55 TD passes in 2013 equates to just a smidge below Barry Bonds‘ single-season home run record of 73 long balls in 2001. However, even Bonds and his 762 career home runs couldn’t approach the home run equivalent to Manning’s career TD passes.
As for the more modest — but still great — numbers, 40 passing touchdowns in a season checks in at around 56 homers in baseball, and 300 career touchdowns is about 565 homers, so right around what Reggie Jackson and Rafael Palmeiro produced.
Records: 5,477 pass yards in a season; 71,940 career pass yards