On Tuesday night, LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul Jabbar's All-Time NBA scoring record of 38,387 points. It is a record that has stood since Jabbar's career ended in 1989. It was once thought to be an impossible record to break. Some like Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant have come close over the years, but like so many, they came up short.
LeBron, through sheer determination and longevity, is the one who broke the record and is the one who will hold it now maybe for the rest of our lifetimes.
That got me thinking: What is the baseball equivalent of this record? Is it Nolan Ryan's strikeout record of 5,714? Is it Barry Bonds' home run record of 762? Is it something mundane like Rickey Henderson's runs scored record of 2295? I don't really think it is any of these. In my mind, the equivalent of the NBA scoring record is the career runs batted in record (RBI).
MLB's RBI record is baseball's equivalent to the NBA scoring record
The RBI record is currently held by Hank Aaron and it is 2,297. Why do I say it is the RBI record? RBI, even though you can get them by yourself with a solo home run, generally requires having teammates who can get on base in front of you and the ability to be able to drive them in through a variety of ways. It is the combination of individual and team accomplishment. Scoring in the NBA is much the same way. It can be done through isolation, but those that score a lot are normally surrounded by great teammates that have the ability to draw attention from the defense and are able to assist in scoring as well.
The RBI record also would take an entire career of 20 years or longer likely to get close to that point. Hank Aaron played 23 years to get to that total. If you look at the top 10 it is a list of some of the best ball-players of all time. Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, and Jimmie Foxx. Pujols is now second all-time. If he had played one more season he would have had a shot to surpass Aaron. Like many others before him he will come up just short.
The active players who have the best shot to get close or even pass the RBI record are Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt. Freeman and Goldschmidt are over 1,000 already and Arenado at 968 will pass 1,000 by the All-Star break this year. They will have to likely maintain this standard of play for another 8-10 years to get close to Aaron's record. Each of them plays in organizations committed to winning now and in the future with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals respectively. Those three could get it done with some luck staying healthy and productive. Many players have been good to great run-producers, but no one has passed Aaron since his career ended in 1976. It is a record that has stood now for almost 50 years.
It will reach the 50-year mark in 2026. If someone got to a point that they might be able to break the RBI record, every at-bat would be followed very closely. To surpass the great Hank Aaron would put a cap on anyone's career. MLB is trying to create more offense with the rule changes being put in place this year. I would not be surprised if we went back to an era like the 90's when Juan Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez were clearing 150 RBI's in a single season. A direct line from the NBA penalizing hand-checking after the 2003-2004 season can be drawn from there to Lebron breaking Kareem's scoring record on Tuesday night. Rule changes being put in place in baseball now could lead to someone breaking Aaron's RBI record down the road as well.