WILLIE MAYS 1955, New York Giants: 51 home runs 1965,...

1955, New York Giants: 51 home runs
1965, San Francisco Giants: 52 home runs
Credit: AP

This installment of Baseball 101 is a seminar in baseball past, present and future, told through a series of numbers that, for 101 reasons, matter more than most. Numbers tell the story of baseball. In fact, they are the story of baseball.

Whether they represent statistics, records, dates, years, positions, players or dollars, you can count on numbers to tell you something.

Baseball's best number? It's '4'

Of all the magic numbers in baseball, "4" ranks as No. 1. It is the ultimate number, the one that represents completeness and achievement. A player needs to touch four bases to score a run. A team needs to win four games to win the World Series, after having had to win four in the league championship series to get there.

Four balls gets a runner to first base . . . A manager generally signals for an intentional walk by holding up four fingers.

A grand slam counts for four runs, the most that can score on any one play . . . Hitting for the cycle, one of the rarest batting accomplishments, requires four distinct hits: single, double, triple and home run . . . The record for one batter's home runs in a game is four . . . The No. 4 position in any team's batting order is considered an honored and responsible spot, There are four umpires on the field in regular season games.

An unusual and notable performance by a pitcher is to strike out four batters in an inning (after one of them reaches first on a dropped third strike). The website baseball-almanac.com says it's only happened 65 times in history, but eight times last season, including once by the Yankees' Phil Hughes . . . And these days, starting pitchers usually rest four days between assignments.

No. 4 was the first number ever retired, beginning a popular and wide ranging tradition. It was done in honor of Lou Gehrig, who knew the fate his disease had in store for him and still said, on the field at Yankee Stadium, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." It was on July 4, 1939.

And the other 100 . . .

.400: The Holy grail for a season batting average, which no one has accomplished since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941.

511: Career wins by Cy Young (if anybody matches it, they'll name an award after him, too).

56: Games in Joe DiMaggio's epic hitting streak, which ended July 17, 1941 and was followed by a 16-game streak.

4,256: Hits by all-time leader Pete Rose, who, like all-time HR leader Barry Bonds, is not in Hall of Fame.

1: No-hitters pitched by a Met. Johan Santana needed 134 pitches for his gem last season against the Cardinals.

262: Most hits in a season, by Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners in 2004.

369: Home runs in 10 seasons by Ralph Kiner, a Hall of Famer who has been on Mets telecasts since 1962

3,304: Hits for Derek Jeter, a Yankees record.

1/8: Uniform number worn by 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel as a stunt pinch-hitter for the 1951 Browns.

3: Babe Ruth's uniform number, which some people believe should be retired throughout baseball.

3,000: Gold standard for hits. Roberto Clemente finished with exactly 3,000, having reached it with a double on Sept. 30, 1972, three months before he died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission.

42: Mariano Rivera is the last major leaguer to ever will wear this number, which was retired throughout baseball "in perpetuity" by Commissioner Bud Selig on the 50th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line.

12: Record for RBIs in a game, Jim Bottomley (1924) and Mark Whiten (1993), both with the Cardinals. Also, RBIs in the 1960 World Series by Bobby Richardson (the only MVP from the losing team); one-hitters each by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller; years after Jackie Robinson's debut that Pumpsie Green became the first African-American on the Red Sox. He wore No. 12.

1919: Year of the most notorious scandal in baseball history, with eight members of the Chicago White Sox banned for life for intentionally throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

75: Years the Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud has been used to take the glare off new baseballs. Blackburne, a former big leaguer, was coaching third for the Philadelphia A's in 1938 when he first offered use of mud from a swimming hole near Palmyra, in southern New Jersey.

7.6: Wins Above Replacement rating in 2012 for Justin Verlander, tops among pitchers. WAR represents wins a player brought to his team above what a replacement would have produced.

57: Extra-base hits in 2012 by Bryce Harper, the most ever by a teenager

9: Players on the field (not counting DH), innings in a game, strikes in a perfect inning. World Series used to be best of 9. Joe DiMaggio wore 9 as a rookie.

40: Years since Cleveland shipbuilding heir George Steinbrenner III said at his first New York news conference: "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees."

2: No-hitters in a row by the Reds' Johnny Vander Meer in 1938, the second was in the first night game at Ebbets Field.

17: Inches, the width of home plate, every speck of which was used precisely by Greg Maddux, a likely 2014 Hall of Famer.

60-6: Feet and inches, respectively, from the "pitching plate" to home plate, a distance unchanged since 1893.

90: Feet between bases. It is said Mickey Mantle could get from home to first in 2.9 seconds.

65: Years the Cubs have been on TV station WGN, but Chicago Tribune reports the club won't renew when the contract expires next year.

66: Years ago, Bill Veeck moved Indians training camp to Arizona because he believed it would be more tolerant of the African American players he was about to sign.

85: Age of Vin Scully, Bronx native, Dodgers announcer since 1950.

2,632: Cal Ripken's record for consecutive games played.

68.2: Percent of votes received this year by Craig Biggio, the top vote-getter -- 6.8 percent short of the threshold for the Hall of Fame.

6: Retired in 1963 by the Cardinals for Stan Musial, who once noted that he faced opponents who played in the 1930s and in the 1970s.

24: Willie Mays' number. Mets have issued it sparingly (Kelvin Torve, Rickey Henderson) since he wore it for them in 1972-73.

31: Wins by Tigers pitcher Denny McLain in 1968, an almost inconceivable total now, in an era of innings limits.

21: Losses by Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth in 2003, also unlikely to be duplicated.

.366: Ty Cobb's career batting average -- best of all-time. He won 11 batting titles and hit .400 three times.

1,426: Hits for David Wright, Mets all-time leader.

106: Miles per hour fastball recorded in 2012 by Aroldis Chapman, who has been moved back to the closer for the Reds after a spring experiment as a starter.

1.4217: Season record OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), by Barry Bonds in 2004.

159 1/3: Innings pitched last season by Stephen Strasburg, shut down Sept. 7 by the Nationals to protect his arm after Tommy John surgery.

.424: Rogers Hornsby's batting average with the Cardinals in 1924 -- the highest mark since 1900. He hit .403 the next season.

.417: Miguel Cabrera's majors-leading weighted On-Base Average in 2012. The wOBA is based on the principle that some hits are more valuable than others.

15: Strikeouts by Sandy Koufax at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the World Series 50 years ago.

73: The single season home run record held by Barry Bonds, set in 2001.

232: Record number of walks Barry Bonds received in 2004 . . . 120 of them intentional -- another record.

$165: Price for a Green Monster seat, above the famous wall.

7: Mickey Mantle's number (after having originally worn 6). Also, Barry Bonds' MVP awards and Nolan Ryan no-hitters.

8: Date in Oct. 1956 of Don Larsen's perfect game. Final strike caught by Yogi Berra, No. 8.

309: Sam Crawford's record for most career triples, he had four seasons of 20 or more.

2,597: Reggie Jackson's record for most strikeouts in a career -- he had a record 18 seasons of 100 or more.

50: Games, the suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test -- baseball's new tragic number.

79: Years it took to tie Babe Ruth's AL record of 32 road homers in 1927 (David Ortiz, 2006).

608: Career saves for Mariano Rivera, who will add to the total in 2013 -- what he says will be his last season with the Yankees.

70: Most career wins against one team, Grover Cleveland Alexander vs. Cincinnati (1911-30).

11/1/01: Date on which Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series Game 4 ended. Derek Jeter's 10th inning homer earned the nickname "Mr. November."

44: Retired by the Braves and Brewers for Hank Aaron, the Giants for Willie McCovey and the Yankees for Reggie Jackson.

755: Hank Aaron's home run total, which some still consider the true record, given allegations that Barry Bonds used PEDs to reach 762.

2,297: Hank Aaron's undisputed record for career RBIs.

11: Major League Baseball cities in 1953, before the Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954. New York had three teams, Philadelphia and Chicago two each.

13: The unlucky inning for Pirates' Harvey Haddix who threw 12 perfect innings against Braves in 1959 before losing gem on a throwing error by Don Hoak.

13.5: Lead, in games, for the Dodgers over the Giants on Aug. 11, 1951, making the eventual Giants pennant seem incredible.

98.84: Percentage of votes (425 of 430) that Tom Seaver received on his first ballot entry into the Hall of Fame in 1992, still the highest mark.

1913: The New York Highlanders were renamed the New York Yankees.

5: Most home runs in a doubleheader, by Stan Musial of the Cardinals in 1954 and Nate Colbert of the Padres in 1972.

53: Years Connie Mack spent as manager, the last 50 with the Philadelphia Athletics. He won a record 3,731 games.

22: Years between Mets 20-game winners (Frank Viola 1990, R.A. Dickey 2012).

1,406: Stolen bases for all-time leader Rickey Henderson. There were 18 years (1980-1998) between his first and last AL stolen base titles.

155: Stolen bases last season by Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, a minor-league record.

.146: Orioles batting average during 1969 World Series vs. the Mets (in its 109-win regular season, Baltimore hit .265)

23: Most career grand slams, by Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez.

3-4: Career major league record as a White Sox pitcher by Basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere.

.202: Batting average for Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan as White Sox minor-league outfielder.

409: Pages in the Mitchell Report on illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

0: Al Oliver's number. Also, salary arbitration hearings this year and weeks in 2013 without an interleague series.

3-2: The full count on a batter -- three balls, two strikes -- and the payoff pitch brings us to the edge of our seats.

41: Most games won by a pitcher in a single season since 1900, by Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders (41-12 in 1904).

490: Feet from home plate to the centerfield wall when Yankee Stadium opened in 1923.

27: Outs to finish a game, championships for the Yankees.

34: Retired by Rangers and Astros for Nolan Ryan.

30: Retired by the Angels for Ryan (he also wore this for the Mets).

18: Mickey Mantle's record for most career home runs in World Series play.

105: Years since the Cubs won the World Series.

74: Career innings pitched so far by Alex Hinshaw, the only big leaguer whose grandfather lived and worked in the palace of Afghanistan's King Zahir.

9-6-2: Official scoring of Derek Jeter's "flip play" in 2001 AL Division Series.

26: Most innings played in a single game . . . Brooklyn and Boston played to 1-1 tie on May 1, 1920.

61: There never really was an asterisk after Roger Maris' then-record season home run mark in 1961.

108: Double stitches on a major-league baseball.

1.12: Bob Gibson's earned run average in 1968, the year before the mound was lowered.

5.08: Earned run average in 1938 for Bobo Newsom, the highest ever by a 20-game winner.

46: Home runs at Citi Field last year that would not have cleared the more distant fences in 2011; 21 of them by the Mets.

462: Estimated distance, in feet, of Opening Day home run last year by Athletics rookie Yoenis Cespedes.

86: Years between titles for Red Sox, with frustration cresting against the Mets in '86.

99: Worn by Turk Wendell, who worked a career-high 80 games for the Mets in '99.

191: Hack Wilson's mark for most RBIs in a single season, with the Cubs in 1930.

396: Home runs as a catcher by Mike Piazza, a record. He also has most home runs as a designated hitter from a National League team, 10.

116: Most games won in a single season, by the Cubs in 1906 and the Mariners in 2001.

20,000: Games, according to baseball-reference.com, the Cardinals will have played as of Opening Day, dating back to 1882. So far, they have 10,283 wins.

19: Home runs by Chipper Jones at Shea Stadium, the most for him at any ballpark outside Atlanta.

.215: Career batting average of Mario Mendoza, inspiration for the infamous "Mendoza Line," which refers to players batting at or below .200.

120: Losses for the 1962 Mets.

100: Wins for the 1969 Mets, and seven more in the postseason.

37: Feet, the height of the Green Monster in Boston's Fenway Park.

101: Years since Fenway Park opened.

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