11 of the Most Dominant Seasons in Sports History
Here’s a look at 11 of the most dominant statistical seasons in various sports at the pro and college levels.
1. Babe Ruth, 1921
The Bambino’s 59 home runs were more than eight American and National League teams hit in 1921. He led the league in RBIs (171) and runs (177) while batting .378, walked a league-high 145 times, had 17 steals, and amassed 457 total bases, a single-season record. Ruth’s 1921 season was equally remarkable when measured by his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a comprehensive statistic that attempts to quantify how many wins a player contributes to his team’s win total over what a fictitious “replacement player” would contribute. The statistic factors in a player’s offense, defense, position, and the year in which he played. In 1921, Ruth’s 13.9 WAR led the league, according to Fangraphs.com, and was the second-highest single-season WAR in history.
2. Wayne Gretzky, 1981-82
There’s little question that The Great One had the greatest individual season in NHL history, but one could debate which season was his most dominant. Gretzky, who was 20 at the start of the 1981-82 season, set a new record for goals and points while playing for the Edmonton Oilers. His 92 goals shattered the previous record of 76 set by Phil Esposito during the 1970-71 season, and his 212 points were 65 more than Mike Bossy. Another candidate for Gretzky’s best season is 1984-85. He led the NHL in goals (73) and assists (135) and set a single-season record for plus-minus (+98), a statistic that measures the difference in goals for and goals against while a player is on the ice.
3. Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62
Chamberlain’s incredible season with the Philadelphia Warriors is best remembered for the 100-point game he had on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks, but his dominance wasn’t limited to a single outing. Chamberlain led the league with 50.4 points and 25.6 rebounds per game. Elgin Baylor was the league’s second-highest scorer that season with 38.3 points per game, but he played in 32 fewer games. Chamberlain’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a stat developed by John Hollinger that attempts to summarize a player’s statistical accomplishments in a single number, was 31.6, the second-highest of all time. (Chamberlain’s PER was a record 31.8 the following season.)
4. Barry Sanders, 1988
Sanders’ junior season at Oklahoma State was one for the ages. The future Detroit Lions star rushed for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns, NCAA records that still stand 25 years later. Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy that year, averaged an absurd 7.6 yards per carry and eclipsed 300 yards in four games.
5. Lew Alcindor, 1966-67
In his varsity basketball debut as a sophomore in 1966, Alcindor broke 19 UCLA records. He averaged 29 points per game and, in a game against Washington State in February 1967, scored 61 points on 26 field goals. How dominant was the man who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? After the season, the NCAA banned dunking until 1976. Honorable mention: Pete Maravich’s senior season in 1970, when the LSU guard averaged a ridiculous 44.5 points per game.
6. Dan Marino, 1984
Long before the NFL turned into the pass-happy league that it is today, Marino became the first quarterback to eclipse 5000 passing yards in a season. Playing for the Miami Dolphins, he set a single-season record for touchdowns (48) in 1984 while completing 64 percent of his passes and averaging an impressive 9.0 yards per attempt. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have since broken his touchdown record, but Marino’s season still stands as one of the greatest in sports.
7. Tiger Woods, 2000
Woods won nine of the 20 PGA tour events he entered in 2000, including three majors, and set a tour record for lowest scoring average. None of Woods’ performances were more impressive—or dominating—than his 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif. Woods finished 12 under par, while runners-up Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els were both three over. Honorable mention: Byron Nelson, who won 18 of 35 PGA tournaments, including 11 in a row in 1945.
8. Jimmy Connors, 1974
Connors went 99-4 and won 15 tournaments in 1974, including three Grand Slam titles. Connors would’ve been the favorite to win the French Open as well, but tournament organizers barred him from participating after he signed with World Team Tennis’s Baltimore Banners.
9. Martina Navratilova, 1983
Navratilova went 86-1 in 1983 and captured three Grand Slam titles. Her only loss of the year was to Kathy Horvath in the semifinals of the French Open. The following year, Navratilova set a women’s tennis record with 74 consecutive wins.
10. Secretariat, 1973
Secretariat won the Triple Crown in dominating fashion, setting records in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes that still stand today. Secretariat won the first two legs of the Triple Crown by 2.5 lengths before taking the Belmont by a record 31 lengths in 2:24. The second-fastest time in Belmont Stakes history is a full two seconds slower. Following Secretariat’s death, an autopsy revealed that his heart was an abnormally large 22 pounds, more than twice the size of a typical thoroughbred. [Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Secretariat as the last winner of the Triple Crown. Our apologies to Seattle Slew and Affirmed.]
11. Richard Petty, 1967
The NASCAR legend won 27 of his 48 starts and finished in the top five in 38 races in 1967. From August to October, Petty won 10 consecutive races, which remains a Sprint Cup Series record.