Everyone has heard it at a baseball game.

Offering encouragement to a batter, the coaches, teammates, parents and fans will yell, "A walk is as good as a hit."

Well, in professional baseball in 1887, it truly was.

As a one-year experiment, the National League and American Association decided before the 1887 season that a player's batting average should count walks the same as a hit. And boy, did the averages skyrocket.

Outfielder Tip O'Neill of the St. Louis Browns led the American Association with his .485 batting average. He also won the Triple Crown that year with his 14 home runs and 123 runs batted in.

O'Neill, a .326 hitter for his 10-year career, rapped 225 hits in 517 at-bats for a modern-day .435 average, which would have still led the league. But adding his 50 walks to his hits and at-bats, the average jumped 50 points.

Pete Browning, an outfielder for the Louisville Colonels, was second in the batting race with a .457 average, one point ahead of Browns pitcher Bob Caruthers. Browning actually batted .402 if you deduct his 55 walks, and Caruthers hit .357 without his 66 walks.

Caruthers, who played first base or the outfield when he wasn't pitching, also didn't have a bad season on the mound in 1887. He completed all 39 of his starts, posting a 29-9 record and 3.30 earned run average. He gave up 337 hits in 341 innings and struck out only 74 batters, but he had a simple explanation for that.

According to Baseball Almanac, Caruthers said, "I would rather have the batter hit (the ball). There are eight other men in the game besides myself, and they ought to have a chance to earn their salaries."

Caruthers had a 218-99 record for nine seasons, and his career ERA (2.83) was almost the same as his batting average (.282).

Thank goodness this experiment didn't last beyond one year because it would have produced monstrous numbers.

Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox outfielder and self-proclaimed "greatest hitter who ever lived," is the last player to hit .400, batting .406 in 1941 with 185 hits and 147 walks. If you add those together and apply the 1887 format, Williams' average is .551.

Outfielder Hugh Duffy holds the single-season record, hitting .440 for the Boston Beaneaters in 1894. He almost won the Triple Crown with a league-high 18 homers but was second with 145 RBI, four behind Sam Thompson of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Duffy's .440 average is an unbreakable record. Since 1941, the closest anyone has come to .400 is San Diego's Tony Gwynn (.394 in 1994) and Kansas City's George Brett (.390 in 1980). Those averages rank 37th and 47th, respectively, in history.

There also are pitching records that will never be approached, starting with Cy Young's career totals of 511 victories, 315 losses and 749 complete games in 815 starts.

Whenever baseball returns, the active leaders among pitchers are Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros with 225 victories and Felix Hernandez of the Atlanta Braves with 136 losses. Verlander also leads with 26 complete games, one more than Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Nolan Ryan has some unreachable records with 5,714 strikeouts, 2,795 walks and seven no-hitters. Verlander leads today's pitchers with 3,006 strikeouts and 850 walks, and his two no-hitters are tied for the most.

Moving to the bullpen, which is now filled with multi-millionaire specialists instead of pitchers not good enough to make the starting rotation, Mariano Rivera holds the record with 652 saves. Craig Kimbrel, who signed with the Cubs last June, ended the 2019 season with 346 saves.

Today's pitchers — for whatever reason — are more injury prone and undergo more surgeries than pitchers from the past. During one of Mickey Mantle's Charity Golf Classics at what is now Eagle Creek Golf Course, former Milwaukee Braves pitcher Lou Burdette said in an interview, "I didn't even know I had a rotator cuff. We just called it a sore arm and I missed one start."

Burdette also spent time in autograph sessions, signing his first name either L-o-u or L-e-w. Asked which one was more valuable, he replied, "Neither one is worth a dime."

JIM HENRY is sports editor of the Globe and receives correspondence at jhenry@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jim_Henry53.

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