Triple Crown, I

When I think of Triple Crown, my first thought, believe it or don’t, is of horse racing. Watching Secretariat come down the stretch in the Belmont is still the most amazing thing I ever saw in sports. But baseball also has its triple crown, actually two of them: one in pitching, one in hitting. I want to look at the hitting ones.

One thing I find interesting is that Stone Age baseball produces four triple crowns, while Classical baseball (1920-1945) gives us seven, and the post-Classical baseball world gives us four again, none since 1967. I understand part of the reason that modern baseball doesn’t get triple crowns. The more teams you have the more players are in line for a shot at one. That means it’s more likely they will knock each other off. The greatest player  (non-pitcher) I ever saw was Ted Williams and that at the tail end of his career, so perhaps the best I ever saw at his peek was either Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Neither ever wins one. Why? Well, among other things they have to beat out Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews and a bunch of other people at various times. Additionally, as they get into some of the most productive years of their career baseball goes into one of the greatest of pitching periods. You try winning a triple crown when you have to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, and Marichal. (At least in Mays’ case Marichal is on his team). I’ve been sure for a while that a significant reason the last two triple crowns come in the AL is that neither Frank Robinson nor Carl Yastrzemski has to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, or Marichal on a regular basis.

A number of people never win a triple crown, despite leading their league in all three categories at one time or the other.  Babe Ruth is one of those. In 1924 he loses the RBI title by eight to Goose Goslin of Washington. It’s the only year Ruth wins the batting title. He hits .376, which ties for the lowest average to win the title in the 1920s. Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio are among others who suffer the same fate (although Foxx does ultimately win one).

Additionally, you can look at a handful of the existing triple crowns and argue they are tainted. In two cases, Joe Medwick in 1937 and Yastrzemski in 1967, they tie for the league lead in home runs (Mel Ott and Harmon Killebrew). So they don’t really stand alone at the top of the stats. 

Of the other 20th Century triple crowns six more are tainted because the individual would not have finished first in all three categories had he been in the other league. In 1901 Nap LaJoie loses the home run title to Sam Crawford. In 1922 Rogers Hornsby loses the RBI title to Ken Wiliams. In 1933 Jmmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both win the triple crown, but knock each other off when Foxx has more home runs, but Klein has the higher batting average. In 1947 Ted Williams loses the home run title to a tie between Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Finally in 1966 Matty Alou puts up a better batting average than Frank Robinson. That leaves five true triple crowns (number one in all the Major Leagues in batting average, RBIs and home runs)  in the 20th Century: Ty Cobb in 1909, Rogers Hornsby in 1925, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Ted Williams in 1942, and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

There are two 19th Century triple crowns. I’m saving them for the next post.

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2 Responses to “Triple Crown, I”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Who, if anyone, do you think could win the Triple Crown among contemporary players? Pujols comes to mind, but he’s never even led the league in RBI’s. My vote would go to Miguel Cabrera of Detroit. Any thoughts on this? Bill

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Pujols is obvious. I didn’t point this out, but Robinson’s triple crown is the only time he led the league in any of the three categories and Ruth led in hitting just the once, so Pujols has to do it only one time. Pujols biggest problem is Ryan Howard, who is never going to have the average to contend but has great power.
    Cabrera is an inspired choice. He gets overlooked enough that he might just get up a big enough head of steam to do it before the press noticed and the pressure overwhelmed him. Youklis also hits well and with the order around him could put up a lot of RBIs but I worry about his HR total. I like Hanley Ramirez too, but don’t think he can hit enough homers either.
    I remember thinking at one point that Vlad Guerrero might do it. Oops.
    v

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