Posts Tagged ‘Bill O’Brien’

Triple Crown, II

March 18, 2010

Following up on the last post about the hitting triple crown,  I want to look at the two triple crown winners of the 19th Century. I would wager they are the most obscure of the entire lot of triple crown winners.

In 1894 Boston outfielder Hugh Duffy won the first triple crown in National League history. His numbers are in a bit of dispute, especially his batting average. No one disputes that whatever the numbers, Duffy wins the triple crown. Duffy was the center fielder for the Boston team in 1894. He hit .440 (All numbers in this post from Nemec’s book. Other sources give numbers that are slightly different.) with 18 home runs and 145 RBIs.  His closest competitors were Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson at Philadelphia who both hit .407,  Bill Joyce at Washington and Duffy’s teammate Bobby Lowe who both had 17 home runs, and Thompson who had 141 RBI. So Duffy wins the triple crown, but doesn’t run away with anything except the batting title. With only one Major League in 1894, he stands alone atop the lists. What did it get his team? Third place behind John McGraw’s Baltimore Orioles and Monte Ward’s Giants.

The other 19th Century triple crown occurs way back in 1887, when pitchers were still pitching at 55′. That alone makes it unique. There were two leagues, the National League and the American Association. As a rule most scholars see the Association as the weaker of the two leagues, and in 1887  Detroit of the NL wins the “World Series”.  But the great individual season took place in the Association. James Edward “Tip” O’Neill (as far as I know, no kin of the late 20th Century American politician) played left field for the St. Louis Browns (now called the Cardinals). He’d been there since 1884 playing splendidly in each year except his first. In 1887 he peaked. He hit .435 with 14 home runs, and 123 RBIs. Additionally he slugged .692, had 19 triples, 52 doubles, 167 runs scored, 225 hits, 357 total bases, an on base percentage of .490, and an OPS of 1181. All those numbers led the Association. He won the batting title by 33 points, the home run title by four, and the RBI title by only five. In other words, O’Neill had a heck of a year. He led his team to the Association pennant, then had a weak series against National League champ Detroit in the postseason. He hit .200 with one home run (half the Browns’ total), and five RBI’s in 15 games. 

For all that excellence O’Neill has a tainted triple crown. His batting average leads the majors, but his 14 home runs would be tied for fourth in the National League (Bill O’Brien at Washington had 19) and his RBI total would be second in the National League behind Sam Thompson’s 166.

Both Duffy, who is a Hall of Famer, and O’Neill who isn’t, had excellent seasons (O’Neill is the only triple crown winner not in the Hall). Both are now largely forgotten, proving that winning the triple crown doesn’t guarantee a player eternal renown. Maybe it should.

Triple Crowns by team (using modern team name): Cardinals 4 (O’Neill, both Hornsby, Medwick), Red Sox 3 ( both Williams, Yastrzemski), Yankees 2 (Gehrig, Mantle), Braves 1 (Duffy), Tigers 1 (Cobb), Athletics 1 (Foxx), Phillies 1 (Klein), Orioles 1 (Robinson).

By position: Left Field 5 (O’Neill, Medwick, both Williams, Yastrzemski); Center Field 3 (Duffy,Cobb, Mantle); Right Field 2 (Klein, Robinson); Second Base 2 (both Hornsby); First Base 2 (Foxx, Gehrig); Shortstop. Third Base, Catcher, Pitcher 0.

By Decade: 1870s-none, 1880s-1, 1890s-1, 1900s-1, 1910s-none, 1920s-2, 1930s-4, 1940s-2, 1950s-1, 1960s-2, 1970s-2010-none.