Posts Tagged ‘triple crown’

Top of the World

October 18, 2012

Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein with a bunch of bats

So far I’ve said little about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. I tend to worry more about old-time baseball than about the current season, but congratulations are certainly in order. With Detroit still alive in the playoffs he has a chance to do something that’s only been done twice.

Over the years a hitting Triple Crown has been accomplished 16 times. Only twice has the Triple Crown winners team also won the World Series. Here’s a quick review of each Triple Crown winner and where his team finished.

1878–Paul Hines won the Triple Crown for Providence. They finished third in the National League.

1887–Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown for St. Louis of the American Association (a major league at the time). The team finished first and played a 15 game postseason series against Detroit of the National League (sort of a  primitive World Series). They lost 10 games to 5.

1901–Napoleon LaJoie won the Triple Crown for the Philadelphia Athletics. They finished fourth in the fledgling American League.

1909–Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown at Detroit. The Tigers dropped the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.

1922 and 1925–Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown while with St. Louis. The Cardinals finished third in 1922 and fourth in 1925. Hornsby became the only player to win a Triple Crown and hit .400 in the same season. He did it both times.

1933–both leagues had a Triple Crown winner (only time that’s happened). Chuck Klein won the NL Triple Crown for the seventh place Phillies, while Jimmie Foxx won the AL Triple Crown for the third place Athletics. As a bit of trivia, both Triple Crown winners played in Philadelphia.

1934–Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown in one of the few years the Yankees didn’t finish first. They finished second.

1937–Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown for the Cardinals. They rewarded him with a fourth place finish.

1942 and 1947–Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in both seasons. His Boston team finished second in ’42 and third in ’47.

1956–Mickey Mantle became the second Yankee Triple Crown winner and first Triple Crown winner to have his team (the Yankees) win the World Series.

1966–Frank Robinson became the second (with Baltimore). Robinson also became the first (and so far only) black player to win a Triple Crown. 

1967 –Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with Boston, but the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Pitching Triple Crown winners are both more common and have won more frequently. Here’s a list of the pitchers who won both the pitching Triple Crown and the World Series (1800s version or modern version): Tommy Bond in 1877 (there was no postseason play that season but Bond’s Boston team took first place in the regular season), Charles Radbourne in 1884, Tim Keefe in 1888, Christy Mathewson in 1905, Walter Johnson in 1924, Lefty Grove in 1930, Lefty Gomez in 1937, Hal Newhouser in 1945, Sandy Koufax in both 1963 and 1965.

All that indicates that winning a Triple Crown (either variety) is no predictor of success in the postseason. Still, I think I’d rather win one than not.

The Woodstock Wonder

May 25, 2012

Tip O’Neill in 1889 (2 years removed from his Triple Crown)

Canada is not really famous as a hotbed of baseball. It’s much more noted for hockey. But over the century and a half of Major League Baseball, there have been a number of quality players from Canada. Tip O’Neill was one of the best.

For Americans “Tip O’Neill” conjures up the political leader of the 1970s and 1980s. He was from Massachusetts and served as Speaker of the House. According to my research, his dad was a baseball fan and his nickname for his son Thomas was “Tip” in honor of the Woodstock Wonder.

James O’Neill (the ballplayer, not the politician) was born in 1858 in Springfield, Ontario, Canada which is near Woodstock (and let’s admit it, “Springfield Wonder” just doesn’t have the same ring). He was a natural and by 1878 was pitching for his local team, the Woodstock Actives (the family apparently had homes in both towns). He was good enough to get the attention of the New York Gothams, who signed him in 1883. He went 5-12 with a 4 ERA, walked more than he struck out, and hit all of a buck 97. Needless to say, he didn’t stick around.

The still struggling American Association (formed in 1882) was trying to establish itself as a true rival to the powerful National League in 1884. The team in St. Louis, the Browns (now the Cardinals), needed help and picked up O’Neill as both a pitcher and an outfielder. He went 11-4 as a pitcher, hit .276 (second on the team), and found himself becoming the regular left fielder. He blossomed during the next several seasons becoming one of the best players in the AA and helped lead his team to postseason play in 1885, ’86, ’87, and 1888. In 1886 he led the Association in RBIs. He was also adept at “tipping” balls for fouls until he got the pitch he wanted, leading to the “Tip” nickname.

His career year was 1887. He hit .435, had 14 home runs, and 123 RBIs to win the Association’s Triple Crown (the only Association player to win one). Additionally he led the league in doubles with 52, triples with 19, hits with 225, 357 total bases, and runs with 167. No other player in Major League history has ever led the league in all those categories in the same season. It was the first time someone had slugged 50 doubles. He also had 50 walks, which at the time were counted as hits, giving him an average of .492 (the .435 is without the walks and is now considered the official average for the season). His modern numbers included an OBP of .490, a slugging percentage of .691, an OPS of 1.180, and an OPS+ of 213. All led the league. He also hit for the cycle twice in the 1887 season.

He led the Association in both hits and average the next season, then continued to hit .300 or better for three more years. He never again had 50 doubles (his peak was 33). He  had double figure home runs (10) and triple digit RBIs (110) once more each.

In 1890 he jumped to the Player’s League where he hit .302 and led the league in games played. When the league folded after one season, O’Neill went back to St. Louis for one last decent season, then finished his career in Cincinnati in 1892. He hit .250 and retired. 

His numbers are good. For his career he hit .326, had an OBP of .392, slugged .458, for an OPS of .851 (OPS+ 144). He hit 52 home runs, 92 triples, and 222 doubles in 1385 hits (1947 total bases). He scored 879 runs and knocked in 757 in 1052 games. In postseason play he hit only .240, but had 5 home runs and 25 RBIs in a win, two losses, and a tied series.

After retirement, O’Neill stayed in baseball. He was President of the Western League and promoted baseball in Canada. He was killed in a streetcar accident 31 December 1915 in Quebec. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in the first class (1983) and the Hall’s award to the best Canadian ballplayer is named for O’Neill.

With the possible exception of Cy Young, every 19th Century player is obscure, especially Association players. Most fans don’t even know the American Association was ever a Major League. So O’Neill falls victim to the double problem of playing forever ago and playing for a league no one knows existed. Still he was a heck of a player and one I’d vote to send to Cooperstown (You know, you can make a pretty fair team out of non-Hall of Fame 19th Century players). He wouldn’t be my first choice (Deacon White would be) but he’d be way high up the food chain.

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.

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

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.