Win the rare honor of baseball’s Triple Crown
In the recently concluded Major League Baseball season, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees came close to winning baseball’s coveted Triple Crown, which consists of leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Towards the end of the season he fell short. in the batting average category, he finished .311, but was best in home runs with 62 and RBIs with 131.
His pursuit of the coveted triple crown status made me think of those who have achieved that goal. The most recent was Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in 2012. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve always had a special interest in the player known as “Miggy” in Detroit. I had been a fan of his even before 2012, but the fact that he reached the triple crown cemented my interest. It had been 45 years since anyone had led the league in the categories that make up the triple crown.
Thinking about this distinction made me wonder how many players have won the triple crown over the years. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920, but since then, there have been 10 players who have won 12 Triple Crowns. In 100 years, that’s not many.
Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown in 2012 with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He won the batting average title by four points, had a home run lead over second place and had 11 more RBIs than anyone else. His first year in the MLB was in 2003 when he entered with the Miami Marlins. He’s been in Detroit since 2008 and I read somewhere that even though his skills have declined with age, his salary for 2022 is roughly $27 million. Not so bad.
Cabrera didn’t win the Triple Crown in 2013, but he had a better year at the plate, hitting .349 and his home run and RBI production were close to his 2012 totals. He was the American League MVP the two years
I didn’t have to look up who was the last MLB player to hit a triple before Cabrera did it in 2012. I distinctly remembered that it was Carl Yastrzemski who hit the home run in 1967. Yaz played for the Boston Red Sox and he had a .326 batting average, hit 44 home runs and had 121 RBI. I remember that season very clearly, as it was my first summer living in Illinois. Where I lived (Decatur in central Illinois) there was easy access to radio stations that carried three major league teams live: the St. Louis, the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. There was a lot of excitement among the baseball fans where he lived. The Cardinals were winning the National League, the Cubs were doing well but couldn’t catch the Cardinals, and the White Sox were in the thick of things in the American League. There were four teams, the Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and White Sox were in contention down to the wire. The final day of the season saw the Red Sox and Twins tied for first place and the Tigers tied for the middle. When the smoke cleared on the final day, Boston had won. Minnesota and Detroit finished a game back and the White Sox were three games out. Yaz also secured the triple crown on this final day. He had had an exceptional year. In addition to the triple crown, he led the league in on-base percentage, slugging, runs, hits and total bases. He also won a Gold Glove Award for his outstanding play in left field and was named American League MVP.
In 1967, it had only been a year since anyone had won a triple crown. Frank Robinson turned the trick in 1966 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Robinson had been traded to the Orioles by the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason of 1965. Robinson was thought to be in his 30s and past his prime. In Baltimore, Robinson hit .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBIs to lead the league in that category. Robinson teamed with third baseman Brooks Robinson to lead the Orioles to a league and World Series win in four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the only time in his 21-year career that he led the league in any of the three categories.
Oklahoma native Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956. He batted .353, hit 52 home runs and had 130 RBI. His batting average and RBI total were just a few ahead of the second-place player, but he blew away the competition in home runs. Vic Wertz’s 32 were the second-highest home run total. Duke Snider won the National League home run total that year with 43. It was the first of two times Mantle hit 50 home runs in a season. He had 54 home runs in 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61.
Ted Williams won the triple crown twice: in 1942 and 1947. In 1942, he batted .356, had 36 home runs and had 137 RBI. He then stayed for three seasons, fighting in World War II, but when he returned he finished second in each category in 1946. In 1947, he hit .343, with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs to lead the league in each category. So if it hadn’t been for his war service, he might very well have had one or two more triple crowns in his total.
So far, every triple crown mentioned has been in the American League. The last National League triple crown was in 1937, when Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals had career highs in each category, batting .374, hitting 31 home runs and 154 home runs. There is something of an asterisk with Medwick’s triple crown, as he tied with Mel Ott for the home run title that year.
No wonder Lou Gehrig was a triple crown winner. Gehrig was probably the most consistent hitter of his era and won the crown in 1934. His batting average was .363, he had 49 home runs and he had 166 RBI. It was the only time he led the league in hitting and the 49 was his highest home run total ever. Strangely, Gehrig finished fifth in the MVP voting for the 1934 season.
In 1933, there were two Triple Crown winners. Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics won in the American League and Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies won in the National League.
Foxx had come close in 1932, hitting 58 home runs and collecting 169 RBIs to lead those categories, but his .364 batting average fell just short. But in 1933, he led all three categories with a .356 batting average, 48 home runs and 163 RBIs.
Klein batted .368, had 28 home runs and 120 RBI. Obviously, Klein fell far short of Foxx’s home runs and RBI totals, but they were good enough to be the best in the National League.
Rogers Hornsby was the other player to win two Triple Crowns. He turned around in 1922 and 1925, both with the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit .401 with 42 homers and 152 RBIs in 1922 and hit .403 with 39 homers and 143 RBIs in 1925. Hornsby was an incredible hitter, hitting over .400 on three occasions.
As mentioned before, RBIs were not officially recorded before 1920, but statisticians have gone back and figured out what those totals would have been. On that basis, these former players would have won triple crowns, Paul Hines of the Providence Grays in 1878; Tip O’Neill (no relation to future Speaker of the House) of St. Louis Browns in 1887; Hugh Duffy of the Boston Beaneaters in 1894; Nap Lajoie of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901, Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers in 1909, and Heinie Zimmerman of the Chicago Cubs in 1912. Interesting note, Cobb would have hit nine home runs in 1909. It was a different time.
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