August 1, 2014

The Glory Years: Triple Crown Winners

February 29, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

The Glory Years of the 1950s and ’60s gave us the last three triple crown performances in the major leagues.

Since 1900, major league baseball has had 13 triple crown winners, nine in the American League and four in the National. That number represents 11 players since two – Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby – each did it twice.

It has been 44 years since anybody led a league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. The last to accomplish the feat was Carl Yastrzemski, who batted .326, slugged 44 home runs and drove in 121 for the 1967 Boston Red Sox.

The year before, Baltimore’s Frank Robinson also led the AL with .316, 49 and 122. That is the only time in history that there have been back-to-back triple crown winners.

However, in 1933, each league boasted a triple crown champ – the only time that has happened. And both were from the same city. Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics topped the American League with a .356 batting average, 48 homers and 163 RBI. Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies topped the National League at .368, 28 and 120.

Williams of the Red Sox first won the triple the year after he batted .406, hitting .356 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI in 1942. He did it again in ’47, putting up .343, 32 and 114 numbers.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Hornsby batted over .400 in both of his triple crown seasons – .401 with 42 homers and 152 RBI in 1922 and .403 with 39 and 143 in ’25. (His other .400 year was 1924 when he hit .424.)

Of the 13 teams producing triple crown winners, only four won pennants. That includes the last three: Yaz for the 1967 Red Sox, Robinson for the 1966 Orioles and Mickey Mantle in 1956. The Mick batted .353, blasted 52 home runs and knocked in 130 runs for the AL-champion New York Yankees.

The other member of a pennant-winning club to lead his league in all three major categories was Ty Cobb of the 1909 Detroit Tigers. He led the AL with just nine home runs, while hitting .377 and collecting 107 RBI.

Only five of the individuals who won triple crowns were voted Most Valuable Player Awards for the same season. Mantle, Robinson and Yaz were so honored along with Foxx and Joe Medwick of the Cardinals. Medwick led the NL with a .374 batting average, 31 home runs and 154 RBI in 1937.

Robinson’s .316 is the lowest batting average of the triple crown winners. After Cobb’s nine, the lowest home run total among the 13 triples is Klein’s 28. Cobb’s 107 is also the lowest RBI production of the group.

Napoleon Lajoie owns the highest batting average of the triple crown guys. He hit .426 with 14 homers and 125 RBI for the 1901 Philadelphia A’s.

Cobb, at 22, was the youngest to win a triple crown. Williams was 23 until August of his first triple crown season. Mantle was 24 for the entire 1956 season. Robinson was the oldest triple winner, turning 31 on August 31 of 1966.

That was almost two and a half months older than Lou Gehrig, who turned 31 on June 19 of 1934. The Iron Horse batted .363 with 49 home runs and 165 RBI for the Yankees that season.

Comments

6 Responses to “The Glory Years: Triple Crown Winners”
  1. David says:

    Interesting thing about Williams’ two triple crowns: in 1942, he didn’t only win the AL Triple Crown – he won it for MLB. No NLers topped him in any of the three categories. However, in 1947, his totals wouldn’t have led the NL in any of the three categories.

    Cobb’s TC was also for all of MLB, as was Hornsby’s second (1925), as well as the two Yankees: Gehrig and Mantle. Williams’ second Crown remains the only one in history in which the TC winner didn’t lead MLB in any of the three categories.

  2. Rob says:

    Interestingly, Miguel Cabrera has had a different type of triple crown the last three years.
    This past season he lead the AL ( and MLB) in average, the year before in RBIs and home runs the season before that one. Wonder how often that has happened.

  3. David says:

    @ Rob

    I researched this a few years back. I didn’t research in consecutive years, like you’re suggesting (by the way, Cabrera’s weren’t actually consecutive – he led the AL in homers in 2008, not 2009; close enough, though), but I did look at who had led the league in all of the Triple Crown categories at any point in their career. Here are the players, besides those who are mentioned above:

    Heinie Zimmerman
    Babe Ruth
    Johnny Mize
    Joe DiMaggio
    Hank Aaron
    Andres Galarraga
    Barry Bonds
    Alex Rodriguez
    Albert Pujols
    Miguel Cabrera

    Arguably, a more impressive group than the ACTUAL Triple Crown winners. Anyway, Cabrera’s in good company, that’s for sure.

  4. Mike Lynch says:

    @David

    With all due respect, my friend, you can’t be serious. True, that is a very impressive list, but better than Lajoie, Cobb, Hornsby, Foxx, Klein, Gehrig, Medwick, Williams, Mantle, Robinson and Yastrzemski? You throw out Galarraga because he did his damage at Coors Field and I’ll throw out Klein because of Baker Bowl. Now you’re left with Ruth, Aaron, two guys who took PEDs and three who still haven’t finished their careers yet (two of whom may or may not fall under the PED cloud of suspicion). Oh yeah, Zimmerman was banned for life for throwing games. That has nothing to do with how great he might have been, I just wanted to mention how corrupt your list is, lol.

  5. David says:

    @Mike

    First of all, I said “arguably.” Second of all, they’re certainly impressive in a different way. I mean, if we lined them up one-to-one, they’re pretty similar groups, actually; the actual Triple Crown winners are probably a better group. But it’s no small potatoes to win the “career” Triple Crown, rather than just in one season. I would say it basically projects you for a HOF career, which is unsurprising, since it combines excellence with the flexibility to do a lot of different things well. I would agree with you that the Triple Crown winners are better, as a group. But both groups are loaded with HOFers, so I’d say Miguel Cabrera did himself some favors by entering this club.

  6. Hank Gillette says:

    Babe Ruth had 6 seasons where he was the league leader in HR and RBI, and in two of them he was second in batting average. The only year he led the league in BA (1924), he was first in HR, but second in RBI. The guy just couldn’t put together a good season.

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