As BBRT posts this, 2012 AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers is in hot pursuit of a second Triple Crown. His .387 average and 47 RBI lead the AL and his 11 home runs are just one off the pace. Can Miggy repeat as a Triple Crown winner? History says “no.” In fact, if Cabrera tops the AL in two of the three categories, he will be the first MLB Triple Crown winner to accomplish a two-thirds Triple Crown in the next season. Only seven times has a Triple Crown winner come back to lead his league in at least one of the three categories – and that has most often been batting average (six of the seven repeats, with one TC winner – the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick – taking the RBI title the year after his Triple Crown).
We’ll take a look at how TC winner have fared in the following season, but first a few TC factoids:
- Only once in MLB history have both the AL and NL featured a Triple Crown winner and both triple champions played in the same city. It was 1933, and the TC winners were Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies and Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics.
- There have been only two two-time TC winners, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams.
- Twice in MLB history, a TC winner has been foiled in his attempt to “repeat” by a player who achieved a Triple Crown of his own. Jimmie Foxx, who won the AL Triple Crown in 1933, saw his repeat effort overshadowed by Yankee Lou Gehrig’s 1934 Triple Crown season. In 1966, Frank Robinson won the AL Triple Crown with the Orioles, and Carl Yastrzemski followed up in 1967 with a TC of his own for the Red Sox.
- One TC winner was stopped in his attempt to repeat his achievement by a greater conflict – Ted Williams missed the season following his first Triple Crown due to military service in WWII.
- In a numbers game, Ty Cobb may have come the closest ever to a Triple Crown repeat. He won the TC in 1909 and finished second in all three categories the following season.
- Ty Cobb, at age 22, is the youngest-ever TC winner, while Frank Robinson at 31 the oldest.
Let’s take a look at the TC winners and their follow-up efforts.
Paul Hines, of the NL Providence Grays, won the Triple Crown in 1878 – going .358-4-50. The following season, he repeated as batting champion at .357, but his 2 home runs and 52 RBI left him fifth in the league in both categories.
Tip O’Neill, of the American Association St. Louis Browns, won his Triple Crown in 1887 – with a line of .435-14-123. Like Hines, he repeated as batting champ in 1888, despite a 100-point drop to .335, but hit only 5 home runs (failing to make the top ten) and drove in a league fourth-best 98 runs.
In 1901, Nap Lajoie of the AL’s Philadelphia Athletics won the Triple Crown with a .426-14-season. It was the first year of the newly formed American League and Lajoie was one of the premier players who had “jumped” to the rival league – moving crosstown from the NL Phillies to the Athletics. Lajoie did not remain with the Athletics for long after his Triple Crown achievement – he played only one game for the A’s the following year, thanks to legal wrangles between the NL and AL. In April 1902, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overruled an earlier decision by a lower court and reinforced the reserve clause in contracts between players and NL clubs. Under the rule, it appeared Lajoie could only play for the Phillies (the NL team to which he had been under contract). However, ongoing proceedings found the ruling was only enforceable in the state of Pennsylvania. The Athletics resolved this dilemma by trading Lajoie to the AL’s Cleveland Bronchos. Lajoie repeated as AL batting champ, hitting .378, but dropped to seven home runs and 65 RBI in a season that essentially began for him in June.
The Detroit Tigers’ Ty Cobb captured the Triple Crown in 1909 with a .377-9-107 performance. In 1910, he put up a .383-8-91 season, finishing second in all three categories. He was edged out for the batting by .001 (Nap Lajoie hit .384), fell two home runs behind AL leader Jake Stahl of Boston and trailed teammate Sam Crawford by 29 for the RBI crown.
The Cardinals’ Rogers Hornsby captured the 1922 NL Triple Crown with a .401-42-152 season. He came back in 1923 with .384-17-83, repeating as batting champ and finishing fifth in home runs.
Rogers Hornsby captured his second Triple Crown in 1925, going .403-39-143. In 1926, he dropped to .317-11-93 (finishing in the top ten in home runs and RBI) and, in 1927, after an off-season contract dispute with the Cardinals, he found himself traded to the New York Giants.
Chuck Klein of the Phillies captured the NL Triple Crown in 1933 at .368-28-120. The financially troubled Phillies traded Klein to the Cubs for three players and $100,000 in cash following his TC season and he put up with a .301-20-80 season for the Cubs in 1934.
Philadelphia had two TC winners in 1933. Klein in the NL and Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics in the AL – .356-44-130. Foxx went a solid .334-44-130 in 1934, finishing seventh in average, second in homers and fourth in RBI (in a season when Lou Gehrig won the AL Triple Crown).
Lou Gehrig captured the 1934 AL Triple Crown, going .363-49-165 for the Yankees. He had a strong 1935 season … .329-30-119 … finishing sixth in the AL in average, third in home runs and second in RBI.
Joe “Ducky” Medwick earned his Triple Crown for the Cardinals in 1937 – .374-31-164. He came back with a .322-21-122 season in 1938, leading the league in RBI. (He is the only TC winner to repeat the following year in a category other than average.) In 1938, he also finished fourth in average and sixth in home runs.
The Boston Red Sox’ Ted Williams earned his first Triple Crown in 1942, with a .356-36-137 season – then missed the 1943 season due to WWII military service.
Ted Williams came back to win a second Triple Crown in 1947, when the Red Sox’ outfielder went .343-32-114. He repeated as batting champ in 1948 at .360, with 25 home runs (sixth in the AL) and 127 RBI (third).
Yankee great Mickey Mantle took Triple Crown honors in 1957, with a .353-52-130 season. The following year his .365 average was second only to Ted Williams (.388) and his 34 homers and 94 RBI were third and sixth in the AL, respectively.
Frank Robinson of the Orioles captured the 1966 AL Triple Crown – .316-49-122 and came back with a .311-30-94 campaign in 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski captured the AL Triple Crown.
The Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski’s .326-44-121 earned him the 1967 AL Triple Crown. He won the AL batting title again in 1968 (with the lowest-ever average for a batting champ at .301), while finishing seventh in the AL in HR (27) and eighth in RBI (74).
Detroit Miguel Cabrera earned the AL Triple Crown in 2012 with a .330-44-139 season – and is off to a great start in 2013 … .387-11-47 through May 19.