Triple Crown Trivia – When Both Leagues Had a Triple Crown Winner (and more)

BBRT was looking at 2017’s Spring Training Stats and realized that (according to MLB.com) two players came close to earning the 2017 Spring Training Triple Crown (batting average – home runs – RBI) for hitters. The Yankees’ Greg Bird led qualifying AL players in 2017 Spring Training average (.451) and home runs (eight) and was sixth in RBI (15). In the NL, the Brewers’ Jesus Aguilar was the leader in average (.452); second to Bryce Harper in home runs (seven to Harpers’ eight); and second to the Cubs’ Ian Happ in RBI (19 to Happ’s 21).  That got me to thinking about how difficult it is to capture the regular season Triple Crown – it’s happened only 16 times in MLB history. So, I decided to do a post on some bits of Triple Crown trivia.

Jimmie Foxx - one of two 1933 Triple Crown winners.

Jimmie Foxx – one of two 1933 Triple Crown winners.

One thing that stood out was that, despite the relative rarity of the Triple Crown achievement, there was actually one year in which there was a Triple Crown winner in both leagues – and the two players suited up in the same city.  It was 1933, and the Triple Crown winners were Chuck Klein (.368-28-120) of the Philadelphia Phillies (NL) and Jimmie Foxx (.356-48-163) of the Philadelphia Athletics (AL). Foxx’s Athletics finished third at 79-72, while Klein’s Phillies finished seventh at 60-92.

Let’s take a look at some additional Triple Crown trivia.

 

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A REPEAT TRIPLE CROWN WINNER

  • Twice in MLB history, a Triple Crown 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 Triple Crown 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.
  • Ty Cobb may have come the closest ever to a Triple Crown repeat; winning the TC in 1909 and finishing second in all three categories the following season.
  • Only eight 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. Seven of the eight repeats were in batting average; while one Triple Crown winner – the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick – won the RBI title the year after his Triple Crown.

A few other Triple Crown facts:

  • There have been 16 total Triple Crown winners (14 different players). There have been only two two-time TC winners, Rogers Hornsby (1922 & 1925) and Ted Williams (1942 & 1947).
  • Of the fourteen players to win the Triple Crown only two are not in the Hall of Fame:  Miguel Cabrera (2012), still active (the most recent TC winner) and Paul Hines (1878), the very first Triple Crown winner.
  • Five league Triple Crown winners actually led both leagues in all three Triple Crown categories: Ty Cobb (1909); Rogers Hornsby (1925); Lou Gehrig ((1934): Ted Williams (1942); Mickey Mantle (1956).
  • The last six Triple Crown winners have been American Leaguers; the most recent NL Triple Crown winner was St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Joe Medwick in 1937 (.374-31-154).
  • Two teams have won six of the 16 Triple Crowns (37.5%) – the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox with three each.
  • None of baseball expansion teams has ever had a Triple Crown winner.
  • Ty Cobb, at age 22, is the youngest-ever TC winner, while Frank Robinson at 31 is the oldest.
  • Only five of the sixteen Triple Crown seasons have helped deliver a first place finish: 1909 Tigers (Ty Cobb); 1956 Yankees (Mickey Mantle); 1966 Orioles (Frank Robinson); 1967 Red Sox (Carl Yastrzemski); 2012 Tigers (Migual Cabrera). The other eleven Triple Crown winners contributed to two second-place finishes; four third-place; four fourth-place; and one fifth-place.

TRIPLE CROWN DOESN’T ALWAYS EQUATE TO MVP

There have been ten Triple Crown winners since the Baseball Writers Association began voting on the Most Valuable Player award in 1931 and only six of those were honored as MVPs:  Jimmie Foxx (1933); Joe Medwick  (1937); Mickey Mantle (1956); Frank Robinson (1966); Carl Yastrzemski (1967); Miguel Cabrera (2012).    Let’s take a look at those who didn’t get votes, in order of the “level of injustice.”

  1. Lou Gehrig, Yankees, 1934.

Gehrig’s .363 – 49 – 165 not only topped the American league in average, HRs, and RBI, he finished ahead of the NL leaders in all three categories as well.  Gehrig also led both leagues in on base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases.  But that’s not what earns him a five-star injustice rating.  Despite capturing the Triple Crown, Gehrig finished a distant FIFTH in the AL MVP voting; behind three members of the pennant-winning Tigers (the Yankees finished, 94-60, seven games out.) The MVP winner, Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane, ran up a .320 – 2 – 76 total and did not lead the league in a single offensive category.   Others finishing ahead of Gehrig were Detroit second basemen Charlie Gehringer (at .356 – 11 – 127 and the AL leader in runs and hits); Yankee hurler  Lefty Gomez (26-5, 2.33 ERA, who led the league in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts, and innings pitched); and Detroit pitcher Schoolboy Rowe (24.-8, 3.45).

  1. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1942
Ted Williams photo

Photo by wild mercury

Ted Williams’ 1942 season earns him second place on the lack-of-respect list among Triple Crown winners. In 1942, the Splendid Splinter led both leagues in all three Triple Crown categories (.356 – 36 -137), as well as in runs scored, on base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases and bases on balls. This dominance earned him a second-place finish in the MVP balloting. (Boston also finished second, to the Yankees, at 93-59, nine games behind.)

The MVP winner?  Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon (.322 – 18 – 103), who led the league in two offensive categories, strikeouts and grounding into double plays.  Williams, like Gehrig, earns a five-star injustice rating.

  1. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1947

Ted Williams gets a three-star injustice rating for his 1947 Triple Crown year.  This is not so much because of a lack of respect for his dominance, but because it was the second time he earned the Triple Crown, but was denied the MVP.  In 1947, Williams led the AL with .343 – 32 -114, and also led in runs scored, bases on balls, on base percentage and total bases.   The MVP winner was Yankees’ centerfielder Joe DiMaggio. (The Yankees won the pennant, Boston finished third, fourteen games out.)  DiMaggio’s season totals were .315-20-97 and he finished in MLB’s top five in runs, runs batted in, hits, total bases, doubles and triples – trailing Williams, however, in all but triples.  Still, not a major “disrespect,” unless you pile it on top of the 1942 voting.

  1. Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies, 1933

Chuck Klein may not have been surprised to be passed over for MVP in his Triple Crown year.  First, Triple Crowns were a bit commonplace that year – 1933 – the only season in which both leagues boasted a Triple Crown winner.  They were even from the same city, Jimmy Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics and Chuck Klein of the Phillies.  Foxx got his MVP, despite the A’s third-place finish (79-72, 19.5 games behind), but Klein was hurt by the Phillies 60-92 record and seventh-place finish (31 games behind the NY Giants).  Klein finished at .368 – 28 – 120, also leading the league in hits, doubles, on base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases.  The MVP went to Carl Hubbell of the pennant-winning Giants, who pitched his way to a 23-12 record and a 1.66 ERA – leading the NL in wins, ERA, shutouts and innings pitched.

Full List of Triple Crown Winners

1878 – Paul Hines, Providence Grays (NL) – .358-4-50

1894 – Hugh Duffy, Boston Beaneaters (NL) – .440-18-145

1901 – Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia Athletics (AL) – .426-14-125

1909 – Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers (AL) – .377-9-107

1922 – Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (NL) – .401-42-152

1925 – Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (NL) – .403-39-143

1933 – Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies (NL) – .368-28-120

1933 – Jimmie Foxx, Phladelphia Athletics (AL) – .356-48-163

1934 – Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees (AL) – .363-49-165

1937 – Joe Medwick, St. Louis Cardinals (NL) – .374-31-154

1942 – Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (AL) – .356-36-137

1947 – Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (AL) – .343-32-114

1956 – Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees (AL) – .353-52-130

1966 – Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (AL) – .316-49-122

1967 – Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (AL) – .326-44-121

2012 – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (AL) – .330-44-139

Coming Soon – a look at the pitchers Triple Crown (wins – ERA – strikeouts). 

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