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Baseball's Triple Crown

Baseball Questions: What is the Triple Crown?

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

The Triple Crown is a mythical part of baseball lore wrapped up in stats. When you see a player’s stat line on TV or at the stadium, you see his batting average, home runs, and RBI. Those are the three categories that figure into a triple crown. For a player to win the triple crown, he must lead his league in all three of those categories. It’s not something you see every year.

It’s considered a massive achievement in the world of hitting. It shows how complete a hitter is. It’s quite an achievement to just lead the league in one of those areas, but to lead in all 3 shows you are indeed a special hitter. Typically, the best pure hitter in terms of average is not the biggest home run hitter in the league. There are good contact hitters and good power hitters. When a guy manages to be the best in both areas, in addition to knocking in more runs than anyone--he is in rarified air.

Since 1900, only 14 players have managed to notch a triple crown season. In 2012, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 seasons to win the triple crown. Cabrera hit .330, while hitting 44 home runs and driving in 139 runs. The previous triple crown winner was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. To illustrate how incredible a feat it is, all previous triple crown winners since 1900 are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.


The only two players who have ever won the triple crown twice are Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams--two of the more special hitters in the sport’s history. Other winners include Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Joe Medwick, Mickey Mantle, and Frank Robinson. That is quite an illustrious group and Cabrera can rest assured he is in elite company.

To win the triple crown takes an immense amount of batting skill and talent. It’s one thing to win, say, a batting title, but it’s ultra-difficult to notch a first-placement in all three categories. In addition, triple crown winners have to hope there isn’t someone putting up freakish numbers in any one of those categories, which would result in making it virtually impossible.

So a little luck is involved. Look at the numbers of the various triple crown winners. While those stats may inspire awe, they are certainly not the only players to ever put up numbers like that. So guys like Cabrera are fortunate that their eras didn’t collide with the primes of players like Rod Carew or Wade Boggs, whose batting averages were not as easy to eclipse.

There have been power hitters who locked up home run and RBI honors, while maintaining a high average. It’s just that there was some slap-hitting wizard whose average was too high, thus preventing them from triple crown winners. There have also been guys who hit for a high average, while putting up impressive power numbers. But some .250 hitter who had 50 home runs prevented them from winning the triple crown.

So the element of luck is involved. Big power hitters with a great average have to not have a guy hitting .370 in their same league or they won’t win. And a guy with a high average can’t have a guy catch lightning in a bottle and hit 52 homers or he probably won’t win. At the same time, it really shouldn’t matter. If a guy is good enough to place first in all three areas, no one should say it was luck that allowed him to do it. There are still a lot of players who either specialize in contact-hitting or hitting the home run. To beat all of them is a massive achievement, anyway you want to cut it.

To say Miguel Cabrera is lucky because Wade Boggs isn’t around anymore is detracting from his achievement. There is a level of good fortune that figures into it, but you still have to beat a league full of players in all three categories. It’s interesting to follow and when someone is in the running for the triple crown, it adds some late-season intrigue to the end of the year. Let’s hope it won’t be another 45 years before we get to see it again.

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