Rare Dominance at the Dish: Major League Baseball’s Triple-Crown Winners
There was some drama during the final series of the regular season in 2012. And it had nothing to do with the Detroit Tigers’ place in the standings.
The Tigers had already wrapped up the American League Central title when Miguel Cabrera dug in on the final day against the Kansas City Royals with a chance to accomplish something no player had done in 45 years.
The then-29-year-old third baseman went 6 for 10 with a home run and three RBIs in the final three-game series at Kauffman Stadium to hold off Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels by four percentage points to win the AL batting title.
Cabrera also led the majors with 44 homers and 139 RBIs to become baseball’s first batting Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. Just for good measure, he topped MLB in both slugging percentage (.606) and OPS (.999) – and tied Derek Jeter for the most two-hit games (64) as well.
“I don’t think people realize what a special accomplishment it really is,” then-Tigers President Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit Free Press. “To lead all three categories the same year, to win the Triple Crown, is something most of us have never seen, and maybe will never see again.”
Will we see another MLB Triple Crown? It’s certainly up for debate. After all, there have only been 17 such seasons in baseball history. Until Cabrera’s 2012 AL MVP campaign, some believed it would happen again as the years went by following Yaz’s historic performance.
For now, we can only wait and watch. And while we do so, let’s look back at the players who have led their respective league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the same season.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (AL): .330 Average/44 Home Runs/139 RBIs
Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (AL): .326 BA/44 HRs/121 RBIs
Only a year after baseball had celebrated its first Triple Crown season in 10 years, Yaz led the AL in average, RBIs, runs, hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging. The three-time batting champion actually finished in a tie for first in homers with Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins.
Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (AL): .316 BA, 49 HRs/122 RBIs
As if his legendary performance during the regular season wasn’t enough, Robinson led the Orioles to a surprising sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The perennial All-Star and Hall of Famer hit home runs in Games 1 and 4, becoming one of only five players to win both the World Series and AL or NL MVP Awards in the same season.
Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees (AL): .353 BA/52 HRs/130 RBIs
Mantle added to his legend in 1956 with one of the best seasons of all time. He became the last player to win the Triple Crown while leading the majors in each of the three categories. How dominant was The Mick? He bested Ted Williams by eight percentage points to win the batting title, hit nine more homers than Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers and his RBI total was 21 more than anyone not named Al Kaline (128).
Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (AL): .343 BA/32 HRs/114 RBIs
There’s a reason why the Splendid Splinter is considered one of the greatest hitters of all time. He’s only of only two batters to win two Triple Crowns. He nearly won a third in 1949 when he led the league in homers and tied for the AL lead in RBIs but finished just one ten-thousandth of a point behind George Kell in the batting race.
Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (AL): .356 BA/36 HRs/137 RBIs
Joe Medwick, St. Louis Cardinals (NL): .374 BA/31 HRs/154 RBIs
Believe it or not, Medwick is the last player from the Senior Circuit to win a Triple Crown. He tied Mel Ott of the New York Giants in the home run race, beat out teammate Johnny Mize for the batting title and finished with a 41 more RBIs than any other National Leaguer. Medwick ended his career with just 551 strikeouts in 8,143 plate appearances for a 6.8% strikeout rate – ridiculous by today’s standards.
Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees (AL): .363 BA/49 HRs/165 RBIs
This was the era of the Triple Crown with four winners over a five-year stretch. Gehrig was easily the best hitter in baseball in 1934, earning the major league Triple Crown (leading the majors in all three categories). He also finished with 170 runs created, well ahead of the next-best player – Charlie Gehringer of the Tigers with 146. His 208.2 OPS+ was far ahead of Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia A’s (179.3) and his 8.1 batting WAR far surpassed Foxx’s 5.9.
Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics (AL): .356 BA/48 HRs/163 RBIs
Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies (NL): .368 BA/28 HRs/120 RBIs
Philadelphia was the home of the Triple Crown in 1933. It marked the only time in baseball history that a player in each league won the Triple Crown in the same season. Foxx easily ruled in the home run and RBI categories, while Klein had the advantage in the batting average department. Opposing pitchers no doubt dreaded the trip to Philly that year.
Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (NL): .403 BA/39 HRs/143 RBIs
Hornsby became the first player to win two Triple Crowns in 1925. Of the 13 occasions someone has hit .400 or better in a single season in the modern era (since 1901), Hornsby and Cobb are the only players with three of them. Hornsby, however, has the best mark over that span at .424 between his two National League Triple Crowns in 1924.
Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (NL): .401 BA/42 HRs/152 RBIs
Heinie Zimmerman, Chicago Cubs (NL): .372 BA/14 HRs/104 RBIs
Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers (AL): .377 BA/9 HRs/107 RBIs
In the middle of the dead-ball era, Cobb only needed nine home runs to lead MLB in 1909. Tris Speaker of the Boston Red Sox and Red Murray of the New York Giants were the closest competitors to the eventual Hall of Fame outfielder with seven. Cobb also led all of baseball in batting average and RBIs. After a 24-year career, Cobb received the most votes of any player on the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1936.
Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia Athletics (AL): .422 BA/14 HRs/125 RBIs
Tip O’Neill, St. Louis Browns (American Association): .485 BA/14 HRs/123 RBIs
Paul Hines, Providence Grays (NL): .358 BA/4 HRs/50 RBIs
Research support provided by Stats Perform’s Dylan Slaughter.