Triple crown for Cabrera would be an achievement, baseball rarity

Boston's Carl Yastrzemski is the last batter to win the Triple Crown, having done it in 1967.

There’s been some talk of late about Detroit possibly having another Triple Crown winner this season, inspired by Miguel Cabrera’s impressive numbers on the batting charts and bringing to mind baseball’s “other” Triple Crown that Justin Verlander copped last year.

Batting’s Triple Crown, of course, recognizes the hitter who leads his league in the three major categories of batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Pitching’s equivalent goes to the moundsman who finishes on top in victories, earned run average, and strikeouts. Triple Crown winners among pitchers is not nearly as rare as batting’s; in fact, last year saw Verlander joined by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, who accomplished the feat in the National League. All told, pitchers have pulled off their version of baseball’s trifecta 38 times since 1877. That’s still rare, but not extraordinarily so.

But batting’s Triple Crown? That’s another story. It’s only been accomplished 15 times in the last 134 seasons, making it an ever rarer personal achievement than throwing a perfect game. In fact, nobody has won batting’s Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it with the Red Sox in 1967 – and that was 45 years ago. In the National League, it’s been an amazing 75 years since it was last done, Ducky Medwick of the Cardinals pulling it off in 1937.

The Tigers’ sole Triple Crown winner to date is Ty Cobb. In 1909, the 22-year-old Georgia Peach came into his own as the Tigers became the first American League team to win three straight pennants. Cobb batted .377, outdistancing runner-up Eddie Collins of Philadelphia by 30 points; hit nine home runs, all of the inside-the-park variety and two more than runner-up (and teammate) Wahoo Sam Crawford; and drove in 107 runs, 10 more than Crawford.

Cobb also finished on top in hits (216), runs (116), slugging percentage (.517), total bases (296), and stolen bases (76). But the season ended on a sour note, as he hit a mere .231 against Pittsburgh as the Tigers dropped a third straight World Series. There also was no hoopla over his Triple Crown. In fact, such a distinction didn’t even exist then, as RBI would not be considered an official statistic until 1920.

But RBI are official stats in 2012, and Cabrera is three behind league leader Josh Hamilton (as of the 11th of this month). The big right-handed slugger has a great chance to win his second consecutive batting title, as he trails Mike Trout by just a few points. His deficit in the home run category is a bit steeper – five – which may be impossible to overcome considering the Tigers play their home games in a ballpark with cavernous dimensions. Still, Cabrera’s proximity to the lead in each of the three categories illustrates just how great his 2012 season has been.

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About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side doing poor imitations of Dick McAuliffe's batting stance and Denny McLain's leg kick. He is a contributing writer to Hour Detroit magazine and the author of nearly 30 books, including biographies of Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Bak's most recent books are The Big Jump, the story of Charles Lindbergh and the great New York-to-Paris air race of the 1920s, and Detroitland, a collection of his history pieces. He currently is finishing two more books of history: Soldier of Misfortune: The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Its Aftermath (DaCapo) and When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties (Wayne State University Press), both of which will be published in 2015.