Ranking the Triple Crown seasons in modern baseball history
Eleven different players have combined for 13 Triple Crowns since 1900
Every Triple Crown winner has eventually been elected to the Hall of Fame
Among the winners are legends like Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle
There is no surefire ticket to Cooperstown quite like the Triple Crown, as each of the 11 men to accomplish the offensive feat since 1900 has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Leading one's league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the same season has only been completed 13 times -- two men, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams, have done it twice -- and not since 1967, when Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did it.
But not all Triple Crown seasons were created equal. While they all were great players over a long period of time, some caught lightning in a bottle in one of the three statistical areas, as only Williams and Jimmie Foxx led his respective league in each of the three categories in non-Triple Crown season.
Some Triple Crown trivia:
Five of the winners -- Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Hornsby (in 1925), Mickey Mantle and Williams (in 1942) -- led both leagues in all three categories, effectively winning a major league Triple Crown.
In nine of the seasons -- Cobb, Hornsby (in 1922), Nap Lajoie, Mantle, Joe Medwick, Frank Robinson, Williams (in 1942 and '47) and Yastrzemski -- the player also led his leagues in runs, making them winners of a Quadruple Crown.
Cobb is the only player also to lead the league in stolen bases that same year, swiping 76 in 1909, making him the winner of an unofficial Quintuple Crown.
Three of the players -- Mantle, Robinson and Yastrzemski -- never led the league in home runs in any year besides their Triple Crown seasons.
Five of the players -- Gehrig, Chuck Klein, Mantle, Medwick and Robinson -- didn't lead the league in batting average in any year besides their Triple Crown seasons.
Six of the players -- Cobb, Hornsby, Lajoie, Medwick, Robinson and Yastrzemski -- never led the league in home runs in any year besides their Triple Crown seasons.
Robinson only led the league in batting average once, in homers once and RBIs once -- each of which happened in his 1966 Triple Crown season.
Not only were there two Triple Crowns in 1933 -- the only year that it was done in both the American League and the National League -- they were both accomplished in Philadelphia, as Foxx did it for the Athletics and Klein for the Phillies.
Twice a player has won the Triple Crown while tying for one category. Medwick and Yastrzemski were each tied for their league's home run lead.
And so -- judging by margin of leads in each category, comparisons to other players of the same season and era and productivity beyond the main three stats -- here is one man's take on the best Triple Crown seasons.
(Note: OPS+ is a variation on OPS, which is a sum of on-base percentage plus slugging percentage and helps compare players across different eras. OPS+ is compared to the league average and adjusted for play in different ballparks. An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average, while an OPS+ of 200, for example, is twice as good as the average.)
1. Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, 1934
Stats: .363 BA, 49 HR, 165 RBIs, 208 OPS+
Gehrig played on the Yankees' famed Murderers' Row teams with some of the best lineups in baseball history, but the second-place 1934 club wasn't one of them. Babe Ruth was on a slight decline at age 39, and Bill Dickey hadn't yet reached his prime, so Gehrig generated the majority of the team's offense, scoring 43 more runs than any teammate, hitting 27 more home runs and smacking 79 more RBIs. While leading the majors in each Triple Crown category, Gehrig also won the so-called Modern Triple Crown by winning all three rate categories: batting average, on-base percentage (.465) and slugging percentage (.706).
2. Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, 1956
.353 BA, 52 HR, 130 RBIs, 210 OPS+
Mantle had his finest season in 1956 with personal bests in home runs, RBIs, runs, slugging, hits and total bases. He won his first of three MVPs that season and clobbered his statistical competition, belting 20 more home runs than any other AL player. Mantle also had a 12.9 WAR -- Wins Above Replacement, the number of wins a player contributes more than an average replacement player -- which is the fourth-best season for a position player after 1900.
3. Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers, 1909
.377 BA, 9 HR, 107 RBIs, 194 OPS+
Cobb had a fantasy baseball dream season, leading the AL in each of the five primary fantasy categories of average, runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases -- the unofficial Quintuple Crown, as noted above. He also won the Modern Triple Crown, adding a league-leading .431 OBP and .517 slugging percentage to his year. And as paltry as nine home runs seem to be, they account for a 28.6 percent increase over second place. (Tris Speaker had seven.)
4. Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals, 1922
.401 BA, 42 HR, 152 RBIs, 207 OPS+
In 1922 Hornsby had the only 40-.400 season in baseball history, knocking 40 home runs while batting better than .400. He also won the Modern Triple Crown as he added league leads in OBP (.459) and slugging percentage (.722), and he paced the Senior Circuit in hits (250), runs (141), doubles (46) and total bases (450). In many categories he blew away the competition, batting 47 points higher, slugging 150 points higher, tallying 136 more total bases, pounding 16 more homers and driving in 20 more runs. He even tied for ninth with 17 steals.
5. Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia Athletics, 1901
.426 BA, 14 HR, 125 RBIs, 200 OPS+
Lajoie's .426 average ranks as the best alltime season batting average after 1900, and it's not like he was a product of his era, as no other AL player batted higher than .340. He was one of only two players with at least 10 home runs while also leading the league in doubles (48) and tying for eighth in triples (14). So feared was Lajoie in 1901 that he became the first of five modern-era players to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded, most recently issued to Barry Bonds in 1998 and Josh Hamilton in 2008.
6. Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933
.356 BA, 48 HR, 163 RBIs, 200 OPS+
A year after missing the Triple Crown by three points of batting average -- losing out to Boston's Dale Alexander, who barely had enough plate appearances to qualify and would have fallen short by today's standards -- Foxx completed the feat in 1933. He did so while beating Ruth by 14 home runs and Gehrig by 24 RBIs, though Foxx also led the AL in strikeouts with 93.
7. Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals, 1925
.403 BA, 39 HR, 143 RBIs, 209 OPS+
In 1925 Hornsby completed the last of his six consecutive Modern Triple Crowns -- he'd add a seventh three years later -- thanks to an OBP of .489 and a slugging percentage of .756. He did so while acting as player-manager for most of the season, leading the club to a 64-51 record after Branch Rickey began the year 13-25. His slugging percentage ranks No. 9 alltime on the single-season leaderboard and was the NL's best mark of the 20th century. He had 15 more home runs than anyone else and batted 36 points higher.
8. Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox, 1967
.326 BA, 44 HR, 121 RBIs, 193 OPS+
Now 43 years later, Yaz still has the last Triple Crown in the majors, having done so for Boston's 1967 Impossible Dream season. He only tied for the home run lead with Minnesota's Harmon Killebrew and his average was second-lowest among Triple Crown winners, but those numbers need to be balanced in context of both his team's tight playoff chase and that it was the penultimate year before the high mound was lowered. In his final 45 games Yastrzemski batted .358 with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs, as the Red Sox went 29-16 -- the AL's best record in that stretch -- and overcame three teams and a three-game deficit to win the pennant.
9. Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles, 1966
.316 BA, 49 HR, 122 RBIs, 198 OPS+
Robinson's first season with the Orioles -- and his first season in the AL -- was easily the best of his career. Though his average was the lowest of any Triple Crown winner, he more than made up for it by also leading the league in runs (122) and completing the Modern Triple Crown with a .410 OBP and .637 slugging, the latter a personal high. Heck, he even led the AL in sacrifice flies with seven en route to winning the MVP.
10. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1947
.343 BA, 32 HR, 114 RBIs, 205 OPS+
Teddy Ballgame won a Triple Crown in 1942, his last season before serving in World War II, and again in '47, his second season after returning from the war, making the latter his more impressive season because everyone serving in the military had returned. That season, his .499 OBP was 85 points higher than second place, and his .634 slugging percentage was 112 points better than No. 2. His 32 home runs, however, paled next to the 51 hit by NL leaders Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Curiously, though Williams won two MVPs in his career, neither came in his Triple Crown seasons.
11. Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1942
.356 BA, 36 HR, 137 RBIs, 217 OPS+
As great as a 23-year-old Williams was in '42, it wasn't even his best pre-war season. That award goes to '41 when he batted .406 with 37 home runs and missed the Triple Crown by falling five RBIs short of Joe DiMaggio, 125 to 120; Williams had a .553 OBP and .735 slugging percentage that year as well. In 1942, however, as more and more players were drafted into the army, Williams dominated the remaining competition. His .499 OBP was 82 points higher than second place, his .648 slugging percentage was 135 points better, his average was 25 points higher, he hit nine more home runs, and he had 23 more RBIs.
12. Joe Medwick, St. Louis Cardinals, 1937
.374 BA, 31 HR, 154 RBIs, 180 OPS+
Ducky Medwick remains the last NL Triple Crown winners. The Hall of Famer set personal bests nearly across the board in 1937, finishing with his best seasons for average, homers, RBIs, hits (237), OBP (.414) and slugging (.641) -- most by such large margins that the year almost seems like an aberration. His 31 home runs only tied Mel Ott for the NL lead that year.
13. Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies, 1933
.368 BA, 28 HR, 120 RBIs, 176 OPS+
Klein benefited from a down offensive year across the NL in 1933, especially compared to his MVP-winning season of 1932 when he hit .348 with 137 RBIs --third- and second-best, respectively -- while completing a feat no one has matched since: leading his league in both home runs (38) and stolen bases (20) in the same year. In 1933 Klein played for a hapless Phillies team that finished seventh in the eight team NL. He was beaten for the MVP award by pitcher Carl Hubbell of the pennant-winning Giants.
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