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The History of Winning Baseball's Triple Crown


In baseball one of the most coveted awards but what is very difficult to achieve is winning the triple crown. To do that a player has to lead the majors in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. So difficult it is to achieve that only 16 players in history have accomplished the feat.

Of those 16, 10 were American Leaguers. The last time it was done came 11 years ago in 2012 when Miguel Cabrera playing for the Detroit Tigers (where he remains today) led the American League with a batting average of .330 while also topping the home run list with 44 and knocking in 139 RBIs to take home the triple crown.

Before Cabrera pulled the hat trick, you have to go back 56 years to 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox made it two years in a row that an American Leaguer had earned the triple crown repeating the performance of Frank Robinson a season before.

For “Yaz” he hit .326, stroked 44 round-trippers, and knocked in 121 runs to take the crown away from Robinson who in 1966 put up the numbers .316/49/122 for average, homers, and RBIs. Two players have performed the feat more than once. Ted Williams has two triple crowns to his credit doing it in 1942 and 1947. Rogers Hornsby is the only other one to repeat in 1922 and 1925 while playing in the National League.

The incredible fact about Hornsby’s efforts is that on both occasions he hit over .400. In 1922 he finished the season with a .401 mark and three years later bettered that with a .403 mark. Hornsby also hit 42 home runs and then 39 the second time around. His RBI mark was impressive with 152 and then 143. Certainly, he is one of the greatest players ever. His final numbers for his career reflect a lifetime batting average of an incredible .358. His home run total was 301, and he had 1,584 RBIs. Include in that 1,579 runs scored and 2,930 hits.

The other American Leaguers to pull the feat was Mickey Mantle in 1956, Lou Gehrig (1934), Jimmie Foxx (1933), Ty Cobb (1909), and Nap Lajoie (1901). In the National League, winning the triple crown is a much more difficult task given that only six players have done it in the 144 years since an N.L. player won the crown. That first man was Paul Hines playing for the National League’s Providence Grays, and believe it or not, he won the triple crown while hitting just four home runs. He also had only 50 RBIs and hit .358.

But in more modern times, the last time a player from the National League won the triple crown was way back in 1937 when Joe “Ducky” Medwick took the crown with a batting average of .374 while hitting only 31 home runs but he did have 154 RBIs. Four years before that Chuck Klein did the deed with a .368, 28 homers, and 120 runs batted in.

Before Klein, there was Hornsby’s repeat performances, and 10 years before that it was Heinie Zimmerman winning the triple crown. The most home runs by a triple crown winner came off the bat of Mantle who hammered 52 dingers in 1956. The highest average belongs to Hornsby’s .403. The most RBIs belong to Gehrig’s 166 when he also hit .363 and had 49 home runs in 1934.

Pitchers also have their version of the triple crown with the player that leads the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Winning the crown from the mound is more common than from the plate where batters have done it just 16 times but pitchers have won the three categories 38 times. It has been done in the American League 17 times and 21 times in the National circuit.

The last time a pitcher won the triple crown was in 202o by Cleveland’s Shane Bieber but an asterisk should be by his name because the season was shortened due to the coronavirus and Bieber won the crown by winning just eight games while losing only one and leading the brief season with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts.

Considering a normal season we have to go back to 2011 which saw a winner from each league winning the pitching triple crown. In the American League, it was Justin Verlander who won three more games than the National League winner Clayton Kershaw as Verlander had 24 victories to his credit and both pitchers lost only five games. Kershaw’s ERA was better (2.28 to 2.40) but Verlander had two more K’s than did the Dodgers’ ace (250-248).

The remaining triple crown winners won by pitchers are:

Year

League

Player

Stats

2007

NL

Jake Peavy

Padres 19-6, 2.54, 240 SO

2006

AL

Johan Santana

Twins 19-6, 2.77, 245 SO

2002

NL

Randy Johnson

Diamondbacks 24-5, 2.32, 334 SO

1999

AL

Pedro Martinez

Red Sox 23-4, 2.07, 313 SO

1998

AL

Roger Clemens

Blue Jays 20-6, 2.65, 271 SO

1997

AL

Roger Clemens

Blue Jays 21-7, 2.05, 292 SO

1985

NL

Dwight Gooden

Mets 24-4, 1.53, 268 SO

1972

NL

Steve Carlton

Phillies 27-10, 1.97, 310 SO

1966

NL

Sandy Koufax

Dodgers 27-9, 1.73, 317 SO

1965

NL

Sandy Koufax

Dodgers 26-8 (2 SV), 2.04, 382 SO

1963

NL

Sandy Koufax

Dodgers 25-5, 1.88, 306 SO

1945

AL

Hal Newhouser

Tigers 25-9 (2 SV), 1.81, 212 SO

1940

AL

Bob Feller

Indians 27-11 (4 SV), 2.61, 261 SO

1939

NL

Bucky Walters

CIN 27-11, 2.29, 137 SO

1937

AL

Lefty Gomez

Yankees 21-11, 2.33, 194 SO

1934

AL

Lefty Gomez

Yankees 26-5 (2 SV), 2.33, 158 SO

1931

AL

Lefty Grove

Athletics 31-4 (5 SV), 2.06, 175 SO

1930

AL

Lefty Grove

Athletics 28-5 (9 SV), 2.54, 209 SO

1924

AL

Walter Johnson

Senators 23-7, 2.72, 158 SO

1924

NL

Dazzy Vance

Dodgers 28-6, 2.16, 262 SO

1920

NL

Pete Alexander

Cubs 27-14 (5 SV), 1.91, 173 SO

1918

AL

Walter Johnson

Senators 23-13 (3 SV), 1.27, 162 SO

1918

NL

Hippo Vaughn

Cubs 22-10, 1.74, 148 SO

1916

NL

Pete Alexander

Phillies 33-12 (3 SV), 1.55, 167 SO

1915

NL

Pete Alexander

Phillies 31-10 (3 SV), 1.22, 241 SO

1913

AL

Walter Johnson

Senators 36-7 (2 SV), 1.14, 243 SO

1908

NL

Christy Mathewson

Giants 37-11 (5 SV), 1.43, 259 SO

1905

AL

Rube Waddell

Athletics 27-10, 1.48, 287 SO

1905

NL

Christy Mathewson

Giants 31-9 (3 SV), 1.28, 206 SO

1901

AL

Cy Young

Red Sox 33-10, 1.62, 158 SO

1894

NL

Amos Rusie

Giants 36-13 (1 SV), 2.78, 195 SO

1889

NL

John Clarkson

BSN 49-19 (1 SV), 2.73, 284 SO

1888

NL

Tim Keefe

Giants 35-12, 1.74, 335 SO

1884

NL

Old Hoss Radbourn

Grays 60-12 (1 SV), 1.38, 441 SO

1877

NL

Tommy Bond

BSN 40-17, 2.11, 170 SO

Will we see another triple crown this season from the plate or from the mound? That remains to be seen but given the facts above, this is a very difficult achievement.

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About the author

Harv Aronson

Harv Aronson was born and raised in Pittsburgh but now lives in Florida with his beautiful wife Melissa.

Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.

Harv loves all sports but football and baseball are at the top of his interest. His passion is for sports history. You can also watch Harv’s videos on his YouTube channel “Total Sports Recall.”

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