Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Look At The Triple Crown And The Mets Who Came Closest To Winning It

The year was 1967.  Tom Seaver was a rookie on a Mets club that had still never reached the 70-victory mark over a full season.  There were no divisions in baseball, as the 20 teams in existence played in two 10-team leagues.  A Mariner was just a seafaring old chap, a Diamondback was just a snake and a Royal was what you were called if you were Jackie Robinson’s teammate before he was called up to the major leagues for the first time.

Many changes and great moments have occurred in the majors in the 45 seasons that have been played since 1967.  Heck, the Mets have even pitched a no-hitter since that year.  But one thing has yet to happen in the major leagues since the last time it was accomplished in 1967.  Not since Carl Yastrzemski turned the trick during the Red Sox’s “Impossible Dream” season of 1967 has a player won the Triple Crown.

In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in batting average (.326), home runs (44) and RBI (121), becoming the 11th player in the modern era to lead his league in all three categories.  This year, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera has a chance to become the first player since Yaz to win the Triple Crown.  Including Thursday's game, Cabrera was leading the American League in batting average (.333) and RBI (130), while sitting only one homer behind league leader Josh Hamilton.  (Cabrera has hit 41 HR to Hamilton’s 42.)

No Met has ever won the Triple Crown in the team's 50-plus years in the National League.  In fact, no Met had even won a batting title until last year when Jose Reyes paced the National League by hitting .337.  Similarly, only one Met has ever led the league in RBI.  In 1991, Howard Johnson drove in 117 runs to finish first among all National League hitters.

That year, HoJo became the only Met ever to win two legs of the Triple Crown in the same season, as the third baseman also led the Senior Circuit with 38 HR.  But Johnson’s .259 batting average in 1991 was nowhere the mark posted by the Braves' Terry Pendleton.  On his way to winning the National League MVP Award, Pendleton led the league with a .319 batting average.

Only one Mets player has ever finished in the top ten in all three Triple Crown categories in the same season.  That player is David Wright, who in 2008 finished 10th in the league in batting average (.302), tied for 9th in home runs (33) and was the runner-up for the RBI title to Ryan Howard.  Howard's 146 RBI were 22 more than Wright's franchise record-tying 124 RBI.  In 2000, Mike Piazza came close to becoming the first Met to finish in the top ten in all three Triple Crown categories, but his 113 RBI was two shy of Jeff Cirillo's tenth place total of 115.  Piazza did finish 10th in batting average (.324) and home runs (38) in 2000.

Miguel Cabrera has already won a batting title (.344 in 2011), a home run title (37 HR in 2008) and an RBI crown (126 RBI in 2010), but he has never led the league in all three categories in the same season.  He has a realistic chance to do so this season, which would make him the first player to accomplish the rare trifecta since Carl Yastrzemski did it for the Red Sox in 1967.

As noted before, only one Met has ever won a batting title (Jose Reyes in 2011).  In addition, only one Met has ever won an RBI crown (Howard Johnson in 1991).  As seen by the small list of Mets players who have finished among the league leaders in all three categories in the same season, it may be quite some time before a Met enters the rarefied air space once occupied by Carl Yastrzemski and now being challenged by Miguel Cabrera.  It just goes to show how special a player has to be in order to win the Triple Crown. 

No comments: