Jewel of a season gone forever?

Originally Published: June 2, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

In honor of Smarty Jones, who gallops after the first horse-racing triple crown in 26 years on Saturday, we present a triple-crown edition of our Useless Information Dept.:

  • We don't know if anybody will ever win another baseball triple crown. But two active players have led their league in all three triple-crown categories at some point in their careers. Safe to say you've heard of them:

    Bonds
    Bonds
    Rodriguez
    Rodriguez

    Barry Bonds -- won the batting title in 2002, led in RBIs in 1993 and won the home run title in '93 and 2001. Alex Rodriguez -- won the batting title in 1996, led in RBIs in 2002 and has won three straight home run titles.

  • Besides Bonds and Rodriguez, two other active players have led their league in two triple-crown categories in the same season but obviously missed the third:

    Junior Griffey -- led in homers and RBIs in 1997 but was 15th in the batting race, 43 points behind Frank Thomas (.347-.304).

    Todd Helton -- won the batting and RBI titles in 2000 but was seventh in homers, eight behind leader Sammy Sosa (50-42).

  • In the last 10 years, four other players have won two legs of a triple crown -- Mark McGwire (HRs, RBIs) in 1999, Andres Galarraga (HRs, RBIs) in 1996, Dante Bichette (HRs, RBIs) in 1995) and Albert Belle (HRs, RBIs) in 1995.

    Of that group, only Bichette was a top-three finisher in the batting race. But he was way behind the champ, Tony Gwynn (.368-.340).

    Carl Yastrzemski
    Yastrzemski won the 1967 Triple Crown.

  • Besides Bichette, only four players in the last 25 years finished in the top three in all three categories in the same year. But none went into the final days of the season with a serious shot at a triple crown:

    Albert Belle in 1998 -- 3rd in avg. (.328, 11 points back), 2nd in HRs (49, seven back), 2nd in RBIs (152, five back). Larry Walker in 1997 -- 2nd in avg. (.366, six points back), 1st in HRs (49), 3rd in RBIs (130, 10 back). Jeff Bagwell in 1994 -- 2nd in avg. (.368, 26 points back), 2nd in HRs (39, four back), 1st in RBIs (116). Belle in 1994 -- 2nd in avg. (.357, two points back), 3rd in HRs (36, four back), 3rd in RBIs (101, 11 back).

  • The Detroit Free Press' John Lowe reports that the last player to lead his league in batting and homers but not win the triple crown was some guy named Ted Williams in 1941 (when he finished five RBIs behind the leader, Joe DiMaggio).

    Which means that the last player to lead in those two categories was also the last triple-crown winner, Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Since Yaz, 33 men have led their league in homers and RBIs in the same season. But only seven also landed in the top five in the batting race. Here are those seven, ranked by how close they came to the batting title:

    Dick Allen, 1972 White Sox (3rd in avg., 10 points back).
    George Foster, 1977 Reds (3rd in avg., 18 points back).
    Jim Rice, 1978 Red Sox (3rd in avg., 18 points back).
    Mike Schmidt, 1981 Phillies (4th in avg., 25 points back).
    Willie McCovey, 1969 Giants (5th in avg., 28 points back).
    Bichette, 1995 Rockies (3rd in avg., 28 points back).
    Bonds, 1993 Giants (4th in avg., 34 points back).

  • Take a look at your current National League stat sheet, and you'll find one Cardinal (Scott Rolen) leading the league in RBIs and another Cardinal (Albert Pujols) leading the league in homers. Since Pujols led the league in hitting last year, we got to thinking: What's the last team to have players who won all three titles in the same year? And the answer is: In the 37 seasons since Yastrzemski, there have been just two "team triple-crown winners":

    1983 Red Sox -- Wade Boggs (avg.), Jim Rice (HRs, RBIs)
    1969 Twins -- Rod Carew (avg.), Harmon Killebrew (HRs, RBIs)

  • And the really big question is: With the explosion in offense these days, is it easier or harder to win a triple crown now than it used to be? OK, we'll give you three seconds to think that over.

    Time's up. Correct answer: It's harder now than ever. When Yaz won his triple crown, he needed to hit .326, with 44 homers and 121 RBIs, to win it. Eight players have reached those numbers in the last 10 years. But at the time, no player had reached all three of those levels in the same season since the previous AL triple-crown winner, Mickey Mantle, did it in 1956. And what would it take to win a triple crown these days? We looked at the eight full seasons since the 1995 strike year, and the average levels in the National League were .365-56 HRs-146 RBIs. In the AL, it was .350-52-149.

    Useless Barry Bonds Info
    Between April 29 and May 25 -- a period of 26 days -- the amazing Barry went 2-for-26, with just one extra-base hit (a double). And at the end of that stretch, he was still leading the league in slugging percentage (at .771).

    So how many active players have ever gotten to all three of those numbers in the same season? Zilch. And no one has even come close. In fact, no National Leaguer has ever reached those plateaus in all three departments in any season. And the last American Leaguer to beat those numbers was Jimmie Foxx, in 1932. So to win a triple crown now, you don't just need a great season. You need a truly historic season.

  • Finally, there have been 49 position players in history who were named Jones. But we'd bet Smarty's entire hay supply that you can't name the only one who ever led either league in any triple-crown category. That would be the not-particularly-legendary Charley (Baby) Jones, of the 1879 Boston Red Caps. (Any winners?) Baby Jones led the National League that year in homers, with (ahem) nine. He also tied for the league lead in RBIs, with 62. But we regret to report his triple-crown bid veered off the tracks when he batted just .315 -- 42 points behind league-leader Paul Hines.

    And now, 125 years later, it's up to a horse to pick up the mantle for all those Joneses everywhere. Who'd have thunk that?

    Useless We Have A Winner Information
    Well, it took almost two months. But we finally have a winner of this year's highly coveted Last Guy To Get A Hit award, which is bestowed upon the last player on an opening-day roster to get his first hit of the season.

    Lopez
    Lopez

    The new champ is Orioles utility man Luis Lopez, who finally busted an 0-for-9 schneid May 21, with a seventh-inning single off Anaheim's Jared Washburn.

    Lopez had actually all but assured himself of this title a week earlier, when he became the last opening-day survivor who was still A) 0 for the season and B) still in the big leagues. But he couldn't make it official until he actually got a hit.

    One asterisk here: Reds catcher Corky Miller is still 0 for the year (0-for-15), but has already made two trips to the minor leagues. If he ever returns, we reserve the right to re-start his clock. But if he doesn't, he should know that would be the most at-bats in a season by anybody who went hitless since Gerald Williams went 0-for-17 for the 2002 Cardinals.

    Useless 17-7 Information
    You see some amazing stuff these days. But the Tigers' 17-7 win in Kansas City last Thursday ranks right up there. Among the highlights:

  • The Tigers got 27 hits in this game. (Not to imply it had been a while since they'd last done that, but the last time they got that many -- against the Yankees in 1928 -- Babe Ruth was playing.) Last year, by the way, it took the Tigers seven games just to pile up 27 hits for the season.

    Infante
    Infante

    Pena
    Pena

  • Amazingly, 14 of those hits Thursday came just from three players -- Carlos Pena (6-for-6), Omar Infante (4-for-4) and Alex Sanchez (4-for-6). The last time any team got 14 hits from three players in a nine inning game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Sept. 23, 1995 -- when the White Sox got 14 from Lance Johnson (6), Robin Ventura (5) and Chris Snopek (3) in a 14-4 win over the Twins.

  • Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler reports that Pena had five hits in the previous 23 days. Then, of course, he had six hits in one game. Why does it always work that way?

  • It's unique enough for a guy to get six hits in one game. But it's really unique for a guy to get six hits on a day when he's hitting eighth. Last time that happened in a nine-inning game was a mere 112 years ago, according to Elias. The No. 8 hitter that day: Wilbert Robinson, who actually got seven hits for the old Baltimore Orioles in a 25-4 win over St. Louis on June 10, 1892.

  • Infante, meanwhile, was hitting out of the No. 9 hole. Which meant the No.8 and No. 9 hitters that day went an absurd 10-for-10. The Detroit Free Press' John Lowe reports that, according to retrosheet.org, they were only the second 8-9 duo to get 10 hits in one game in the last 35 years. The other pair: Kevin Seitzer (5-for-7) and Scott Fletcher (5-for-6), for the Brewers in a 22-2 win over Toronto on Aug. 28, 1992.

  • At one point in this game, in the sixth inning, the Tigers were 21 for their first 33 (a .636 team average). Eventually, they cooled all the way down to .551 (27-for-49). Before that, over their previous four games, they'd gone 27 for their last 104 (.260).

  • Finally, 17-7 might seem more like a football score than a baseball score. But not in Detroit. The Lions, believe it or not, haven't won a 17-7 game in 45 years -- since Earl Morrall and Hopalong Cassidy led them to a 17-7 win over the late, great Los Angeles Rams in week five of the 1959 season.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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