Once upon a time there were people writing about baseball who wanted their young, impressive ball player to get properly recognized and win the Most Valuable Player, and so they basically pushed for acceptance of a new term and statistic. Wins Above Replacement? Nah, that’s pretty much main stream in comparison.
I’m talking about the Triple Crown, and the battles between sports writers in New York and Boston over Ted Williams. According to most accounts, Miguel Cabrera is the seventeenth winner of the Triple Crown. While I suppose that is technically true, it’s also as accurate in reflecting the thought during those seasons to say that someone in 1930 was the leader in WAR, and celebrating that they won some sort of non-existent WAR award eighty years later. It was an invented compilation applied to most of those seasons retroactively. Just like no one had developed WAR in 1930, no one had actually noted seasons where a player led in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in.
Go do an advanced news archive search prior to 1939, and you won’t find any articles celebrating Lou Gehrig or Rogers Hornsby or Jimmie Foxx as Triple Crown winners.
The first reference to a Triple Crown for batting actually appeared in 1939, ironically enough by a young New York writer, Judson Bailey, in regard to Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, in a piece entitled “DiMaggio seeks Triple Crown.” Judson Bailey appears to have been an interesting character who became the AP writer in New York a year earlier, and would go on to become the head writer at CBS Sports, and produced the first colorized broadcast of the Masters.
Two years later, Mr. Bailey was at it again in regard to DiMaggio, writing of a Triple Crown of hitting that “[t]his bauble is the three way championship in percentage hitting, home runs, and runs batted in and is one of the most elusive batting honors in the game.”
Those are the only two baseball references I can find until the next season, when as it turns out, it was Ted Williams, and not his rival Joe DiMaggio, that actually prevailed in Judson Bailey’s bauble of numbers. It was probably with no small amount of glee that a Boston writer turned this Triple Crown coined by a New York writer around to argue for Ted Williams as MVP.
In “Williams Now One of Baseball History’s Big Five” Boston AP writer Steve O’Leary went through the history of players winning this Triple Crown. I suspect he was taking a shot across the bow of Bailey, as he even includes the term “bauble” when describing it. Was that a common sportswriting term in the 1940’s? I’ll point out that the term “bauble” generally means “a small showy ornament of little value”. Interesting now, then, where it is seen as decisive, when the original writer basically described his compilation as having little real value.
O’Leary took Bailey’s turn and ran with it, though.
Capture of the American League’s Triple Crown–the leadership in batting, home runs and runs batted in–by Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox prompted some research through the not too dusty files.
Triple crown opportunities have been in existence only since 1920 when baseball statisticians began to keep track of runs batted in . . . First of all the research revealed that Ted is the fifth major leaguer to win the honor and the third in the American circuit.
I’ll note here that O’Leary’s original article does not mention Joe “Ducky” Medwick winning the Triple Crown in 1937, likely because Medwick was tied for the lead in home runs and did not win the category outright.
Despite O’Leary’s efforts, though, and a moderate surge of articles talking about the “so called Triple Crown of hitting” regarding Williams’ season after the fact, the Splendid Splinter did not win the MVP award. Again, it went to a Yankee, this time, Joe Gordon.
In 1947, it again came up, as Ted Williams lost the MVP vote to Joe DiMaggio by one vote. If you are on one side or the other of the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera debate, well, you’ve got nothing on the rationale given for DiMaggio winning, whose average was significantly lower, who hit 12 fewer home runs, and drove in 17 fewer runs. “It was DiMaggio’s great team and courageous work under extreme adverse conditions that caused the writers to lean toward him.” See, these damn fine Yankees have been toiling and overcoming inhumane conditions showing their character for a long time, not just this year.
Well, after Williams “won” the Triple Crown but did not win MVP, it was Yankee Mickey Mantle, who not only led in the three categories but also on base percentage and slugging percentage. By then, the award was main stream, and that continued when Frank Robinson won it.
Carl Yastremski’s Triple Crown, and “Ducky” Medwick, meanwhile, were closely tied. Yastremski did not win the home run title outright. This article, though, told us all that there was precedence because of Medwick’s Triple Crown, and thus Yaz had it.
When was that precedence established? It’s not clear. As noted above, the initial article extolling the Triple Crown did not include Medwick. Medwick is infrequently referenced as winning the Triple Crown in the 1950’s, suggesting there was some disagreement. By 1962, though, Medwick was a frequent finalist for the Hall, and even he himself was pointing out that he won the Triple Crown. This article appears to be sympathetic to Medwick and claim he would have won it but for a disallowed home run.
Regardless, by 1967, Medwick’s Triple Crown was officially confirmed along with Yastremski, and a few months later, he was elected to Cooperstown. Coincidence?
Joe “Ducky” Medwick did have something in common with most Triple Crown winners. He was never celebrated as a winner when it happened. Miguel Cabrera now joins Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastremski as getting articles written about them winning the Triple Crown.
[photo via US Presswire]