What is the Triple Crown in Baseball

What is the Triple Crown in Baseball? (Detailed Explanation)

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The Triple Crown is one of the rarest feats in all of sports. It is most talked about in the sport of horse racing. When a thoroughbred wins The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont all in the same year, that horse is considered a Triple Crown winner.

Since 1875 there have only been 13 Triple Crown winners with Sir Barton being the first in 1919 and Justify being the most recent in 2018.

But enough about horse racing. You are here for baseball which actually has its own versions of the Triple Crown.

In baseball, the Triple Crown refers to three statistical categories in hitting (batting average, home runs, and RBI) and three categories in pitching (wins, strikeouts, and ERA). When a player leads his league in all three categories, he wins the Triple Crown.

Winning the Triple Crown in baseball is slightly more common than in horse racing as 14 hitters and 28 pitchers have won it in either the American or National League dating back to 1878. Still, it is a worthy accomplishment that should be treated as such.

A Note About the “Award”

The Triple Crown is sometimes called an award, but it should be thought about more as an accomplishment than an acknowledgement. An award like the CY Young, Most Valuable Player, and Rookie of the Year are given out each year and voted on by journalists.

The Triple Crown does not require voting and is not a yearly award given to players. While players may still receive a trophy or a plaque, it should not be compared to the other awards that recognize some of the best players in the game.

Triple Crown Batting Winners

Here is a list of hitters who have won baseball’s triple crown:

  • Miguel Cabrera – 2012, AL
  • Carl Yastrzemski – 1967, AL
  • Frank Robinson – 1966, AL
  • Mickey Mantle – 1956, AL
  • Ted Williams – 1947, AL
  • Ted Williams – 1942, AL
  • Joe Medwick – 1937, NL
  • Lou Gehrig – 1934, AL
  • Jimmie Foxx – 1933, AL
  • Chuck Klein – 1933, NL
  • Rogers Hornsby – 1925, NL
  • Rogers Hornsby – 1922, NL
  • Heine Zimmerman – 1912, NL
  • Ty Cobb -1909, AL
  • Nap Lajoie – 1901, AL
  • Paul Hines – 1878, NL

One will notice later in the article that while it is still difficult to win the pitching Triple Crown, it is much easier than winning the Batting Triple Crown as no player had won it in 45 years until Miguel Cabrera did it in 2012.

That season Cabrera tore up the American League hitting .330 with 44 home runs in 139 RBI. He went on to win the Most Valuable Player award that same season. The Tigers went on to win the American League but lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

While he ran away with the RBI title, Cabrera barely edged out the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton for the home run title 44-43 and snuck past Angels’ rookie Mike Trout in batting average .330-.326.

1933 was a special year for the Triple Crown as it was the first and only time a player in both the American and National League won the award. It was even more special in Philadelphia as both players called the city home.

In the American League, Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics slashed .356 with 48 home runs and 163 RBI. In the National League, Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies hit .368 with 28 home runs and 120 RBI.

While Foxx was named MVP of his league, Klein is one of the few Triple Crown winners to not win the MVP of his. Carl Hubbell was the NL MVP that season. Unfortunately, neither player’s team made it to postseason play that year.

Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby are the only players in Major League History to have won the Triple Crown in multiple years.

The Boston Red Sox’s Williams did it in 1942 hitting .356 with 36 home runs and 134 RBI and then again in 1947 with a batting average of .343, 32 home runs, and 114 RBI.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Hornsby hit over .400 both times he won the award. In 1922 he hit .401 with 42 home runs and 152 RBI. He upped his average in 1925 by hitting .403 but slightly decreased his home run and RBI production with 39 and 143.

Triple Crown Pitching Winners

The list of pitchers who have won a pitching Triple Crown is much longer than the list of hitters. Here are pitchers who have led their league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA:

  • Shane Bieber – 2020, AL
  • Justin Verlander – 2011, AL
  • Clayton Kershaw – 2011, NL
  • Jake Peavy – 2007, NL
  • Johan Santana – 2006, AL
  • Randy Johnson – 2002, NL
  • Pedro Martinez – 1999, AL
  • Roger Clemens – 1998, AL
  • Roger Clemens – 1997, AL
  • Dwight Gooden – 1985, NL
  • Steve Carlton – 1972, NL
  • Sandy Koufax – 1966, NL
  • Sandy Koufax – 1965, NL
  • Sandy Koufax – 1963, NL
  • Hal Newhouser – 1945, AL
  • Bob Feller – 1940, AL
  • Bucky Walters – 1938, NL
  • Lefty Gomez – 1937, AL
  • Lefty Gomez – 1934, AL
  • Lefty Grove – 1931, AL
  • Lefty Grove – 1930, AL
  • Walter Johnson – 1924, AL
  • Dazzy Vance – 1924, NL
  • Pete Alexander – 19020, NL
  • Walter Johnson – 1918, AL
  • Hippo Vaughn – 1918, NL
  • Pete Alexander – 1916, NL
  • Pete Alexander – 1915, NL
  • Walter Johnson – 1913, AL
  • Christy Matthewson – 1908, NL
  • Rube Waddell – 1905, AL
  • Christy Matthewson – 1905, NL
  • Cy Young – 1901, AL
  • Amos Rusie – 1894, NL
  • John Clarkson – 1889, NL
  • Tim Keefe – 1888, NL
  • Old Hoss Radbourn – 1884, NL
  • Tommy Bond – 1877, NL

As one can see, there have been more pitchers who have taken home this award more recently. Since 1967, only one hitter has accomplished this feat. Since that same year, 11 pitchers have done it.

The most recent Triple Crown pitcher is the Cleveland Indians’ Shane Bieber who posted an 8-1 record with 122 strikeouts and 1.63 ERA in the COVID shortened 2020 season.

While it may be easy to put an asterisk next to Bieber’s accomplishment, he was so dominant compared to his peers that many have not even given second thought as to whether or not his Triple Crown should count in the record books.

Justin Verlander

2011 was a special year as Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw both won the Triple Crown in their respective leagues. Kershaw’s 21-5 record, 248 strikeouts, and 2.28 ERA led the National League and gave him the Cy Young Award.

Verlander’s 24-5 record with 250 strikeouts and a 2.40 ERA were enough to earn him both American League Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player, an award typically given to hitters. Kershaw may not have won the MVP in his Triple Crown Year, but he did win it later in 2014.

Speaking of pitchers who have won an MVP award, Roger Clemens is one of the few multi-Triple Crown winning pitchers, and he did it in back-to-back years in ‘97 and ‘98. While his MVP year was in 1986, those two years in the late ‘90s were as dominant as any.

In ‘97 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Clemens went 21-7 with 292 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA. His numbers the next year were slightly less dominant, but they were enough to lead the American League as he had a record of 20-6 along with 271 strikeouts and a 2.65 ERA.

Topping Clemens by winning the Triple Crown three times in their career are Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-hander Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, and Pete Alexander of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Koufax, known for his devastating curveball, dominated between the years 1963 and 1966 with ‘64 being the only one of those four years in which he did not win the Triple Crown. In all of those years, he posted more than 25 wins, more than 300 strikeouts and kept his ERA below 2.05.

Johnson’s first Triple Crown came at the age of 25 in 1913 and his last came at 36 in 1924. Winning the Triple Crown was more common in Johnson’s era of baseball as three pitchers, including Alexander, won Triple Crowns in between his first and last.

Triple Crowns in Other Leagues

As of 2020, Major League Baseball has begun including the Negro National Leagues and Eastern Colored League records in their own record books. There were several Triple Crown winners in these leagues that are worth noting.

Here are some Negro League Hitters who have accomplished the feat:

  • Ted Strong – 1942, NAL
  • Lennie Pearson – 1942, NN2
  • Josh Gibson – 1937, NN2
  • Josh Gibson – 1936, NN2
  • Willie Wells – 1930, NNL
  • Mule Suttles – 1926, NNL
  • Oscar Charleston – 1925, ECL
  • Oscar Charleston – 1924, ECL
  • Heavy Johnson – 1923, NNL
  • Oscar Charleston – 1921, NNL

Here are Negro League Triple Crown pitchers:

  • Satchel Paige – 1944, NAL
  • Johnny Wright – 1943, NN2
  • Ray Brown – 1938, NN2
  • Slim Jones – 1934, NN2

One hitter, Tip O’Neill (1987), and one pitcher, Guy Hecker (1984), have won the Triple Crown in the American Association, another professional league in the 1800s.

Related Questions

What is the Quadruple Crown in baseball?

A player wins the quadruple crown when he leads his league in batting average, home runs, RBI, and hits. It is much more rare than the Triple Crown as only Ty Cobb in 1909 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 have reached this feat. There is not currently a quadruple crown recognized for pitching.

Has anyone ever led all Major Leagues in the Triple Crown categories?

Research has not proven that any player has ever led all of the Major Leagues in all of the Triple Crown categories.

Is a Triple Crown accomplishment a lock for the Hall of Fame?

While most players who have reached this feat are in the Hall of Fame, it does not guarantee a player a spot in Cooperstown. Heine Zimmerman and Miguel Cabrera (ineligible) are the only Triple Crown winning hitters not in the Hall of Fame.

Bieber, Kershaw, Verlander, Peavy, Santana, and Gooden are the Triple Crown winning pitchers who are not in Cooperstown although Kershaw and Verlander look to be headed that way once they retire.

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