Triple Crown Has Proven Almost Unreachable

DENVER—With Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez all having triple crown ambitions as the season wound down, it reinforced that a triple crown is arguably the most difficult accomplishment in baseball.

It has, after all, happened just 13 times in the modern era, which dates back to 1901. And only four of those triple crowns have been in the National League: Rogers Hornsby with Cardinals in 1922 and ’25, Chuck Klein with the Phillies in 1933, and Joe Medwick of the Cardinals in 1937.

Dick Allen did come close in 1972 with the White Sox, but he was 10 points shy of a batting title, and 20 years later Gary Sheffield came within two home runs and nine RBIs of a triple crown.

There are plenty of theories on why the triple crown has become so elusive. The most sensible is that there are so many more candidates today than 40 or 80 years ago thanks to expansion.

Consider that all four of the NL triple crowns and seven of the nine AL triple crowns came when there were eight teams in each league. The two most recent AL winners—Frank Robinson with the Orioles in 1966 and Carl Yastrzemski with the Red Sox the following year—came when the AL had 10 members. What’s more, the AL added the designated hitter in 1973, which added players whose only purpose is to generate offense.

No Apologies For Coors

With Braves teammate Omar Infante in the battle for the batting title, third baseman Chipper Jones questioned the validity of Gonzalez’ candidacy because of his home-field advantage.

“If (Gonzalez) is doing the same thing on the road that he’s doing at home, I’d be glad to give him credit,” Jones told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “And he’s a tremendous player, don’t get me wrong. but the numbers?”

Jones blames Coors Field for his second-place finish in the NL batting race in 2007, when he hit .337 and Matt Holliday, then with the Rockies, hit .340.

Can we call it a convenient memory? Jones did win the 2008 NL batting title, and he did not apologize for hitting .399 at Turner Field and .325 on the road, which helped him beat out Pujols. Infante was hitting .379 at Turner Field and .317 on the road this season.

But producing at home has long been a key to success. Sitting in the dugout in Detroit prior to Game Three of the 1984 AL Championship Series, George Brett was asked what he might have done had he spent his career in Tiger Stadium, with its right-field porch that was so inviting for lefthanded hitters. instead of spacious Royal Stadium.

“I’d probably have had a Darrell Evans type of career, hitting 40, 45 home runs a year with a .260 average,” he said. “The reason I became the type of hitter I am is because of Royals Stadium. As a hitter, you adjust to your home park to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, you play 81 games a year, half your schedule, in that park.”

Long And Winding Road

When first baseman John Lindsey made his major league debut with the Dodgers in September, after spending 16 challenging seasons in the minor leagues, it was a tribute to sticktoitiveness.

After Lindsey won the Pacific Coast League batting title for Triple-A Albuquerque this season, batting .353/.400/.657 with 25 home runs and 41 doubles, the Dodgers rewarded him with a September callup. Many of his family members were in attendance when he made his debut in a series at Houston, and he got his first major league hit in the series finale.

“Letting him know that he was going to the big leagues is the best thing I’ve gotten to do in the two years I’ve been here,” Tim Wallach, Lindsey’s manager at Albuquerque, told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s not many guys who would even consider staying in the game that long. It’s just his love of the game.”

Lindsey was a 13th-round draft choice of the Rockies out of Hattiesburg (Miss.) High in 1995, the same year they used their first-round pick on Helton. He spent seven years in the Rockies organization, never getting higher than Class A. He signed with the Mariners as a minor league free agent after the 2001 season and finally reached Double-A in 2003. He signed with the Cardinals after the 2004 season but got released out of spring training, and while he spent a few months in the Marlins organization, he spent most of the next two seasons in the independent Can-Am League.

The Dodgers signed him for the 2007 season and started him off in Double-A, and he got to Triple-A in the second half of 2007, his 13th professional season. He went back to the Marlins for the 2009 season, then bounced back to the Dodgers this year, putting together his best season at age 33.