It is often said that baseball’s most prestigious feat is the elusive perfect game. After all, only 20 have been pitched in all of baseball’s history–18 in the modern era. To retire 27 batters consecutively is certainly majestic, and it guarantees baseball immortality. Many perfect games have been thrown by notoriously dominant pitchers–Monte Ward, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Catfish Hunter, to name a few. Their reputation almost demanded one. However, for some pitchers, their perfect games are the only redeeming factor in an otherwise disappointing or mediocre career–perhaps Kenny Rogers or Dallas Braden.
I would like to argue that there is an even more illustrious feat in baseball; one that has not been accomplished since 1967: 43 years. The largest gap between baseball’s perfect games was 34 years. The feat that I speak of is baseball’s triple crown, in which a hitter must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. It has only been done 16 times in baseball’s history, 13 in the modern era. The last man to win the triple crown was Carl Yastrzemski.
No one has ever pitched a perfect game twice. It is probably nearly statistically impossible. Two men have received the triple crown twice. The Cardinals’ Roger Hornsby in 1922 and 1925, and the Red Sox’s Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. This is precisely what makes the triple crown even more impressive.
A perfect game does not guarantee a Cy Young Award. It is nearly unheard of for a player not to win the MVP if he has also won the triple crown. After all, MVP considerations are heavily affected by those same three statistics. To every rule and theory, there is always an exception, and Ted Williams is the exception to mine: In 1942 and 1947, he came in second place for MVP votes, losing to Joe Gordon and Joe Dimaggio, respectively.
A perfect game is one game; there are 161 others. To win a triple crown, the hitter has to be consistently superior in three outstandingly difficult categories. Every player who has won the triple crown in the modern era is currently immortalized in Cooperstown. Pitchers who throw a perfect game are perfect for 27 outs. Those who win the triple crown are spectacular 4,374 outs.
With a couple of legitimate Triple Crown contenders this season in Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera, I wanted to try and figure out why there has been such a disparity in Triple Crown winners since Yastrzemski last did it. I decided to look at and compare various eras within baseball’s modern era (since 1900) and I think I have come to a reasonable conclusion.
It surprises me that there were any triple crown players in the dead ball era (1901-1919), which was defined by small ball. Pitchers were allowed to use altered balls and trick pitches, and starting pitchers completed their games more than half the time. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that the two men to hit for it were Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb.
The Lively Ball Era (1920-1941) followed in which a rubber-core ball was universally used, and trick pitches were prohibited. Pitcher’s completed their game less than half the time, and the average amount of runs scored per game was nearly ten. Also, in 1930, the National League’s batting average as a whole was over .300. Five men hit for the triple crown in this era: Roger Hornsby (twice), Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Medwick.
Then came the Integration Era (1942-1960), catalyzed by Jackie Robinson. Many players were involved in World War II, which some argued diluted the level of play. Two players hit for the triple crown: Ted Williams (twice) and Mickey Mantle. The changes in this era went beyond the game itself, but I’m assuming the pitching was able to adjust to the new rules established in the Lively Ball Era.
The Expansion Era (1961-1976) followed, which came with an enlarged strikezone, and predictably, a reduction in offensive output. Only Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski hit for the triple crown in this era, and no one has done it since. Perhaps the defining characteristics of the eras that follow offer some explanation.
The Free Agency Era (1977-1993) was characterized mainly by outrageous contracts. About one-third of teams used artificial turf which took emphasis off of the home run ball and resulted in more extra base hits.
The era that I have lived through–the Long Ball Era (1994-2005)–has been characterized by a remarkable increase in home runs. This is attributable to not only steroids, and parks more conducive to home runs.
I’m not sure what era baseball has transitioned into since 2005. Some say the steroids era (though testing was implemented in 2004, so that isn’t really valid). With no-hitters, and even perfect games, becoming more of a commodity, I’d like to call it the era of the pitcher, but this might just be a unique year.
It does not really make sense that no one has won the triple crown since 1967 if offensive production has sky-rocketed. I think that the use of steroids have had an obvious effect on the statistics. It’s no longer one person dominating the league for a year. Many players are capable of hitting copious amounts of home runs and RBIs and hitting for a high average. It seems like guys are continually beating each other out. At the end of the season, Carlos Gonzalez might be leading in batting average, Pujols in home runs, and Votto in RBIs–and the disparity might only be one or two points.
I would like to see one of these guys hit for the triple crown, especially now that baseball has transitioned out of the steroids era. It would not have felt right had someone hit for the triple crown in the steroid era because nearly nothing was pure. I see Pujols, Votto, Gonzalez, and Cabrera (the main AL contender) as pure baseball players that embody what baseball is supposed to be about. 2010 has been an amazing year for baseball. We have seen no-hitters, perfect games, a perfect game that should have been, and a triple crown would be the icing on perhaps the most exciting baseball season I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
As soon as the game ended, I wanted to come on here and write everything that I was feeling. It would have been the most impulsive, scapegoating article you may have ever read. I tend to forget that the emotions following the end of the season (especially a bad end) come in waves.
postseason debut… the fact that he performed the way that he did as a rookie is astounding. Not to mention the fact that Daniel Bard got out of a bases loaded jam with no outs with minimal damage.
The thing about blogging is everyone reports on articles that other people have already written. I’ve slowly been realizing that, but Rockpile Rant had a blog a few days ago about it. The cool things about blogs though, is that you can incorporate your opinion into it any way you want. When I write these, it’s pretty much like I’m thinking aloud.
So for the other site that I write for on a weekly basis, MLB Center, as the Red Sox Correspondent, I finally finished the “rough draft” of the article: The Top 10 Red Sox Players of All Time. Not only is it the Top 10 of all Time, but there are some honorable mentions, and some “future stars” as well. I’m sure a lot of you already know some stories about most of these players, but if you have any personal stories (or opinions) that you’d like to share, I think that’d really add to the story. You will of course be quoted in the final story.
Boston Red Sox Players
Elizabeth Dreeson-Red Sox Corespondent
10. Joe Cronin
played for the Red Sox from 1935-1945 with a career .301 batting average, and
2,285 career hits, and the Red Sox retired his number 6. He was an All-Star
seven times, he batted .300 or higher and drove in 100 or more runs eight
times. He was also a manager and general manager for the Red Sox in the ’40’s.
In a memorable fight in 1938, he intercepted Jake Powell when he tried to
charge the mound after being hit in the stomach by Red Sox pitcher Archie
9. Tris Speaker
Speaker played for the Red Sox from 1907-1914 with a career average of .345.
Speaker got the starting center fielder job in 1909 and was part of the
“Million Dollar Outfield” in 1910 along with Duffy Lewis (LF) and Harry Hooper
(RF). Speaker’s best season was 1912, when Fenway Park opened and when the Sox
won the World Series for the second time. He had 222 hits that season and
scored 136 runs. He set a major league record when he had three batting streaks
of twenty or more games (30, 23, and 22).
8. Johnny Pesky
Fenway Park, the foul ball pole in right field is called “Pesky’s Pole”.
According to Pesky, pitcher Mel Parnell coined the nickname because of Pesky’s
legendary, controversial home run in 1948 over the fence near the pole; in
fact, it may have even hit the pole. That home run was one of only six home
runs Pesky ever hit at Fenway Park. He was the first American League player to
score six runs in a nine-inning game. He led the American League in base hits
three times. His career average was .307 and he has been a valuable member of
the Red Sox organization serving as a first base coach in the 70’s (including
the amazing 1975 World Series) and a batting coach to Jim Rice
Foxx played for the Red Sox from 1936-1942 with an astounding .325 career
batting average, 534 home runs, and 2,646 hits. He was nicknamed Double X and
The Beast, and he is the second youngest player of all time to reach 500 home
runs at only age 32, and he was the second player to reach that mark. He had a
spectacular 1938 season with the Sox hitting 50 home runs, driving in 175 runs,
batting .349, and winning his third MVP award. He served as the Red Sox team
captain as well.
6. Wade Boggs
played with the Red Sox from 1982-1992 with a career .328 batting average, and
3,010 hits. He played third base, and appeared in 12 consecutive All-Star
games. His best season was 1987 with a .363 batting average and 89 RBIs. He won
five batting titles throughout his career and batted .349 as a rookie. From
1982-1988 he hit below .349 only once, in 1984 when he batted .325. From
1983-1989 Boggs had 200 hits consecutively each year. He also had six seasons
200 or more hits, 100 or more home runs, and 40 or more doubles.
5. Bobby Doerr
Doerr spent his entire career with Boston; from 1937-1941. He batted .288 with
2,042 career hits. The Red Sox retired his number 1. He led American League
second basemen in double plays five times, he led in put outs and fielding
percentage four times each, and in assists three times. He has an amazing
career fielding percentage of .980. He set Red Sox records for career games
(1,865), at bats (7,093), hits (2,042), doubles (381), total bases (3,270), and
runs batted in. However, these were all later broken by arguably the best
hitter of all time, Ted Williams. Doerr hit for the cycle twice in his career,
and he set a second base record in 1948 by handling 414 chances over 73 games
without an error.
4. Cy Young
Young pitched with the Red Sox from 1901-1908 and is revered as one of the best
pitchers, if not the best pitcher, in the history of the game. He holds the all
time records for wins with 511, 7,355 innings pitched, 2,803 strikeouts, and
749 complete games. His career ERA is 2.38, and his lowest ERA of his career
was 1.26. He has 76 career shutouts, which is fourth all time, and he won at
least 30 games in a season five times, with ten other seasons with 20 or more
wins. He pitched three no hitters, and the first perfect game of baseball’s
“modern era”. He earned the AL Triple Crown for pitchers in his first year in
the American League. Baseball honored Cy Young by naming the award given
annually to the best pitcher of each league.
3. Carlton Fisk
Fisk played for the Red Sox from 1969-1980 as a catcher. He had a career
batting average of .269, and recorded 2,356 hits over his career. In 1972, his
first full year with the Red Sox, he won the AL Gold Glove at catcher, and the
AL Rookie of the Year award. He caught 2,226 career games, more than any other
catcher in history, and was an 11 time All-Star. The most memorable moment of
his career came in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series in the 12th
inning against the Cincinnati Reds. He hit a home run that appeared to be going
foul down the left field line so he started jumping and waving his hands,
willing the ball to be fair. The ball struck the foul ball pole, and the walk
off home run carried the Sox to Game 7. Another memorable Fisk moment was his
fight with Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees. On August 1, 1973 at Fenway
Park, the game was tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth. Thurman attempted to score
by barreling into Fisk, which triggered a ten-minute, bench clearing brawl, and
heightening the tension between the classic rivalry. The left field pole is
called the Fisk Foul Pole, in honor of the 1975 game. Ken Burns, who created a
beautiful series on the decades of baseball, considers that game to have
re-triggered interest in baseball.
2. Carl Yastrzemski
played for the Red Sox his entire career, 1961-1983, and was part of the
“Impossible Dream Team” of 1967. He played outfield primarily, and was known
for his ability to track down flies, but he also played first base and
designated hitter. He batted .285, with 3,419 hits, and 1,844 RBI’s. He also served as a Red Sox captain, and is
the last player in baseball to win the Triple Crown (1967). He was an 18 time
All-Star, a seven time Gold Glover, and was the first American League member of
the 3,000 hit club to hit 400 home runs. He shares the record with Brooks
Robinson of the Orioles for longest career with one team, 23 seasons.
Williams also known as the “Splendid Splinter” or “Teddy Ballgame” is arguably
the greatest hitter of all time. He also played his entire career in Boston,
from 1939-1960 in which he batted .344, batted in 1,839, collected 2,654 hits,
and hit 524 home runs. He played left field for the Red Sox, won the AL MVP
twice, lead the league in batting six times, and won the Triple Crown twice
(1942 and 1947). He is the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over
.400 in one season (.406 in 1941). In fact, his career year was 1941 where he
batted .406, hit 37 home runs, batted in 120 runs and scored 135 runs. He holds
the highest career batting average of anyone with more than 500 home runs. In
the 1946 All-Star game he went 4-4 with two home runs and five RBI’s. In his
last at-bat on September 23, 1960, he hit a home run. The Red Sox retired his
number 9. One of Teddy’s final and most memorable public appearances was at the
1999 All-Star game, when he was brought out to the mound in a golf cart.
“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out
of ten and be considered a good performer”.
Babe Ruth: Every
baseball fan knows the story about Babe Ruth. How in 1918 he was traded to the
New York Yankees for cash to fund the corrupt Red Sox owner’s Broadway show,
and after that year the Sox entered into an 86 year drought in which they came
agonizingly close to a World Series win several time, but never won it. This
became known as the Curse of the Bambino. Babe Ruth was both a pitcher and a
first baseman. He batted a career .342, held the record of 714 home runs for some
time (before it was broken by Hank Aaron) and had 2,873 career hits. As a
pitcher, he had a career 2.28 ERA, with 107 complete games out of only 163
games pitched. Even though he spent the majority of his career with the
Yankees, he is regarded as the greatest player of all time.
Jim Rice played for the Red Sox for his entire career, from 1974-1989, with a
career .298 batting average, 2,452 career hits, and 382 home runs. He was a
captain for the Red Sox, he topped 20 homers 11 times, 100 RBIs eight times,
was an All-Star eight times, hit .300 in seven seasons and he finished in the
top five in the AL MVP voting six times. Also, Rice hit 39-plus homers four
times. During this time most of his stats were leading in the AL. He’s been on
the top ten list in various categories numerous times. This past year he came
sixteen votes away from eternal enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and he’s on
the ballot for his fifteenth and final at-bat this year.
Tony Conigliaro: Nicknamed Tony C. he played from 1964-1975 with a career batting average
of .264. In his 1964 Rookie season batted .290 with 24 home runs, and in his
1965 he led the league in home runs with 32. On August 18, 1967, in a game
against the California Angels, he was hit by a pitch on his left cheekbone, and
knocked unconscious. He missed the rest of that season; however, in the next
season, he was named Comeback Player of the Year. He was forced to retire
earlier than expected because his eyesight had been permanently damanged.
Jim Lonborg: Jim Lonborg pitched with the Red Sox from 1965-1971. He had a career ERA
of 3.86 with 368 complete games of 425. In 1967, as a part of the Impossible
Dream Team, he led American League pitchers in wins, games started, and
Freddy Lynn: Fred Lynn played for the Red Sox from 1974-1979 as a centerfielder. He
batted .283 with 1,960 hits and 306 home runs. He had an amazing 1975 season in
which he won the Rookie of the Year award as well as the AL MVP award. He was
the first player ever to win both in one season. Lynn and Rice were dubbed as
the “Gold Dust Twins”. In 1975 Lynn also led the league in doubles, runs
scored, and slugging percentage, and finished second in batting average at
.331. On top of that he won a Gold Glove Award. When he was with the Red Sox,
he was elected to the All-Star team every year.
Mike Greenwell: Mike Greenwell played his entire career with the Red Sox, from
1985-1996. He batted .303 with 1,400 hits, and played left field. He was
nicknamed “The Gator” because he wrestled with alligators during the offseason.
In 1988, Greenwell hit .325 with 22 HR, and 119 RBIs, and finished second in
Dwight Evans: Dwight Evans spent his entire career with the Red Sox, from 1972-1991.
He played right field with a batting average of .272. However, Evans was mostly
known for his amazing fielding. He won eight gold gloves and his throwing arm
was among the best in baseball of his time. From 1980-1989, Evans hit more home
runs (256) than any other player in the American League.
Mo Vaughn: Mo
Vaughn also played his entire career with Boston, from 1991-2003. He batted
.293 with 328 home runs and 1,620 hits. He was nicknamed the “Hit Dog” and
played first base for the Red Sox, selected as an All-Star three times, and won
the AL MVP in 1995. In 1995 he established himself the reputation of one of the
most feared hitters in the AL when he hit 39 home runs with 126 RBIs and a .300
batting average. However, his best season with the Red Sox was 1996 when he
batted .326 with 44 home runs and 143 RBIs. From 1996-1998 Vaughn batted .315
or higher, and averaged 40 home runs and 118 RBIs.
Recent Honorable Mentions
Pedro Martinez: In 1999 Pedro finished with a 23-4 record with a 2.07 ERA and 313
strikeouts, which earned him the Pitchers Triple Crown, and the Cy Young Award.
Between August 1999 and April 2000, Martinez had ten consecutive starts with
ten strikeouts. In the 1999 All-Star Game, he became the first pitcher to
strike out the side at an All-Star game. In 2000, he posted a 1.74 ERA, and won
his third Cy Young Award. He finished his career with the Red Sox with a 117-37
record,the highest winning percentage a pitcher has ever had with one team.
Nomar Garciaparra: In 1997 “No-mah” was named Rookie of the Year when he hit 30 home runs
and rove in 98 (which set a new record for RBIs by a leadoff hitter). In 1999
Nomar batted .357, and in 2000 he batted .372. He is one of the few
right-handed batters to win consecutive batting titles. Everyone knows the
tragic ending to this story. We’re sorry Nomar.
Curt Schilling: Schilling was an integral part of the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory.
The most memorable game being Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS where Curt pitched
through seven laborious innings, and blood was visibly seeping into his sock.
He has 3,116 career strikeouts and a career 3.46 ERA.
Jason Varitek: Jason Varitek has played with the Red Sox since 1997, and has been their
starting catcher since 1999. Most importantly he’s been their captain since
2005. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and he has always
been an important part of the team, and in helping pitchers.
Manny Ramirez: Manny Ramirez had an amazing career with the Red Sox. He’s always had
the reputation of just “being Manny”. His career batting average is .314 and he
hit number 500 at the end of May 2008. He was an important part of both 2004
and 2007 Red Sox victories (he was the MVP in 2004).
David Ortiz: David Ortiz has been Boston’s “Big Papi” since he’s been with them. He
has a career batting average of .287. He also played a major role in leading
the Red Sox to their first World Series in 86 years. From 2003-2005, 20 of his
home runs were clutch–either tying or giving Boston the lead. He hit .400 in
the 2004 playoffs, and hit a memorable walk-off home run in Game 4 of the
ALCS–the definition of clutch. In 2006 he set a new Red Sox record by belting
54 home runs, three of which were walk off.
Dustin Pedroia: This small second baseman of the Boston Red Sox is in the process of
making a huge name for him. He has won the Rookie of the Year Award, a Gold
Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, the AL MVP, and has had a six year contract
extension all within two years.
There have only been four captains of the Red Sox since 1923: Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and now Jason Varitek. The hall of fame ballots are out yet again, and it is Jim Rice’s final at-bat on this ballot. Just a year ago, Rice came so close to enshrinement, missing only 16 votes! He received 72.2% of votes, and he needed 75%… talk about close! Jim Rice played his entire career with Boston (1974-1989) gave pitchers a sickening feeling when he came to the plate (along with other Red Sox stars like Yaz, Fisk, Lynn, Boggs, Evans, Armas during that era). The left-fielder’s career statistics speak for themselves: