August 02, 2011
Lou Gehrig holds the American League record for most RBI during a single season, driving in 184 runs for the New York Yankees in 1931.
The record books say that Hank Greenberg officially compiled 183 RBI for the Tigers in 1937. But a man named Herm Krabbenhoft believes his research proves that Greenberg should have one more RBI added to that season total.
With just one RBI separating Gehrig and Greenberg, Krabbenhoft and fellow SABR member Trent McCotter thought it was worth reviewing old box scores and newspaper game stories to see if the official records got it right.
McCotter found some mistakes in how Gehrig's 1931 RBI were counted, but felt they ultimately canceled each other out, making the total of 184 correct. However, Krabbenhoft found a discrepancy from one game in 1937 that wrongly cost Greenberg one RBI.
The game in question is the second half of a doubleheader played against the Philadelphia Athletics on June 20. The official box score — which you can view here — credited Greenberg with zero RBI. But Krabbenhoft thinks that Greenberg should've been given a RBI when pinch-runner Flea Clifton scored on Greenberg's grounder and a wild throw to second base by the Philadelphia shortstop.
Up for debate, however, is whether Clifton was on second or third base before he scored. None of the game stories or box scores say for certain. But if Clifton was on third base, Greenberg should've been given a RBI. Krabbenhoft strongly believes Greenberg was robbed.
"There is no question he was on third," Krabbenhoft said. "There was nobody out when Clifton entered the game (at first) as a pinch-runner for Billy Rogell. On second base was Pete Fox. The next batter was Charlie Gehringer, a left-handed batter. He singled, and his single knocked in Fox.
"So Pete Fox advanced two bases on the single. There is no question in my mind that Clifton also advanced two bases on Gehringer's single, going from first to third."
Krabbenhoft feels that Clifton had to have been on third because he was known as a fast runner not afraid to be aggressive on the bases.
But he also has some more solid evidence to make his point. Independent box scores from the AP and Philadelphia Inquirer both gave Greenburg one RBI for the game.
Krabbenhoft took his case to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's official record-keeper. Despite the compelling evidence, he believes Elias is dragging its feet on correcting the record because of Gehrig's iconic status in the sport.
Not so, says Elias' executive vice president Steve Hirdt.
"Herm's evidence by some of the newspapers, while it suggests an error might have been made, and it looks like something may be fishy there, the key play involves a case where there was a runner on base and Greenberg hit a ground ball and at the end of the play someone had made an error and the run scored. However, I've not seen a play-by-play that indicates if the runner started the play on third base or second base."
There is precedent for going back and changing the official records. Hack Wilson saw his all-time record of 190 RBI pushed up to 191 after research found that a box score incorrectly gave one of Wilson's RBI to the wrong player.
So who has that play-by-play from June 20, 1937? Where might such a record be hiding? Is there any way Elias can employ Benjamin Franklin Gates from "National Treasure" to find the document? What are the chances Nicolas Cage is a member of SABR?
Until then, it appears as if Krabbenhoft still has some work to do.
Big BLS H/N: SB Nation Detroit