With Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers poised to make a serious run at the 2012 Triple Crown, I am reminded that no one since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 has managed the feat -- though many have come close.
Here are five great attempts at baseball's most elusive carrot (ordered by decade, not effort):
Willie McCovey, NL, San Francisco Giants, 1969: .320 BA (fifth), 45 HR (first), 126 RBIs (first)
In the two years following the 1967 season (which saw Yaz hit .326, 44 HR, 121 RBIs and the Triple Crown), "Stretch" led the NL in both home runs and runs batted in. In 1969, he got the average north of .300, but his .320 was outpaced by Pete Rose and his .344 BA.
Dick Allen, AL, Chicago White Sox, 1972: .308 BA (third), 37 HR (first), 113 RBIs (first)
The 1970s produced memorable challengers to the indefatigable Triple Crown, including George Foster in 1977 and Jim Rice in 1978. None, however, came as close as Dick Allen's 1972 MVP season. His 37 donuts and 113 RBIs paced the Junior Circuit, and his .308 average fell a mere 10 points below league-leader Rod Carew. Incidentally, Allen's average tied teammate Carlos May as the White Sox challenged for the AL West, finishing second to the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics.
Mike Schmidt, NL, Philadelphia Phillies, 1981: .316 BA (fourth), 33 HR (first), 91 RBIs (first)
Four times Mike Schmidt led the league in both HR and RBIs. His 1981 season, however, was the closest the Hall of Fame third baseman ever came to the Triple Crown. A perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, it's easy to forget that the strike-shortened 1981 season was the only .300 average of his career. Despite the stench of destiny in the air, Schmidt would finish fourth in average behind Dusty Baker (.320), Pete Rose (.325), and MLB leader Bill Madlock (.341).
Larry Walker, NL, Colorado Rockies, 1997: .366 BA (second), 49 HR (first), 130 RBIs (third)
Larry Walker's 1997 was simply obscene. Before we can speak of it, however, we must dispel of the notion that he challenged simply due to the Coors Field advantage. Walker hit nearly two-thirds of his home runs (29 of 49) and knocked in nearly half of his RBIs (62 of 130) less than a mile high. Any given year, .366 would be a shoo-in to lead the league, but 1997 saw Tony Gwynn hit .372 and capture the last of his eight batting titles. Similarly bittersweet, Walker's RBI total was a meager 10 shy of teammate Andres Galarraga's output.
Albert Pujols, NL, St. Louis Cardinals, 2009: .327 BA (third), 47 HR (first), 135 RBIs (third)
"Prince Albert" is no stranger to Triple Crown races. His MVP runner-up 2003 season was equally impressive (.359, 43 HR, 124 RBIs). In 2009, Pujols led the league with 47 home runs but finished third in both average (behind Pablo Sandoval at .330 and Hanley Ramirez at .342) and RBIs (behind co-leaders Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder at 141). Like many Triple Crown also-rans, Pujols had to settle for an All-Star berth, Silver Slugger Award, and MVP season.
All stats courtesy of www.baseball-reference.com.
The author is a lifelong baseball fan living in the heart of Detroit Tigers country -- his allegiance to the Minnesota Twins has been at thorn-in-his-side for the better part of fifteen years.
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