Blue and yellow are the order of the day today! Get your colors on or someone will “Poke your eye, pull your hair, you forgot what clothes to wear!” While 30 Rock is not the show it used to be, the Leap Day episode certainly was a funny one.
Leap Day got me thinking, what major league ballplayers were born on Leap Day? There are eleven: Terrence Long, Bill Long, Jerry Fry, Al Autry, Steve Mingori, Al Rosen, Pepper Martin, Ralph Miller, Roy Parker, Ed Appleton and Dickey Pearce.
The most famous of these is Al Rosen, former Indians slugger, Yankee president and chief operating officer from 1978-1979, Astros president and general manager from 1980-1985, and Giants president and general manager from 1985-1989. Now the interesting thing about Rosen is that he nearly won the Triple Crown in 1953. He led the league with 43 HRs and 145 RBIs, but he finished second to Mickey Vernon in batting average – .337 to .336. Rosen nearly beat out an infield hit in his last at bat of the season but missed the bag and was called out. If he had managed to get this one hit, he would have won the Triple Crown for 1953. This got me thinking about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown.
In 2010, Joe Sheehan wrote an article for SI about this. That year, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez were vying for the Triple Crown. It ended up that none of them managed the feat. We all know that the last two players to win the Triple Crown were Frank Robinson in 1966 and Yaz in 1967. Both managed the feat when there were only 10 teams in their league. Today there are 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL – a huge increase in the number of players able to compete for each individual stat category. Despite the increased competition, it seems that every year someone comes close.
In 2011 it was Matt Kemp who nearly pulled it off. He led the NL with 39 HRs and 126 RBI, but his .324 batting average was third to Jose Reyes .337. In 2010 Pujols led the NL with 42 HRs and 118 RBIs, but finished 6th in batting average. In 2009, Pujols came close again leading the league with 47 HRs, second in RBI with 135, and 3rd in batting average at .327. In 2007, Matt Holiday led the NL in batting average at .340 and RBIs with 137 but his 36 HRs was a distant fourth to Prince Fielders 50.
In the AL, it has not been nearly that close. In 2005 ARod led in HRs with 48, was third in RBIs and second in batting average. And there were years when a player won two categories but was not very close in the third – in 2006, David Ortiz led in HR and RBI but was not close to Joe Mauer’s .347 batting average, in 2007 ARod led in HR and RBIs but was not even in the top 10 in batting average, in 2009 Mark Teixeira led in RBI with 122, tied for the HR title with 39, but was nowhere near Joe Mauer’s .365 batting average.
Now, that got me thinking a bit more. Perhaps players, like most everyone else these days, have changed their focus from batting average to on base percentage. What effect would that have on the Triple Crown if we change the Triple Crown criteria from batting average to OBP for players in the post expansion era?
Well, yes, indeed more names would be on the list. Frank Robinson in 1966 and Yaz in 1967 would have still won. But, in 1969, both Harmon Killebrew with 49 HR, 140 RBIs and a .427 OBP and Willie McCovey with 45 HR, 126 RBI and a .453 OBP would have won our new fangled Triple Crown. Barry Bonds would have won it in 1993 with 46 HRs, 123 RBIs and a .458 OBP. Our new Triple Crown adds three more names to the list. But, alas, Al Rosen would still not be a Triple Crown winner – he lost in OBP by .007 points. That one ground out to end his season would not have been the difference.
Can you smell it though? A change is in the wind!
While the Triple Crown would still be a difficult task, it seems more attainable if we change the criteria from batting average to OBP. Wille McCovey, Harmon Killebrew and Barry Bonds vote yes. I say we do it.
As Arlo Guthrie sings in Alice’s Restaurant (well kinda might sing this):
there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in and say “Shrink, you should use OBP over batting average for the triple crown.” And walk out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t agree to change the triple crown criteria. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t listen to either of them. And if three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in and arguing for OBP over batting average and walking out? They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in and arguing for OBP over batting average and walking out? Friends, they may thinks it’s a movement.