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Trio vies for rare Triple Crown feat

Trio vies for rare Triple Crown feat

More than four decades A.Y. -- After Yaz -- and still no Triple Crown in the barn.

Could 2010 finally be the year? Well, at least there is the right number of early contenders: three.

As the years continue to mount since Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski registered baseball's 13th and last Triple Crown in 1967, a trio of viable candidates enters the second half of the 2010 season with a swing at history.

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For the moment at least, none of them is named Albert Pujols, who quietly made a run just last year at the precious -- and elusive -- three-pronged jewel for hitters.

Midterm Report 2010
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The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and the Rangers' Josh Hamilton both have situated themselves statistically within reach of the American League lead in all three categories traditionally celebrated as the Triple Crown: batting average, home runs and RBIs.

In the National League, it's the Reds' Joey Votto who's in the running in all three categories, having helped push his club ahead of Pujols' Cardinals in the NL Central to this point.

In the current era, the Triple Crown is a feat many would associate with Pujols, who epitomizes the complete hitter. Last year, he finished third in batting average (.327 to .342 by the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez) while leading in homers (47) and finishing third in RBIs (135).

Even one of this year's early candidates hears Triple Crown and thinks Pujols.

"The only guy I can see hit 40 home runs, hit .330 and drive in 130," Cabrera said earlier this season, "is Pujols. He's done it for a lot of years."

Triple Crown winners since 1900
Year Name Avg. HR RBI
1967 C. Yastrzemski (BOS) 326 44 121
1966 Frank Robinson (BAL) 316 49 122
1956 Mickey Mantle (NYY) 353 52 130
1947 Ted Williams (BOS) 343 32 114
1942 Ted Williams (BOS) 356 37 137
1937 Joe Medwick (STL) 374 31 154
1934 Lou Gehrig (NYY) 363 49 165
1933 Jimmie Foxx (PHI) 356 48 163
1933 Chuck Klein (PHI) 368 28 120
1925 Rogers Hornsby (STL) 403 39 143
1922 Rogers Hornsby (STL) 401 42 152
1909 Ty Cobb (DET) 377 9 107
1901 Nap Lajoie (PHI) 426 14 125

Yet it's Cabrera who's in position this year, and a good one given his own history of delivering in all facets of the hitting game. He's neck and neck with Hamilton in average with a Majors-leading .346 -- but with four others within 16 points -- and in homers with 22, two behind Toronto's Jose Bautista. Cabrera has the edge in RBIs, leading the Majors with 77, or 13 more than Hamilton in fourth place in the league.

They have about the same attitude about the Triple Crown at this point: Let's wait till September to really see where things stand.

"I think that's too soon," Cabrera said. "I don't think about that. It's going to be two more months. I want to focus on winning games. If it happens, it happens. You have to not put pressure on yourself. You have to be yourself and go out there and play every day hard."

Said Hamilton: "If I said it wouldn't be nice, obviously, I would be lying. If it happens, it happens. If not, I'll just settle for a strong year and a winning year. Those are the two things that are foremost on my mind."

It is heady stuff, to be sure. All 11 Triple Crown winners since 1901 are in the Hall of Fame, including twice-crowned Ted Williams and Honus Wagner. No Hank Aaron, no Babe Ruth, no Willie Mays. Stan Musial's not one of them, either, having lost what would have been the crucial homer to a rainout in 1948.

It takes a remarkable -- and full -- season to get there. In 1967, Yastrzemski hit .324 with 19 home runs and 56 RBIs in 79 games before the All-Star break, and went .329/25/65 afterward. The year before, Frank Robinson won the AL Triple Crown going .312/.321, 21/28 and 56/66.

So, clearly, the current candidates' work is far from complete. In fact, they really need to pick it up a notch.

Cabrera's past performance shows in remarkable similarity that he doesn't do much differently in either half of the season. Entering this season he had batted .311 before the break and .311 after it. He had 108 homers before, 101 after. And 364 RBIs before, 389 after.

Hamilton's a little harder to gauge. There was his breakout season in 2008, in which he hit 21 homers in the first half and 11 in the second, while driving in 95 runs in the first half and 35 in the second. Last year, Hamilton's first half was marred by injury, but he had a big August at the plate, batting .342 with 17 RBIs but just one home run. So, hard to tell what that all means for this year.

Besides, there's always the chance for a spoiler, and each league has an excellent candidate or two at this juncture. In the AL, Bautista leads in homers and is showing few signs of slowing down, and Martin Prado of the Braves is 11 points ahead of Votto, with four others in between.

Votto's candidacy is the most precarious of the three largely because of that stat -- his 1.011 on-base plus slugging percentage, tops in the NL and second only to Cabrera in the Majors -- can't help him there. While he's knotted at the top in homers with Adam Dunn at 22, he's also got a lot of traffic in the RBIs race, standing at 60 with leaders Corey Hart, Ryan Howard and David Wright, plus three others standing in his way. While the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez is also lurking in all three categories and Pujols is an average-boosting streak away from joining the fun, it's clearly a tough environment to become the first NL'er to win it since Joe Medwick in 1937.

Like the others, though, it's not really about chasing an elusive crown for Votto. It's about performing at a high level, hoping to help the team advance. It's about becoming the best hitter he can be, and that might just be enough.

"I'm just like everybody else. I want to succeed. I want to play well and be meaningful to the team," Votto said as he awaited an All-Star nod, eventually given in the Final Vote. "Good things come with that and they will."

Added Reds right fielder Jay Bruce: "It's getting hard to ignore him. He's arguably one of the top three hitters in the game."

And right now, he's among three who look like they could make a run at joining an even more exclusive club: Triple Crown winners.

chasing the crown
Players who have put up near-Triple Crown numbers since the award was last won, by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
American League
Year Player AVG HR RBI
2005 Alex Rodriguez .321 (2nd; .331) 48 (1st) 130 (4th; 148)
2001 Alex Rodriguez .318 (7th; .350) 52 (1st) 135 (3rd; 141)
2000 Carlos Delgado .344 (4th; .372) 41 (T-4th; 47) 137 (T-4th; 145)
1999 Manny Ramirez .337 (5th; .357) 44 (T-3rd; 48) 165 (1st)
1998 Albert Belle .328 (3rd; .339) 49 (2nd; 56) 152 (2nd; 157)
1994 Albert Belle .357 (2nd; .359) 36 (3rd; 40) 101 (T-3rd; 112)
1994 Frank Thomas .353 (3rd; .359) 38 (2nd; 40) 101 (T-3rd; 112)
1986 Don Mattingly .352 (2nd; .357) 31 (T-6th; 40) 113 (3rd; 121)
1982 Cecil Cooper .313 (5th; .332) 32 (T-5th; 39) 121 (2nd; 133)
1979 Fred Lynn .333 (1st) 39 (T-2nd; 45) 122 (4th; 139)
1979 Jim Rice .325 (4th; .333) 39 (T-2nd; 45) 130 (2nd; 139)
1978 Jim Rice .315 (3rd; .333) 46 (1st) 139 (1st)
National League
Year Player AVG HR RBI
2009 Albert Pujols .342 (2nd) 47 (1st) 135 (3rd)
2007 Matt Holliday .340 (1st) 36 (4th; 50) 137 (1st)
2006 Albert Pujols .331 (3rd; .344) 49 (2nd; 58) 137 (2nd; 149)
2003 Albert Pujols .359 (1st) 43 (4th; 47) 124 (4th; 141)
2002 Barry Bonds .370 (1st) 46 (2nd; 49) 110 (6th; 128)
2000 Todd Helton .372 (1st) 42 (7th; 50) 147 (1st)
1997 Larry Walker .366 (2nd; .372) 49 (1st) 130 (3rd; 140)
1995 Dante Bichette .340 (3rd; .368) 40 (1st) 128 (1st)
1994 Jeff Bagwell .368 (2nd; .394) 39 (2nd; 43) 116 (1st)
1992 Gary Sheffield .330 (1st) 33 (3rd; 35) 100 (5th; 109)
1983 Dale Murphy .302 (6th; .323) 36 (2nd; 40) 121 (1st)
1981 Mike Schmidt .316 (4th; .341) 31 (1st) 91 (1st)
1978 Dave Parker .334 (1st) 30 (3rd; 40) 117 (2nd; 120)
1977 George Foster .320 (4th; .338) 52 (1st) 149 (1st)
1972 Billy Williams .333 37 (3rd; 40) 122 (2nd; 125)
1969 Willie McCovey .320 (5th; .348) 45 (1st) 126 (1st)

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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