Around the Cage: The Triple Crown

Around the Cage: The Triple Crown

It's a term that horse racing and baseball have shared for a lifetime, and while other sports and cultural events have co-opted it for years as well, it's really all about the ponies and the pastime -- and greatness.

It's the Triple Crown.

Ironically, those two words that have grown from horse racing and baseball to America's lexicon are as rare as can be in both the sports that hold it as such a high honor. Decades have passed since either one has been fulfilled, although it's safe to say the horses tend to tease a little more often (see: Big Brown, 2008).

The last baseball Triple Crown was before Woodstock -- in 1967, with Carl Yastrzemski becoming the 13th player overall and ninth in the American League to lead his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. It wasn't quite that long ago for horse racing, but it was before disco was dead the first time -- in 1978, when Affirmed made it back-to-back Triple Crown winners and three in the '70s as the 11th horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

The history is strikingly similar, and almost equally elusive. But what about the future?

With Mine That Bird going for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, reporters mined their sources to ask the question: Which of the two Triple Crowns is more likely to be claimed again first?

It's enough to blow a third-base coach's mind.

"I don't know," said Giants coach Tim Flannery. "There's so much talent involved. There's so much luck involved. There's so much destiny involved."

Indeed. But for the vast majority of the folks around baseball queried, horse racing was a winner by Secretariat-esque margin. To most, achieving the Triple Crown in baseball is a Ruthian feat -- and even Babe Ruth couldn't do it. But some with some horse sense said it'll be baseball that wears the three crowns first.

Then again, some pondered other thoughts.

"The real question is, can Albert [Pujols] win the Triple Crown in horse racing? That's the question," said Cardinals broadcaster Rick Horton.

While Sir Albert has been known to carry a team on his back, let's stick with the four-legged athletes carrying jockeys on their backs vs. the two-legged ones carrying big sticks in their hands, and see which one people think will make the Triple Crown a reality first.

Here's a rundown from Around the Cage:

They Said It ...

Nate Robertson, LHP, Tigers: It's a tough one, but I'd say the horse. Because I think that if you can keep him healthy for three races, if you've got a runner, you've got a runner. But baseball, there's too many more variables. You're talking about a full season, where a guy's got to play 162 games. First, he's got to be doing well, then he has to stay healthy. And then he's got a heck of a lot bigger field to compete against. So I would say definitely the Triple Crown horse is more likely.

Todd Wellemeyer, RHP, Cardinals (and a Louisville native): "I would say it will happen first in baseball. I think horse racing just seems to be a little different now. The Belmont favorite might not run the Kentucky Derby because there are so many horses. Baseball is more consistent. The same guys play year after year. It's like they don't care about the Triple Crown anymore (in horse racing). They care more about their horses placing high in decent races like the Oaks and then being the favorite in the Belmont."

Derek Shelton, hitting coach, Indians: Horse racing. No. 1, I don't know a thing about horse racing. But I think the Triple Crown in baseball is so hard, because the guys who are going to win the batting title are the guys who can leg out base hits, and they usually don't lead in home runs and RBIs.

Scott Downs, LHP, Blue Jays: "I would say a baseball player winning the Triple Crown because with horses just a small injury can knock them out for the next few races -- they all run three races to win it -- but with baseball players they've got a whole season to accomplish that."

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees: "Absolutely the horses. There's three races, and let's say a total of 50 to 60 horses run. There's how many players -- 25 times 30 -- 750? So I'm saying there's a more likely possibility of a horse winning the Triple Crown. You never want to say never, but just like Joe D's record of a 56-game hitting streak, that will never be broken in my mind. I definitely think it will be more likely that a horse wins three races."

Ron Roenicke, bench coach, Angels: "I would say horse racing. It's so difficult to do that in our game. Pujols could win it. Alex Rodriguez could probably win it. But when you think about guys who hit for a high average and also hit for power, there aren't that many. Todd Helton could have done it a few years ago. It's funny about horse racing. You see a horse win one of the big ones by a large margin, then it's not even close in the next one. I do have a connection to horse racing. My mother went to school with Billy Shoemaker -- Covina High School."

Jeremy Affeldt, LHP, Giants: "A hitter can make decisions -- I'm going to hit that ball or I'm not going to hit that ball. I'm going to drive this ball or I'm not going to drive this ball. With a horse, sometimes it's not even up to the rider, it's up to the horse whether he decides to run that day or not. He can't talk to you. He can't tell you he doesn't feel good. So it's more unpredictable when it comes to a horse race. My wife rides quarterhorses and sometimes she can't make the horse turn. It wants to be stubborn that day because it just is."

Rick Adair, pitching coach, Mariners: "Horse racing. I just think there are too many variables in baseball. That is just off the top of my head, but if you get a special horse, it could happen. I thought it was going to happen last year. There are too many different pitchers, Interleague Play, all that kind of stuff goes into consideration and I think with everything considered, I just think we would see it happen in horseracing before it happens in baseball."

Andy Sonnanstine, RHP, Rays: "Let's look at it this way, a horse has to win three races against a field of 10 to 20 horses? And he's competing against a lot of the same horses in each race. And a baseball player is competing against substantially more players. I'd say the Triple Crown is baseball is harder. Hitting a round ball with a round bat is the hardest thing to do in sports."

Steve Stewart, broadcaster, Royals: "I'm going to say the horse. For one thing it's happened more recently. ... There are fewer participants, it's over a shorter period of time so if a horse is hot over a five-week period, it could be done more easily. Even though we're talking about different species, it's easier for an athlete to be hot over five weeks than to be that hot over six months."

Craig Counsell, INF, Brewers: "They both have probably been done the same amount of times, I think, but I think the baseball one nowadays seems to be harder. If you're that good a hitter, people don't pitch to you as much any more. It's hard to dominate all of the categories. Horses seem to get closer to doing it. It's an endurance test for horses, really. Three races in five weeks and the last race is really long."

Ryan Church, OF, Mets: "It's got to be baseball [that's harder]. A lot of things have to go right. All the horse has to do is run three times. In baseball, you've got to show up day in, day out, hit homers, hit for average, drive in runs, and there's a boatload of guys that are pretty equally talented doing it. ... A horse doesn't have to hit a curveball."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. Several reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.