The Musial Triple Crown

March 22, 2013
 
One of the formative baseball cards of my youth was the #5 card from the 1986 Topps set of “Major League Leaders.” This was a strange set: the cards were smaller than ordinary cards (about 2’ x 3’). On the front of each card was a ‘high gloss’ photograph surrounded by white and the player’s name….it’s very minimalist without being at all aesthetically interesting. The back showed the player’s batting line from the previous season, and the category in which they were a ‘Major League Leader.’
 
#5 was Dwight Evans….here’s what the back of the card says:
 
*     Runs      #4     110
 
Dwight Ranked #1 in Bases on Balls with 114, #7(tie) in GW-RBI with 13, #8 in On-Base Pct. with .378 and #9(tie) in Home Runs with 29.
 
This card played a rather significant role in shaping how I came to understanding of baseball. As Evans was my favorite player, I looked for any evidence that he was a great player.
 
Evans excelled in categories that were only listed in the Sunday sports section of the Boston Globe: he scored a lot of runs, hit a lot of doubles, drew walks, and typically had an excellent on-base percentage. Since Evans excelled in these ‘lesser’ categories, I gave them considerable weight over flashier stats like batting average, stolen bases, and home runs. 
 
I had the idea – this was yesterday, mind you – that it’d be interesting to have some sort of alternative Triple Crown for these lesser categories.
 
The real Triple Crown is something of a genius invention….maybe it doesn’t always identify the best player in baseball, but the three categories that it considers are an almost perfect blend of statistics. You have:
 
-Batting Average: A rate stat that measures a player’s tendency to do something good.
-RBI: A counting stat that connects a player’s hitting with the work of his teammates.
-Home Runs: An exciting event that gets people cheering in the stands. 
 
It’s a great balance: the inventors of the Triple Crown picked three categories that speak to different aspects of hitting. Stat geeks like me have tended to disparage the Triple Crown recently, but it’s a really beautiful idea. Whoever came up with the idea could’ve screwed it up. They absolutely didn’t.
 
That said, I’d like to propose an alternative Triple Crown. In deference to the genius of the original, I thought that a parallel Triple Crown should consider the following categories:
 
                -On-Base Percentage: A rate stat that measures a player's tendency to do something good.
                -Runs Scored: A counting stat that connects a player's hitting with the work of his teammates.
                -Doubles: An exciting event that gets people cheering.  
 
These stats parallel the stats in the original Triple Crown: you have a rate stat, a team-reliant stat, and a get-the-crowd-cheering stat. This might be a Fenway thing, but I really love doubles; they’re as exciting to see as homers. Clank off the wall, watch it bounce around.  
 
Anyway, I thought of these categories last night, and I immediately went to find out if anyone has ever won this alternative Triple Crown. I half expected that no one would’ve won it. This would've made for a terrible article.
 
Fortunately, a few players have won this Alternative Triple Crown. We’ll count ‘em down.
 
 
*              *              *
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1873 (NA)
Ross Barnes
Boston Red Stockings
0.465
31
125
1886 (NL)
Ross Barnes
Chicago Cubs
0.462
21
126
 
Ross Barnes, a master of the ‘fair-foul’ hit, was perhaps the best player in the National Association, and carried over his dominance during his first year in the NL. A long fever in 1887 sapped him of strength, and essentially ended his career at twenty-seven.
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1887 (NL)
Dan Brouthers
Detroit Wolverines
0.426
36
153
 
Dan Brouthers was a big power hitting first-baseman, the original version of Boog Powell or Mo Vaughn or Jim Thome.
 
Once, while playing semi-pro ball, Brouthers was involved in a collision at home plate where the catcher was knocked unconscious and later died. A thorough account of this incident appears in the book “Death at the Ballpark”: if you are squeamish, I recommend you turn away. The catcher, a nineteen year old player named John Quigley, remained conscious, but it became rather evident that the collusion had broken bones of his skull, knocking them in. Emergency surgery was performed, which Quigley remained conscious and talking throughout. Quigley lived (the word used in the book is ‘lingered’) for more than a month and Brouthers visited frequently; when Quigley died Brouthers considered quitting baseball for good.
 
Brouthers was an all-time great. WAR, which does not make a timeline adjustment for the improved level of play, credits Brouthers as having the same approximate value as Jeff Bagwell. SABR rated him as the sixth best player of the 19th century.
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1901 (AL)
Nap Lajoie
Philadelphia Athletics
.463
48
145
 
This was Nap’s first year in the American League, a fact that he shares with every other player who played in the Junior Circuit that year. His signing with the American League, along with the court case that passed a judgment that favored the Athletics, is a significant reason the AL lasted: you can essentially blame Nap Lajoie for the existence of DH.
 
Ross Barnes lived to be 64, which is impressive for the era. Dan Brouthers lived to be 74. Napoleon Lajoie lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four…notice a trend?
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1918 (NL)
Heinie Groh
Cincinnati Reds
.395
28
86
 
This website has some photographs of Heinie Groh’s ‘bottle-bat’…it’s really worth checking out. Groh was prototypical leadoff hitter: a small guy who stood at the top of the box, bunted frequently, drew walks, and made excellent contact.
 
Talking about lopsided trades….Groh came up with the New York Giants, but was traded to the Reds after two games of the 1912 season for a pitcher named Art Fromme. Fromme lasted two half-seasons for the Giants, not pitching exceptionally well. Groh played nine years for Cincy, hitting about .300 and posting an average WAR of 4.3. Groh was traded back to the Giants after a salary dispute and hit .474 during the 1922 World Series.
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1921 (NL)
Rogers Hornsby
St. Louis Cardinals
.458
44
131
1922 (NL)
Rogers Hornsby
St. Louis Cardinals
.459
46
141
 
Hornsby won consecutive alternative Triple Crowns, the second coming in his first real Triple Crown season. From what I understand, he’ll finally be elected to the Hall of Fame this summer. About time, really.
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1948 (NL)
Stan Musial
St. Louis Cardinals
.450
46
135
1949 (AL)
Ted Williams
Boston Red Sox
.490
39
150
 
Like Hornsby, Ted and Stan had many seasons where they won two legs of the (Alternate) Triple Crown, and came within a hair of winning it. I always think of these players in tandem.
 
Continuing on a morbid track: all of the Alternative Triple Crown winners lived very long lives, when compared to life expectancy at birth:
 
Name
Year Born
Age of Death
Avg Life Expectancy
Ross Barnes 
1850
64
38.3
Dan Brouthers
1858
74
38.3*
Nap Lajoie
1874
84
41.1*
Heinie Groh
1889
84
42.5
Rogers Hornsby
1896
66
45.3
Ted Williams
1918
83
36.6
Stan Musial
1920
92
53.6
 
The interesting count is Musial and Williams: Williams was born at the dawn of the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed off somewhere between 1 and 3% of the world population (and Ms. Lavinia Swire, which got Matthew off the hook so he could marry Lady Mary). If you somehow survived the pandemic, you had World War II to look forward to after high school. 1918: maybe the worst birth year ever.
 
The average of the life expectancy of these players was 42.2; they’re average life was 78 years long….almost twice what you’d expect.
 
This is a misreading of the data, of course: Musial and Williams won their Alternative Triple Crowns after the end of WWII, a moment when their life expectancy would have drastically increased. Ross Barnes and Dan Brouthers survived infancy when that was drastically more touch-and-go than it is now. Just getting to one-year old, or five-years old, spiked their rates up.
 
Still….these guys lived long lives; only Hornsby would’ve been perceived as not-too-old. It’s interesting….the next player to win the Alternative Triple Crown might see two hundred.
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1962 (NL)
Frank Robinson
Cincinnati Reds
0.421
51
134
 
Frank Robinson missed a second Alternative Triple Crown by five doubles in 1966.
 
Robinson must have the least Black Ink of any great player. Black ink is when you lead the league in an important category: Robinson led his league in runs scored three times, doubles, HR, RBI, and batting average once….and that’s it. The rest of his Black Ink comes in rate categories like on-base percentage and OPS+, and Hit-By-Pitches and Intentional Walks.
 
Another way to put that: Robinson has just seven Black Ink marks that would show up on the back of a Topps baseball card.
 
The five ‘modern’ Alternative Triple Crowns won in the NL have all gone to Cardinals or Reds…
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1989 (AL)
Wade Boggs
Boston Red Sox
0.43
51
113
 
This was, incredibly, a slump year for Boggs: he hit just .330 after four consecutive batting titles where he hit .368, .357, .363, and .366. I’m going to reserve commenting on Boggs for another article. Which brings us to our last Alternative Triple Crown winner…
 
 
Year
Name
Team
OBP
2B
Runs
1995 (AL)
Edgar Martinez
Seattle Mariners
.479
52
121
 
Perhaps the most surprising player on the list, Edgar tied Albert Belle in runs scored and doubles, and finished third in the AL MVP race behind Mo Vaughn and Belle, in one of the closest MVP races in history. More proof that Edgar was an extremely great hitter.  
 
 In an unrelated note, this was the year Dante Bichette finished second in the NL MVP vote, on the back of a monster .340-40-128 season. Bichette’s WAR for that year? 1.0, according to baseball reference. Barry Bonds (12th in the vote) out-walked Bichette 120 to 22…
 
 
*              *              *
 
Why am I calling this the Stan Musial Triple Crown, instead of the Hornsby Triple Crown? Is it because I have something against the Cardinals? Or again weirdly pluralized names? Certainly, that’s a part of it.
 
There’s a case for Hornsby, who is the only player to win it twice in one of the two ‘major’ major leagues. There is also a case for calling it the Ted Williams Triple Crown, as Ted actually won more legs of the Alternative Triple Crown anyone else:
 
Name
Times Leading a Category
Ted Williams
20
Rogers Hornsby
18
Stan Musial
18
Babe Ruth
18
 
But Williams really dominated one category: he led the league in on-base percentage a staggering twelve times, but he only led in doubles twice. The same is true for Ruth: he led in on-base percentage ten times and runs scored eight times, but never led the league in doubles.
 
The Alternative Triple Crown should be named for the player who rates the best across the three categories. That player is Musial, by a hair over Hornsby:
 
Name
Runs
Doubles
OBP
Adjusted Score
Musial
5
7
6
34
Hornsby
5
4
9
31
T. Williams
6
2
12
30
Ruth
8
0
10
26
Cobb
5
3
6
25
Wagner
2
7
4
21
Gehrig
4
2
5
19
Rose
4
5
2
19
Boggs
2
2
6
16
Bonds
1
0
10
12
Mantle
5
0
3
11
F. Robinson
3
1
2
10
Pujols
5
1
1
10
Aaron
3
4
0
10
Mays
2
0
2
6
Morgan
1
0
4
6
 
The Adjusted Score follows a simple equation:
 
Best Category + (2*2nd Best Category) + (3 * 3rd Best Category).
 
Putting it another way: if Musial had aligned his league-leading seasons perfectly, he’d win five Alternative Triple Crowns. Hornsby would win four. Cobb would win three. Williams, Wagner, Gehrig, Rose, and Boggs would win two. I’m sure I’ve missed someone.
 
So we’re naming it after Stan Musial: lead the league in doubles, runs scored, and on-base percentage, and you win the Musial Triple Crown.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 

COMMENTS (13 Comments, most recent shown first)

hankgillette
If you made it runs, home runs, and OBP, then you could call it the Babe Ruth Triple Crown. 8 + 12 + 10 for an adjusted score of 56.
7:20 PM Mar 25th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks, Tom.

I thought about doing doubles + triples, but it was easier to put together a spreadsheet with just the doubles leaders. If I was better on Excel I might've gone that route.

Triples might've given Cobb and Wagner a few MTC...and perhaps Willie Mays.

It'd still be called the Musial Triple Crown....Stan led the league in three-baggers five times. Hornsby led twice.
2:11 PM Mar 25th
 
tangotiger
Dave: nice job.

Personally, I always combine 2B+3B into one category. If you rework on that basis, do you get any changes?
8:21 AM Mar 25th
 
DaveFleming
It was a bit tongue-and-cheek, Peter....the Hall is having some special ceremony for Gehrig and Hornsby this summer, to make up for their inability to find anyone worth electing on the 2013 ballot....

Forgot about Yaz...I checked on him, but forgot to throw him on the table. A lot of Red Sox players will do well in the three catagories, because Fenway is such a great doubles/high offense park.

Another interesting tidbit...Pete Rose and Keith Hernandez essentially split up the Musial TC in 1979/1980...they were the leaders in all six catagories, but neither one won the thing.
2:22 PM Mar 24th
 
DavidTodd
I notice that Carl Yastrzemski has led the league in all 3 Stan Musial categories, never 3 in one year, 4 times he led in 2.
Ten times altogether, runs twice, doubles 3 times, and OBP 5 times.
12:52 PM Mar 24th
 
peterpuleo
"Hornsby won consecutive alternative Triple Crowns... From what I understand, he’ll finally be elected to the Hall of Fame this summer. About time, really."
Are you confusing him with someone else? He was elected to the Hall in 1942.
9:38 AM Mar 24th
 
KaiserD2
Yes, this was a lot of fun. But I'd like to go back to first principles for a moment and ask, how revealing is this stat? Let's compare it to the classic Triple Crown.

Is OBP more important than BA? Obviously, yes. A lot more important.

Are doubles more important than home runs? Obviously NOT, certainly not since 1920.

Are runs more important than RBI? This is the toughest one. I have not seen anyone try to work this out, but I think they might be. Runs correlate with OBP. RBI are more likely to correlate with slugging. It has been shown that OBP is more important, point per point, than slugging. So yes, a player who scores more runs might be more valuable than a player who drives in more runs. Both in any case depend massively on factors outside the player's control, which is why we need stats like runs created, win shares, and WARP to measure independently the value of a player.

Thanks enough.


9:38 AM Mar 24th
 
DFleitz
Dave - Ross Barnes' first NL season was 1876, not 1886, and his illness happened in 1877, not 1887.
8:43 PM Mar 23rd
 
DaveFleming
Fixed those dates...I'm not sure how I got Musial and Williams' birth years mixed up.
1:44 PM Mar 23rd
 
Robinsong
I enjoyed this. It is interesting that Williams won the Musial Triple Crown on different years than he won the other TC (as did Robinson), while Hornsby (22) and Lajoie (01) had years where they swept both (Hexagonal Crowns?), though Musial came close in 48. Williams in 49 and Hornsby in 22 were the only players to have black ink in 12 different hitting categories on the main list in bb-ref, beating out Lajoie and all-time leaders Ruth and Cobb.
By the way, in addition to flipping Musial and William in life expectancy tables, you had a couple of wrong years for Ross Barnes. He won his second MTC in 1876 and had his heath prolblems 1 year later.
11:58 AM Mar 23rd
 
sprox
Quick bar bet

Who has led his league in doubles more?

The combination of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willy Mays and Mickey Mantle?

Or Vernon Wells?

Care to bet a drink?
10:59 AM Mar 23rd
 
tigerlily
Thanks Dave. I think you've got the age of death for Stan & Ted backwards in the life expectancy table.​
10:34 AM Mar 23rd
 
Sinark
In 1948 Musial not only won your "alternative Triple Crown" but also led the league in triples, batting average, slugging pct, RBI and total bases. He missed leading in HRs by one. Finishing with 39 behind Mize and Kiner who each had 40. An incredible season.
6:06 AM Mar 23rd
 
 
©2019 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy