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The Triple Crown Thing

May 3, 2022
                                              The Triple Crown "Thing"


            I would be interested to know what any of you know about the history of the Triple Crown in baseball. 

            I had a question in "Hey, Bill" asking why Ted Williams did not win the MVP Award after he won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1946.   When you think about it, this question implies not merely that Williams had led the league in Home Runs, RBI and batting Average, but also that

(a)  There was a recognition that this had happened, and

(b)  There was an importance attached to it.

But is that true?  I really don’t think that it is.  Was "winning the triple crown" even a "thing" in 1942?   Did everybody KNOW that Williams had "won the Triple Crown?"   Did anybody know?  Did anybody care?  In the MVP debates in the newspapers, did anybody reference the fact that Williams had won some sort of "Triple Crown?"

It is my impression that the concept of a baseball Triple Crown was more or less invented by the New York press in 1956 in order to add luster to Mickey Mantle’s 1956 season.  I could be wrong about this; that’s why I am asking for your input.  I don’t doubt that somebody somewhere had said, before 1956, that leading the league in Home Runs, RBI and Batting Average constituted a "Triple Crown"; I am sure they must have.   That’s not what I am asking.  I am asking whether it was a generally accepted, generally understood "thing"?   Was it part of the normal vocabulary of a baseball fan?

I THINK—my impression is that the "Triple Crown" concept entered the sports world from thoroughbred racing, and in the 1940s.  Horses won the Triple Crown in 1941, 1943, 1946 and 1948, and I know from my memory that this had become a big thing.  Every sports fan my age knew that Citation, 1948, was the last Triple Crown winner until Secretariat in 1973, because that was in the newspapers and on TV regularly.   My IMPRESSION—which, as I say, could be wrong—is that after this became a "thing" in horse racing, and probably after it had some low-level, here-and-there references in baseball, then the New York writers picked it up and screamed "TRIPLE CROWN! TRIPLE CROWN! TRIPLE CROWN!" about Mickey Mantle in order to lionize his outstanding 1956 season. 

In 1953 Al Rosen just missed the American League Triple Crown, leading the league in Home Runs (43) and RBI (145), while just missing the league lead in Batting Average by one point.  So, at the time, was there a lot of talk about him just missing the Triple Crown?  Or was it even mentioned? 

When Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown in 1922 and again in 1925, was there any recognition of this at the time?  What about Foxx in 1933, or Gehrig in 1934?  What do any of you know about this?



COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

One thing about Ted’s triple crown seasons is they don’t stick out compared to his greatest years. In 1941 he led in batting (obviously) and homers, but DiMaggio drove in 5 more runs. The next year he had one fewer homer, hit 50 points lower, but drove in a few more runs to win the triple crown.

In 1947 he hit .343 with 32 homers, 114 RBI. Led the league in each. But those numbers represent his 9th best average, 8th best RBI total, and 6th most homers.

If I was looking at Ted’s batting stats without the bold type for his league leading performances I’d have a tough time picking out which years he won the triple crown.
6:00 PM May 4th
In regards to the Manushfan's original question on Williams not winning the MVP in '42 & '47, the below article has a good evaluation of the '47 vote.

Based on that and looking at vote totals from that era, it seems that voters, assuming no "betting" shenanigans, valued team performance over individual performance. In both years (as well as '41 when Ted hit .406 and lost to Dimaggio) the Yankees dominantly won the Pennant so no surprise that a Yankee (Dimaggio in 41 & 47, Gordon in 42) won the MVP. In '46, Williiams did win the MVP for the pennant winning sox, but teammates Doerr and Pesky finished 3rd and 4th with almost as many combined 1st place votes (7) as Williams had (9).
3:07 PM May 4th
In 1942, after the MVP announcement, the NY Times (Arthur Daley) wrote that Williams had gained the famed "triple crown", the first time any one performed this feat since Lou Gehrig in 1934. I tried to copy these written words exactly, so in 1942 he wrote it in lower case, quoted, and in 1953 he wrote it in upper case, unquoted.
2:26 PM May 4th
Amplifying what mrbryan said, that June 1953 (New York Times) story opens with
"Back in 1934 Lou Gehrig hit .363, drove across 165 runs and slammed forty-nine homers. That year Larruping Lou became the first Yankee to carry off the coveted triple crown of the American League, the championships in batting, runs-batted-in and home runs." I wouldn't conclude it was coveted in 1934, but there it is described as coveted in mid-1953.

After the 1953 season, after the official announcement of the batting title went to Mickey Vernon, Arthur Daley in the NY Times (Dec. 21) wrote that Rosen "was prevented from achieving the Grand Slam of the Triple Crown".
2:05 PM May 4th
“The Triple Crown originally was a reference to the papal tiara, used by the pope from the 8th century onward, and last worn in 1963.”

Looking more closely at this — gotta peg down the dates, right? — it appears that crown inflation began around the turn of the 14th century, the tiara becoming a double crown under Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and a triple crown under Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342). The reasoning sounds like backfill, but the prevailing explanation is that the Pope is the vicar of Christ in His threefold office of Priest, Prophet, and King. Notably the ancient Pharaohs wore the Dual Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

In summary, Miguel Cabrera, which rhymes with tiara, was robbed of a literal coronation.
11:45 AM May 4th
Interesting as it was me who asked about it. I don't-If the Triple crown was a Thing in 42, but it was obvious Teddy Ballgame lead the league in a bunch of things-average, Homers, that they Did pay attention to then. So there's that.
10:58 AM May 4th
Okay, here's my efforts on your behalf:

The Triple Crown originally was a reference to the papal tiara, used by the pope from the 8th century onward, and last worn in 1963.

In horse racing, the triple crown is mentioned as early as 1907, with regard to the horse named "Innovation." The New York Times of June 17, 1907 refers to three races held in New York as being a new triple crown, and also references an older series of English races which were known as a triple crown. Apparently, the modern horse racing triple crown is merely the latest in a succession of three-race victories to bear that title.

There is a 1952 reference to the triple crown with regard to Bobby Shantz, closing in on leading in wins, winning percentage, and ERA, and joining Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Dolph Luque, Carl Hubbell, and Lefty Grove in Joe Sheehan's 7/29/52 column.

Finally, on June 9, 1953, in a prescient column by Louis Effrat, Mickey Mantle is seen as having a great chance to win the triple crown, joining Gehrig as the only Yankees to do so. The article also mentions all the other triple crown winners since 1920.

10:00 AM May 4th
As a kid,just gettinghookedon baseball,I remember of discussion in the family and among friends about Rosen just missing the Triple Crown.
So in the Baltimore area, at least, it seemed to be a big deal by that time.
12:09 AM May 4th
As a kid,just gettinghookedon baseball,I remember of discussion in the family and among friends about Rosen just missing the Triple Crown.
So in the Baltimore area, at least, it seemed to be a big deal by that time.
12:08 AM May 4th
Regarding "Bill Stern's Sports Quiz Book", one would think that the reason for it being a trivia question is that it is not as common knowledge as we might believe it to be, being you know, trivial.
9:18 PM May 3rd
I wonder when the pitching Triple Crown became accepted. When I was young, Baseball Digest would run articles saying there should be a Triple Crown for pitchers, then suddenly one day everyone seemed to agree there is one.
9:09 PM May 3rd
The Associated Press article announcing the MVP award says Gordon won over “triple crown” winner Williams. And I found plenty of 1942 articles saying talking about his triple crown season, both during and after the season. It was in headlines. It was in common usage.
8:03 PM May 3rd
Let's see runs batted in became a stat in 1920 so it could not be before then.

As mentioned the Dickson baseball dictionary: "was on page 5 of the July 9, 1936, issue of The Sporting News: “Gehrig insists that he will win the Triple Crown again, as in 1934 — batting, homers, and runs driven in.”"

-Quoting the article "Solving the mystery of Heinie Zimmerman’s 1912 National League Triple Crown" by Herm Krabbenhoft

So it is probably sometime between 1920 and 1936.​
6:01 PM May 3rd
Going at this a different way, it appears that the first time that horse racing made a big deal out of the Triple Crown was not in the 40s but in 1930 with Gallant Fox.

However, winning the Triple Crown in 1934 didn't help Lou Gehrig at all in MVP voting, he finished 5th.

5:55 PM May 3rd
Re: Meandean's comment, to be in a sports trivia book, it had to be possible a sports fan would know the answer, but it also probably couldn't be as obvious as it is now, where just about any sports fan would know the answer.

If it were a general trivia book, that would imply it being more commonly used, because there'd have to be a chance a non-sports fan would know the answer.

Though, it might be helpful in gauging how common of a term it was then the general level of difficulty of the questions in the book.
5:33 PM May 3rd
On a quick Google Books search, the earliest reference I find is the 1942 "Official Baseball Record Book" (by Lanigan, Spink, and Richart), p. 161. "[Gehrig] won the American League triple crown of batting champion and leadership in runs-batted-in and home runs."

"Bill Stern's Sports Quiz Book", from 1950 (p. 20), contains the trivia question "What is the 'Triple Crown' in baseball?" (The next question is "Has [Ted] Williams ever attained the 'Triple Crown'?") For it to be a trivia question that a 1950 reader might be expected to know the answer to, it presumably would have had to become a relatively common term at some earlier point.​
5:10 PM May 3rd
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