By Harv Aronson
On Saturday, June 9, 2016, Justify won horse racing’s Triple Crown, something that just doesn’t happen very often. When you hear the words “Triple Crown” you automatically think of horse racing. But those words have been applied to other sports as well most significantly in Major League Baseball.
Baseball's version of the Triple Crown goes to the men who can finish a season leading in home runs, batting average, and runs-batted-in. It doesn’t happen often. So rare it is that players have accomplished the feat just 16 times since 1878. 10 American League players have done it and six in the National League. Making it rarer of a feat is the fact that it has been done just once in the last 50 years and the man that pulled it off was Miguel Cabrera in 2012 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. That year Cabrera hit .330 to lead the A.L. and then topped the home run list as well with 44 round trippers. To round out his crown, he knocked in a league leading 139 runs.
Prior to Cabrera the last man to win a Triple Crown in baseball was Boston Red Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski who with a .326 average took home the rare honor by hitting 44 home runs as well and scoring 121 RBIs. Of the 16 Triple Crown players, two have done the deed twice. They were the great Ted Williams and a nearly great player in Rogers Hornsby. Williams was the man in 1942 and 1947 while Hornsby did it twice for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1922 and 1925.
Of the 10 men on the American League list, three actually failed to win the Most Valuable Player Award despite their numbers. For Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb who won the crown in 1901 and 1909 respectively, M.V.P. awards were not yet being handed out. But Lou Gehrig and in both Ted Williams’ winning years, neither were named M.V.P. In the N.L., the very first man to win a Triple Crown was Paul Hines in 1878 and there was no league Most Valuable Player at the time. In 1894 when Hugh Duffy repeated the Triple Crown effort, there was still no vote for a league’s best player. For Hornsby’s 1922 Triple Crown season he was not named M.V.P. Neither was 1933’s winner Chuck Klein.
With 16 players making history, Hugh Duffy won the crown with the highest average batting .440 in 1894. The most home runs hit in a single season while winning the Triple Crown came off the bat of Mickey Mantle as the ex-New York Yankee slugged 52 on way to winning the home run title in 1956 while also leading the American League in batting with a mark of .353 and pushing the most runs across the plate with 130 RBIs. The city of Boston has had the most Triple Crown winners in baseball in both leagues with Williams’ double dip on the award, Yastrzemski’s 1967 winner and Hugh Duffy winning it in 1894.
So we’ve mentioned two versions of the Triple Crown but other sports have their versions as well. Believe it or not, professional tennis has an accomplishment that they consider a “Triple Crown.” On the pro tennis circuit, a player that competes in a grand slam tournament and plays in the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles winning all three is then deemed to have won the “Triple Crown” of that grand slam event. The last time it happened was when Martina Navratilova won all three at the 1987 U.S. Open. The entire list of players reaching this pinnacle for men and women is below.
Then we have golf. Golfing fans know all about the “Grand Slam.” No not baseball but on the PGA tour if you win all four of the tournaments that are considered “majors, you’ve hit the Grand Slam of golf. Prior to the Masters tournament being established, Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur, Open, The Open, and the Amateur in 1930 thus is considered a Grand Slam winner and the only golfer in history to have won four majors in the same calendar year.
Once the Masters was established, the new standard for winning this title was to win the Masters, U.S. Open, The British Open, and the PGA championship. Five players have done it. Jack Nicklaus who did it three times matched by Tiger Woods’ three and one each for Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen. Nicklaus not only shares the lead with Woods, “The Golden Bear” stands alone with most majors winners ever at 18. Woods trails him with 14. Nicklaus won his majors fro 1962 until he won his last one in 1986 winning his green jacket at the age of 46. Tiger Woods won his first major, The Masters in 1997 but has not won another since he took the U.S. Open in 2008.
Are we done yet? Nope…that’s because in basketball, they have an accomplishment they like to call the Triple Crown. That is reserved for players that won a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title, an Olympic gold medal, and a National Basketball Association (NBA) championship. There is a short list of players who have done it.
Believe it or not, the two remaining major sports, football and hockey both have a Triple Crown category as well. In the NFL the honor is considered when a player finishes a season leading in three separate major statistical categories. The effort has only been completed three times and belongs to Sammy Baugh, Steve Van Buren, and Bill Dudley. In 1943 the Washington Redskins put Baugh on the field and he ended the season as the top passer, the league’s best punter, and led the NFL in interceptions. Obviously, “Slinging” Sam played both ways, something that simply is not done anymore.
Only three, however, have won the so-called "Triple Crown," three individual statistical championships in one year. All three Triple Crowns were achieved in a four-season period from 1943 to 1946. Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins was first in 1943, followed by Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1945 and Bill Dudley of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1946.
For Steve Van Buren, he played for the Philadelphia Eagles and in 1945 was the league’s top rusher, scorer, and earned top honors as the best kickoff return man. Then there was Pittsburgh’s “Bullet” Bill Dudley. It was 1946 and at the end of the season Dudley’s name was first in rushing, punt returns, and interceptions. Dudley also led in another category, “lateral passing.” That measurement has since gone by the wayside.
There is also a triple crown considered for just one position and stats that go with that position. Take for example running back where when a player leads the league in rushing attempts, yards gained, and touchdowns. That would be rushing’s “Triple Crown.” It’s been done 30 times in NFL history but only five times since 1980. The great Jim Brown accomplished the task four times in his short career and Steve Van Buren did it three times in a row. It seems the younger players only win the award as no one over 30 has ever led in all three categories in a single season. More recently, DeMarco Murray in 2014 finished first in all three categories although for touchdowns he was tied for the lead with Marshawn Lynch as both players hit the end zone 13 times. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was 30 when he won football’s Triple Crown in 2015 albeit like DeMarco Murray was tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns scored with 11.
Next are receivers. If they so happen to lead the NFL in receptions, yards receiving, and touchdowns through the air, then they too are deemed “Triple Crown” winners. This list is significantly shorter than that of the running backs and much more difficult to attain. The last time was 13 yeas ago in 2005 when Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers led the league with 103 receptions, 1,563 receiving yards, and 12 scores. This list below.
Quarterbacks are not exempt from claiming a Triple Crown and on occasions where they finished first in yards passing, completion percentage, and touchdowns, they were declared the crown winner. It’s happened just 10 times in the history of the NFL with the last man to do it being Drew Brees in 2011. Sammy Baugh did it twice and Tom Brady accomplished the feat in 2007. Those 10 occurrences are below. Strangely enough, each time that a quarterback reached this plateau since 2001, the New England Patriots were AFC champions (2001, 2007, 2011).
Now we’ve reached the end with one last sport…hockey. Yes, they too have a version of a Triple Crown and for professional hockey players, men that have taken home an Olympic Gold medal, the Stanley Cup trophy, and a gold medal in the World Championships can call themselves a “Triple Crown” winner. There have been 28 winners with the last being Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk who “Olympic Athletes of Russia” took home the gold in this year’s Winter Olympics after he scored a World Championship title with Russia in 2012 and his Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008.
The magical list of 28 is as follows:
One head coach has made this list as well and that was Mike Babcock who by leading the Canadian hockey team to Olympic gold in 2010 1nd 2014, also coached up Canada to a World Championship title in 2004 and was the head coach with the Detroit Red Wings when they won the Stanley Cup in 2008.
So there you have it. Not just horses, but football players, baseball players, hockey players, golfers, and tennis pros have claimed their fame in the respective sports by taking the lead in categories that has earned them the right to be called a “Triple Crown” winner.
By Harv Aronson
In 1918, the World Series featured two teams that would later experience extraordinary droughts in trying to return to the fall classic.
The World Series of 1918 pitted the American League champion Boston Red Sox against the National League champion Chicago Cubs. Early in the century, the Red Sox had experienced much success in winning pennants in 1912, 1915, 1916, and again in 1918 all which resulted in them winning the World Series.
However, 1918 would become the last time Boston reached the promised land until they won it all again in 2004, 86 years later. The myth regarding their absence is credited to “The Curse of the Bambino.” In other words, the great Babe Ruth was originally a player with Boston but the then owner Harry Frazee traded the greatest player ever in 1919 to the New York Yankees in exchange for just cash. Thus, many felt he cursed his team and it could be true as it would take those 86 years to get back to where they were in 1918.
As for those Chicago Cubs, they had a curse thrown on them as well. Winners of the World Series in 1907 and 1908, they were National League champions again in 1910 but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s. Then they made the return trip to face Boston in 1918. Unlike Boston, the Cubs did reach the World Series again in 1929, 1932, 1935, and one last time in 1945.
Chicago’s curse was called “Curse of the Billy Goat” and it went like this…in 1945 there was a tavern in Chicago named “Billy Goat Tavern” and the owner was William Sianis. He had a pet goat and would bring it to the Cubs games. Fans around Sianis complained of the smell coming from the animal and officials at Wrigley Field told Sianis he had to leave the stadium with his pet mascot. The incident took place in game four of that 1945 series after Chicago had taken two of the first three games.
Naturally, Sianis was angered by his being tossed from Wrigley and on his exit declared, “Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!” With that said, Chicago lost game four 4-1 and game five 8-4. In game six it took 12 innings but the Cubs prevailed 8-7 and then lost game seven 9-3 also losing the World Series. Sianis’s prediction came true at least in his lifetime. He would live to be 76 and died in October 1970 without the Cubs ever making it back to the World Series. Of course he was a year away from dying when in 1969 the Cubs had pulled one of the worst choke jobs and collapses in the annals of Major League Baseball.
The Cubs in 1969 has been in first place for the first 155 days of the season and on September 2, they were 84-52 leading the second place New York Mets who had won 77 and lost 55 to that point. Through the rest of the season Chicago had lost eight straight at one point and 17 of their final 25 while the Mets got hot and became the “Miracle Mets.” As an overview, the Chicago Cubs during their collapse had allowed 17 ½ games to wilt in the standings to the eventual World Series champion Cubs.
To add insult to injury, the game on September 9 with the Mets saw a stray black cat wander onto the field as former Cub Ron Santo had a bat in his hands and was on deck. Chicago had lost the day before and after the cat passed by, the Cubs would lose that game too. The game was gone and first place was gone for the season as Chicago never climbed back into the top spot. For Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub" and his teammate Ron Santo, they never got the chance to play in a playoff game. For poor Mr. Cub, he set a record of playing in 2,528 games without ever experiencing a playoff game.
Obviously, Sianis went to his grave believing his curse was still intact and would continue. It wasn’t until 2016 that the curse was broken with a Cubs World Series win over another team that is still in a MLB title drought, the Cleveland Indians. Of course there was also the “Bartman” curse in 2003 that plagued the Cubs.
The Cubs were leading the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship series three games to two and in game six held a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning. On a foul ball by Luis Castillo, Moises Alou of the Cubs tried to field the ball and make the catch. However, one Steve Bartman sitting in the stands wearing headphones, tried to grab for the ball interfering with Alou who could not make the catch. There was one out at the time and this would have been out #2. Instead, Castillo and his teammates made the most of the opportunity scoring eight runs in that inning and winning the game and then taking game seven to advance to the World Series and keeping the Cubs home … AGAIN.
The Boston Red Sox finally won that 2004 World Series after losing in 1976 to Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.” Boston would do it again in 2007 and one more time five years ago. But in 1918, the series won by Boston was also marred with controversy. In six games, the Red Sox became champions. But the games were all close (1-0, 3-1, 2-1, 3-2, 3-0, and 2-1). So little was the scoring that Boston set a World Series record for fewest runs scored by the winning team.
Additionally, neither Boston nor Chicago could manage a home run in the six games played. That has happened only twice in history. World War I was going on in 1918 and because of that, the World Series that year became the only Fall Classic to be played and finished in the month of September. The regular season had been cut short because of the war ending on September 1. This was due to the country issuing an order called “Work or Fight”. Some players from Boston and Chicago had threatened a strike because the gate receipts for games had been low; obviously fans were staying home either because of the war or a lack of interest.
At the time of this World Series, the Cubs were playing at Wrigley but it would not garner that name until 1925 and therefore in 1918 it was called “Weeghman Park.” Since the seating capacity was smaller than their cross town counterpart White Sox and their famous Stadium, Comisky Park, the World Series home games for the Cubs was played there.
For the first time ever in the 1918 World Series, the “The Star Spangled Banner” was played which obviously became a tradition. 13 years later it became America’s National Anthem. The controversy surrounding the series centered on allegations of a fix which years later would lead to a book by Sean Deveney called “The Original Curse.” Several Cubs players were under suspicion of fixing the series and Chicago pitcher Phil Douglas was in fact accused trying to fix a game in 1922 (a regular season game). Because of this, just like the star player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who was a part of the “Blacksox Scandal” of 1919, Douglas was thrown out of baseball for life.
More evidence of a fix came in 2011 when the Chicago History Museum had in its archives a document which came from the court testimony of that infamous 1919 investigation in the Chicago White Sox/Cincinnati Reds fixed World Series in which Chicago pitcher Eddie Cicotte testified in no uncertain terms that “the Cubs had purposely lost the 1918 World Series” and the fact that the games the Cubs lost were all by one run meant to Cicotte that Chicago’s players involved did so because owners of the Red Sox and Cubs were not providing proper gate receipts to the players.
No one will ever know for sure if Cicotte’s allegations are true but in the end, Boston was the winner and Chicago the loser and they would go through years of futility before finding success in Major League Baseball again.