Film review: Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story


In a town just north of San Francisco, I watched as Sandy Koufax got a round of applause.

No, I wasn’t in a room full of Dodger fans, a nightmare for any longtime Giants supporter who knows only too well how Koufax forged the best years of his Hall of Fame career keeping San Francisco mostly out of the World Series. I was at a screening in Marin County on Sunday of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, a film about Jewish ballplayers from the 19th century to present day. For some reason, of the couple dozen players shown onscreen, Koufax got the loudest response. It happened right as my date was getting up to use the restroom, so I told her people were cheering for her, though of course, something else was at work here.

Greats like Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and some of the other Jewish ballplayers depicted in the film seemed to attract followings which transcended their teams and have inspired tributes even decades after retirement. Some of it is probably faith-related, and I noticed at least one person in a yarmulke. I suppose others, like myself, merely try to honor greatness in all its forms and can’t help but be touched by the grace of a Koufax or a Greenberg, who each stayed true to their faith and ideals and persevered through adversity. Their experience brings out the best in sports, no matter their team.

With that said, the film went well beyond the obvious. Last November, I re-watched The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a nice 1999 documentary about the Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer, but one that doesn’t explore much deeper than him. Jews and Baseball, on the other hand, features players as far back as the 1860s. There are of course the obligatory mentions of names that seemingly arise anytime there’s a discussion of Jewish ballplayers, stars like Koufax, Greenberg, and, in recent years, Shawn Green. But over the 91-minute running time, we learn of such forgotten heroes and would-be greats as Lip Pike, Andy Cohen and Mose Solomon who was touted as “The Rabbi of Swat,” when he joined the New York Giants in 1923. I enjoyed and was somewhat surprised at the history lesson.

Some of it may be a credit to screenwriter Ira Berkow, a retired sports columnist for the New York Times, who penned an engrossing biography of sportswriter Red Smith in my personal collection. The film, which screened as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, was directed by Peter Miller, a veteran of the documentary circuit. Miller’s biography shows no baseball-related works, though he has producing credits on three non-sports projects by Ken Burns, who directed the Baseball mini-series that aired on PBS in 1994. Whatever the methodology, the result is something better than a mere cobbling of Koufax, Greenberg and Green anecdotes, which could have been an easy out for this project. This also was a great movie to see with a non-baseball fan.

At least one former ballplayer was in attendance Sunday, a San Francisco native named Ed Mayer who pitched for the Cubs in 1957 and 1958. Mayer was passing out replicas of this card to moviegoers on Sunday:

I chatted with Mayer after the film, and he told a story that bears repeating here. The film drew parallels between black and Jewish ballplayers, who each faced stereotypes from opposing players and fans. While Mayer said that in the minor leagues he endured anti-Semitic taunts from a fan in Minneapolis and was denied entry to a members-only club in Phoenix, he said blacks had it tougher.

Mayer recalled a minor league bus trip in Georgia with future 22-game winner Earl Wilson. At a service station, Wilson attempted to buy a Coke and had a gun pulled on him by the station owner. Mayer wound up buying the coke for Wilson from the owner and noted to me, “If he knew I was a Jew, he would’ve shot me too.”

Double the fun: Now pitching for the Yankees, Rocky Colavito

Here is a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, who writes Double the fun every Saturday, examining one famous doubleheader each week. Today, Joe discusses on one of my favorite occurrences in baseball: When a well-known hitter takes a turn pitching.


When he grew up in the Bronx, my Italian immigrant father rooted for the New York Yankees. His particular favorites over the years were Tony Lazarri, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra.

But Dad always quietly rooted for another Bronx boy, even though Rocco Domenico Colavito played most of his career for the rival Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.

When he was 16 Colavito, who had played semi-pro ball since he was 9, dropped out of school to pursue baseball exclusively. Even though Colavito lived in Yankee Stadium’s shadow, the Bronx Bombers showed little interest in signing him.

Eventually, Colavito inked with the Cleveland Indians. Because of his prodigious power, good looks and willingness to sign autographs for hours, Colavito became an immediate fan favorite.

Little wonder fans loved Colavito. In June 1959, the Sporting News touted Colavito as the “American League player most likely to emulate and possibly surpass Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in one season.”

That bold prediction followed Colavito’s June 10th four home run, six RBI performance against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium that propelled the Indians to an 11-6 win. Properly described as cavernous, the old ball park measured nearly 450’ from left center to right center field.

Power numbers notwithstanding, the Indians abruptly and infamously traded Colavito to the Detroit Tigers just before the 1960 season for Harvey Kuenn.

In 1959, Colavito led the American League in home runs with 42; Kuenn was the batting champion, .353. Read one gleeful Detroit post-trade headline: 42 Home Runs for 135 Singles!

By the time Colavito arrived in Detroit, the city had a well developed love affair with Al Kaline. So although Colavito averaged 35 homers during his four Tigers’ years, fans never embraced him.

But a bigger reason Colavito never developed the Detroit fan base he enjoyed in Cleveland was a manufactured feud instigated by popular Detroit Free Press sports writer Joe Falls.

Falls considered Colavito a “self-ordained deity.” Accordingly Falls, often the Tigers’ official scorer, never missed a chance to berate Colavito. As a sidebar to his columns, Falls created the RNBI (run not batted in) to publicly keep track of runners Colavito stranded. Falls’ open scorn understandably infuriated Colavito.

For the 1964 season, Colavito landed in Kansas City. Then to the delight of Indians’ rooters, he returned to Cleveland for 1965 and 1966. Colavito’s 108 RBIs in 1966 lead the American League.

By 1967, Colavito was a part-time player, his best years behind him. After short stays with the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in midseason 1968 Colavito latched on with his boyhood favorite Yankees for his final baseball fling.

On August 25, 1968 the Yankees played a doubleheader against the Tigers in what would be one of Colavito’s final career appearances.

The Yankees, led by manager Ralph Houk, were slowly rebuilding from their 1966 last place finish. By the end of 1968, the team finished fifth but no thanks to Mickey Mantle who hit .235 and retired.

On a steamy Sunday afternoon in front of 32,000 both first game starters, the Tigers’ Pat Dobson and the Yankees’ Steve Barber got shelled. Dobson gave up five runs in the bottom of the sixth while Barber had allowed five after 3-1/3.

Houk called his bullpen. To the fans’ surprise, out strode Colavito. Like everyone in baseball, Houk knew that Colavito had a rifle arm. The Major was eager to give his veteran a shot at pitching.

Colavito exceeded expectations. By allowing only a double to Kaline and two walks during his 2-2/3 stint before giving way to Dooley Womack and Lindy McDaniel, Colavito (1-0) earned the credit for the 6-5 Yankee win.

In the nightcap, Colavito took his customary position in right field. The Yankees prevailed 5-4, and Colativo contributed a third-inning home run.

After 6-1/2 hours, Colavito turned in one of the most unusual days in modern baseball history: winning pitcher in the first game and home run hitting outfielder in the second.

Now a healthy 77, Colavito remains one of the Indians’ favorites. In 1976, Colavito was voted the most memorable Indian player. He was elected to the Indians’ All Century team in 2001 and to the Indians’ Hall of Fame in 2006.

Best of all, devoted Colavito fans have established a website to promote his Cooperstown candidacy.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

Is it time for the Hall of Fame to have another mass induction of Old Timers?

The National Baseball Hall of Fame held its first election in 1936, and the backlog of worthy players quickly became apparent. Although 40 future Hall of Famers received at least one vote for Cooperstown in 1936 from the Baseball Writers Association of America, just five were enshrined. Legends like Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and Grover Cleveland Alexander needed multiple tries with the writers for a plaque. Earlier stars needed their own committee.

Between 1939 and 1949, 30 long-retired baseball greats were enshrined by an Old Timers Committee. Twenty-one of these inductions came in 1945 and 1946, nearly doubling the Hall of Fame in size. Early stars like Ed Delahanty, King Kelly, and others received their busts this way, and it may have seemed most Cooperstown-worthy players from 1920 and before were recognized.

More than 60 years later, another backlog is apparent.

The evolution of baseball research in recent decades along with the rise of Web sites like Baseball-Reference, Retrosheet, and Baseball Think Factory has made it easier to study and compare long-dead players who might otherwise be lost to history or only the most ardent baseball historians. There are dozens of notable baseball figures from 1920 or earlier who might merit induction to Cooperstown.

Here are eight men I would enshrine:

  1. Doc Adams: I emailed John Thorn for his picks, and he replied less than 30 minutes later with Adams and two other men he called “early giants,” Jim Creighton and William R. Wheaton. Adams is mentioned in Ken Burns’ Baseball (for which Thorn served as senior creative consultant) and was president of the New York Knickerbockers ball club from the 1840s to 1862. Adams helped devise the rules for the first official baseball game in 1846, pioneered the position of shortstop, and even sewed early balls himself.
  2. Pete Browning: Named the 2009 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend by the Society for American Baseball Research, Browning hit .341 in a career than spanned 1882 to 1894, leading the league in batting three times. One of my regular readers let me know that Browning also was the first player to use a Louisville Slugger bat.
  3. Ray Chapman: A serviceable Cleveland Indians shortstop for nine seasons, Chapman was just entering his prime at 29 when he was killed by a pitched ball in August 1920. His death led to the banning of the spitball pitch, which helped end the Deadball Era.
  4. Bill Dahlen: From 1891 to 1911, Dahlen was a mainstay at shortstop, accumulating 2,461 hits and a career Wins Above Replacement rating of 75.9, tops of any eligible, non-enshrined player.
  5. John Donaldson: In June, I chronicled this Negro League and semi-pro hurler who won 363 games between 1908 and 1940 and was later the first black scout in the majors.
  6. Shoeless Joe Jackson: He’s in the Hall of Merit, the Hitters Hall of Fame, and he far surpassed Cooperstown playing standards. I’ve said it before: Why not forgive Shoeless Joe? With his .356 career batting average, Jackson would’ve had a plaque decades ago had he not helped throw the 1919 World Series. He’s inspired literature, film, and remains a tragic figure. If there were a mass induction of Old Timers, Jackson might be the only name most fans would know or care about.
  7. Bobby Mathews: Bert Blyleven has nothing on this guy as an underrated hurler long denied Cooperstown. Mathews went 297-248 with a 2.86 ERA, playing from 1871 through 1887, his 4,956 career innings 15th most all time. I recently looked at the Hall of Fame candidacy of Blyleven who has a few more career innings and a lot more strikeouts than Mathews. But Mathews has the most wins of any eligible pitcher not in Cooperstown.
  8. Spottswood Poles: A reader told me of Poles, who’s been described elsewhere online as “the black Ty Cobb.” In the midst of his 15-year career, Poles earned a Purple Heart in World War I as a sergeant in the 369th Hell Fighters. My reader told me this unit “had the Germans running in fear, since the 369th had many ball players that could throw grenades twice as far as any German had ever seen.”

Beyond this, there are many other players at least worth mentioning here. Ten men appeared on the ballot for 2010 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend (side note: does anyone know who won?) Beyond Adams, Dahlen, and Mathews, the nominees were:

  • Ross Barnes
  • Bob Caruthers
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Tony Mullane
  • Harry Stovey
  • George Van Haltren
  • Deacon White

Browning, Caruthers, Dahlen, Glasscock and Jackson are in the Hall of Merit — the Baseball Think Factory-version of the Hall of Fame — but not Cooperstown. Others in this class include:

  • Cupid Childs
  • George Gore
  • Paul Hines
  • Home Run Johnson
  • Charley Jones
  • Sherry Magee
  • Hardy Richardson
  • Joe Start

Beyond this, here are a few names I found studying WAR rankings and batting similarity scores on Baseball-Reference:

  • George Burns
  • Lave Cross
  • Herman Long
  • Dave Orr

And here are six more players who don’t rate as high for career stats but each achieved some renown in their day for various reasons:

  • Babe Adams
  • Mike Donlin
  • Dummy Hoy
  • Duffy Lewis
  • Deacon Phillippe
  • Frank Schulte

I think it would be overkill to offer my opinion on all the players here though if anyone wants to take up the torch for any of these men or lobby for a ballplayer I didn’t mention, please feel free to add a comment or email me.

Who knows, maybe the Hall of Fame will take notice.

Related: A compilation of posts about Cooperstown and a link to my Tuesday feature, Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Any player/Any era: Dom DiMaggio

What he did: I mentioned DiMaggio in a post here Tuesday on why Cecil Travis belongs in the Hall of Fame. Were it up to me, I’d enshrine them both. Each man might already have a plaque in Cooperstown were it not for World War II service taking three full, prime seasons out of the middle of their careers. I believe that’s something baseball should celebrate rather than penalize.

As it stands, DiMaggio made seven All Star teams, was counted as one of the best defensive outfielders in his era, and finished with a .298 lifetime batting average. For years, his Boston Red Sox teammate Ted Williams had a pamphlet in his museum listing the reasons DiMaggio belonged in Cooperstown. He had some traction with the Baseball Writers Association of America, appearing on their Hall of Fame ballot nine times and peaking with 11.3 percent of the vote in 1973. Still, the Veterans Committee failed to enshrine DiMaggio, Travis too, within their lifetimes even as each man lived into his nineties and died within the last five years.

To a certain extent, DiMaggio seems like a poor man’s version of Ichiro Suzuki, with his fine defense, solid hitting, and similarly shortened career. What if DiMaggio, like Suzuki, played for the Seattle Mariners today?

Era he might have thrived in: Current

Why: To ensure his place in Cooperstown, DiMaggio would need a full career and a home team known for great defense. The Mariners might be that team.

As Sports Illustrated noted earlier this year, Seattle has begun to preach defense and a fielding metric known as Ultimate Zone Rating. Their cavernous ballpark, Safeco Field has caused them to emphasize pitching and promote players like Franklin Gutierrez, known as much for preventing extra base hits in center field than smacking them himself. I wonder if fellow center fielder DiMaggio would do even better. DiMaggio has a lower career fielding percentage than Gutierrez, .978 to .989, but twice had more assists in a season than Gutierrez has had his entire career. I also think having Suzuki in right field could boost DiMaggio’s numbers.

The flip side, of course, is that DiMaggio’s career batting average would almost certainly dip. The stat converter on says his lifetime clip would be .283 if he played his entire career on a team like the 2001 Mariners, .275 if he played for the current, lackluster squad. Beyond this, playing today, DiMaggio wouldn’t have the man who taught him to hit while he was with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, Lefty O’Doul. He also wouldn’t be in the same lineup as Ted Williams. Suzuki is hitting .331 lifetime. I doubt DiMaggio would come anywhere close to that in the modern era.

Defense, admittedly, is rarely a man’s ticket to Cooperstown, so DiMaggio might actually have less of a chance playing now were his batting average to drop significantly. Still, when given an opportunity, DiMaggio’s greatness shown. In 2004, I had a chance to interview him. DiMaggio seemed like as good a man off the field as on.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a ballplayer might have fared in a different era besides his own.

My night with The Bird: A Mark Fidrych Memory

I’m pleased to present a guest post from regular contributor Joe Guzzardi. Today, Joe looks at one of baseball’s all time memorable characters.


During the summer of 1976, I traveled frequently to Minneapolis on assignment from my New York office.

On a late July trip, the buzz around town was that the Detroit Tigers’ Mark Fidrych would be taking the hill later that week against the hometown Twins.

Fidrych’s ascent into the baseball elite had been remarkable. Tiger manager Ralph Houk kept Fidrych in the bullpen the season’s first five weeks before giving him his first start on May 15th against the Cleveland Indians. Fidrych tossed a two-hitter to beat the Indians, 2-1.

Along his way to stardom the “Bird,” as Fidrych soon became known, pitched back-to-back 11-inning victories and also defeated the Twins on the Tigers’ first visit to Minneapolis in June.

By July 20, the date of his second start against the Twins, Fidrych had shot to national stardom thanks to a national television appearance on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball against the New York Yankees. In between talking to the ball and patting down the mound, Fidrych dominated the Yankees 5-1 in a mere 1:51 to send his record to 8-1. (YouTube video clip here.)

Fidrych figured prominently in another national showcase, the All Star Game, when manager Darrell Johnson gave him the starting nod, a rare honor for a rookie.

With Fidrych-mania at its peak, I couldn’t miss being among the fans at the old Metropolitan Stadium.

I asked my plugged-in banking friends who had behind-home-plate box seats, if they had an extra ticket. No way!

Local ticket brokers laughed. They offered to put me on their list but warned it was already 150 names deep.

By game night, I still lacked a ticket. I decided to head to the park, confident I would find a scalper there.

But only buyers milled around. I walked through the parking lot hoping that a tailgate group would have had a no-show. Again, I came up empty.

Resigned to listening to the game on the radio, I headed back to my car. At the last minute, I tried the only thing left. I walked to the ticket booth to ask if there was one seat available. Incredibly, there was.

I remember what the woman behind the window said: “This is your lucky night. I have exactly one.”

Because of an overflow crowd, a common phenomenon at Fidrych performances, the game started a half hour late. And it was further delayed by a pre-game stunt. To commemorate Fidrych’s 13th start, Twins’ owner Calvin Griffin ordered 13 homing pigeons released from their cages on top of the mound.

Fidrych’s opponent was the crafty Bill Singer. Once a 20-game winner with the Los Angeles Dodgers and again with the Los Angeles Angels, Singer was at the end of his 14-year career. But Singer still knew how to pitch.

The Twins, featuring a hard hitting line-up that included Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, roughed Fidrych up early. Led by Oliva and Steve Braun singles, the Twins scored twice in the bottom of the third.

In the fourth, singles by Lyman Bostock and Oliva added one more Twins tally to give Minnesota a 3-0 advantage.

The game turned around in the sixth when Detroit scored four runs on five hits including a Rusty Staub home run.

For all practical purposes, Staub’s homer ended the game. The Tigers added single runs in the seventh and eight while Fidrych (11-2) held the Twins at bay over the last five innings. Final score: Tigers 8-Twins 3.

Fidrych’s line: 9 IP; 10H; 3ER; 2 BB; 2 K

As the Twins’ fans filed out, they were much happier to have witnessed Fidrych history than they were sad that their team, in the midst of an uninspiring 85-77 third place finish, lost.

After the game, Fidrych showed why he was such a media favorite. A reporter asked Fidrych what he thought of Oliva who went 4-4 with a run scored and an RBI.

Replied Fidrych: “Who’s Oliva?”

In 1976, Fidrych led the American League in ERA (2.34), complete games (24) and won the Rookie of the Year Award. By most accounts, Fidrych should have also have won the Cy Young Award but it went instead to Jim Palmer.

By early 1977, Fidrych’s developed arm trouble and won only ten games over his next four seasons. He died in 2009 in a freak accident at his Massachusetts farm.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Cecil Travis

Claim to fame: Travis broke in with the Washington Senators in 1933 and quickly emerged as one of baseball’s best infielders. Playing primarily at shortstop, Travis hit above .300 eight of his first nine seasons, making three All Star teams. He peaked in 1941 at 28 when he hit a career-high .359, led the American League with 218 hits, and finished sixth in Most Valuable Player voting. He would never again approach stardom.

The United States entered World War II in December 1941, and Travis spent nearly four years in the military. Most established ballplayers served by playing on USO ball clubs. Travis is one of the few who saw combat, and he paid a heavy price, suffering frostbite to his feet in the Battle of the Bulge and just avoiding amputation. He played just three more seasons, never again hitting above .300.

There are those who say Travis’s feet were permanently damaged, though his New York Times obituary in 2006 reported him once saying his timing was gone after the war.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having begun his career before 1943, Travis can be enshrined by a section of the Veterans Committee that meets once every five years and will reconvene for the 2014 election. Travis never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If we merely analyze Travis’s career stats, his numbers don’t come close to Cooperstown standards. But statistics aren’t why Travis deserves a plaque.

Travis is among a small number of players who might already be in Cooperstown if not for losing prime years from the middle of their careers to military service. Dom DiMaggio is the only other member I know of in this club. Of course, there may have been many minor league or amateur players on their way to good things in baseball before wartime duty changed this. If anyone reading has such a relative or friend, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to write something.

Were it up to me, I’d enshrine Travis, DiMaggio too, who I once interviewed. I’m generally in favor of Cooperstown recognizing special circumstances when it comes to truncated careers of good players, for a variety of reasons. Travis had no choice being drafted and was willing to fight. I think the Hall of Fame should honor him for that, not ding him.

I’m not the only person singing praises. A fellow member of the Society for American Baseball Research, Clay Sigg recently sent me a short biography he wrote on Travis. It featured a quote from Ted Williams about his and Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 seasons. Williams said, “Hell, in 1941, Cecil Travis was just as good as either of us! Cecil Travis is one of the five best left-handed hitters I ever saw.” In the 1995 book on Williams’ top hitters, Ted Williams’ Hit List, co-author Jim Prime noted that Bob Feller included Travis with Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Simmons and Williams on his own list of all time toughest hitters.

I recently reviewed a DVD of color 8 mm film footage by another former Senator, George Case, which is being marketed by his son, George Case III. Incidentally, Case III emailed me on Monday evening while I was working on this post. I let him know what I was up to. Case III wrote back:

Thanks very much Graham – I think you know my opinion – definitely YES – and if his career hadn’t been shortened by his combat experience in WWII – I believe he would have put up HOF numbers – I know my dad certainly had his opinion as he knew first-hand, as a teammate, how great a ballplayer Cecil Travis was … Cecil was very quiet and extremely modest, and my opinion is that he would have definitely been elected to the HOF had he NOT played so many years in Washington and had he NOT suffered his injuries during his service to our country that shortened his career.

It amazes me that Travis seemingly never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot. I recently compiled a dream lineup of players who got zero votes for Cooperstown, but those men at least were somehow nominated. If Travis had worn Yankee pinstripes, rather than Senators attire, perhaps the New York press would have pushed for a different outcome. Some players just have bad luck, I suppose.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Three players who could win the Triple Crown this year

With two months left in the regular season, there is a chance baseball history could be made this year. I count three players, as of this writing, with at least a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 43 years. While the odds are probably against any of these men prevailing, the fact they’re within range seems noteworthy in itself.

Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, and Joey Votto are each among the top six in their leagues for batting average, home runs and runs batted in, the three statistical categories that constitute the Triple Crown.

Here’s how the race looks currently:

Player League Batting Average Home Runs Runs Batted In
Miguel Cabrera AL .351, 2nd 26, 2nd 93, 1st
Josh Hamilton AL .362, 1st 23, 4th 75, 6th
Joey Votto NL .322, 1st 27, 1st 72, 5th

Of the three, Votto is statistically closest and might have the best shot. Hamilton appears too injury-prone to rack up sufficient home run and RBI totals, talented though he may be, and a reader pointed out that Jose Bautista has a fairly insurmountable home run lead, with 32 currently. The reader also said more American League hitters should emerge as batting crown contenders, such as Robinson Cano who does his best work in the second half.

Regardless, it interests me that this Triple Crown push is occurring in an oft-proclaimed year for pitchers. I wonder if there’s a correlation, or if it’s a fluke and if in any season, a few top players will be within range of the Triple Crown.

It doesn’t seem so outrageous that solid league-wide pitching could lower the offensive bar enough to make it easier for one or two outlying players to lead all three categories. This kind of thing has happened before. The last time baseball had a Triple Crown winner, when Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967, the American League had a 3.23 earned run average and a .236 batting average. The year before that, Frank Robinson won his Triple Crown in an American League that boasted a 3.44 ERA and .240 batting average.

Those seasons are nothing compared to 1968, when pitchers were so clearly favored that the height of the mound was subsequently lowered. In what may have been the greatest year for pitchers beyond the Deadball Era, the National League had a cumulative 2.99 ERA, a league-wide WHIP of 1.12 and almost another Triple Crown winner, with Willie McCovey nabbing the home run and RBI crowns but finishing a distant eighth in the batting race.

In fact, 2010 might not be enough of a pitcher’s year to favor a Triple Crown winner. Sure, a lot of pitchers were on pace to win 20 games as of the All Star break, and the NL batting average is a relatively puny .257, with the AL not faring much better at .263. But for some odd reason, the NL ERA is 4.38, while the AL ERA is 4.21. Of the 14 Triple Crown seasons in baseball history, just five came in years where the league ERA was above 4.00. Those seasons are:

  • Rogers Hornsby 1922 and 1925
  • Jimmie Foxx 1933
  • Lou Gehrig 1934
  • Mickey Mantle 1956

Granted, Triple Crowns have been won in years favoring hitters. Both seasons that Hornsby triumphed, the National League batted .292 overall. Also, it bears mention that the sample size of Triple Crown winners is so small, with 12 players in baseball history having accomplished the feat that it’s difficult to make determinations one way or another. (Side note: Wikipedia lists Hugh Duffy as having won the Triple Crown in 1894, while says he finished second in RBI that year. I’m deferring to the latter site. Someone should update Wikipedia, unless I’m missing something here.)

I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason regarding the Triple Crown. Still, I would love to see Cabrera, Hamilton or Votto prevail.