We have seen quite a start to the baseball season, for the 1st time ever we have had a perfect game and a 4 HR game in the same season. Oh yea, we also threw in a no-hitter already as well as a Scott Hairston cycle...quite the run of feats. Not to mention Matt Kemp's torrid start or Carlos Beltran returning from the dead...but it's our 4 HR guy Hamilton that I want to look at more closely as he appears to have a legit shot at a triple crown for several reasons.
1) Has fast guys that get on base hitting in front of him, Kinsler/Andrus
2) Has veteran power guys hitting behind him to protect him, Beltre/Cruz/Young
3) The team protects his health by giving him ample rest (will probably play in 145~ games)
4) Is a freak
Coming into Sunday, his line for the year was .402/18/41, that is a 30 point lead in AVG, 7 HR lead, and 12 more RBI than another AL player. Wow.
The run of seasons without a triple crown winner has moved to 45 this year, but the likelihood of us seeing another winner has been increasing. The 70's saw Rod Carew, Bill Matlock, Pete Rose, and other singles/doubles hitters win batting titles. Dick Allen made a run in 72 when he won HR and RBI titles but finished 10 points behind Carew for the 3rd leg. Home Run leaders in the 70's were guys that didn't hit for much average, like Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, Jim Rice, and Reggie Jackson.
The 80's were even tougher to make a run at the triple crown as Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn won 9 of the 20 batting titles, with Willie McGee, Carney Lansford, Willie Wilson and other non-power hitters took up the others. No one made a serious run in the 80's as again sub-.300 hitters like Reggie Jackson, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Tony Armas were the HR champions.
The 90's though, saw a young slugger in 1992 named Gary Sheffield really look like a threat. Sheffield jumped out to a lead in all 3 categories over the summer of 92, and just couldn't hold on to the HR and RBI leads while finishing .330/33/100. Fred McGriff's 35 HR's won the title that year and Sheffield finished 9 RBI behind Darren Daulton for the RBI title.
Again in 1997, we saw the thin air in Colorado produce another threat with Larry Walker. Walker's MVP season produced a league-leading 49 HR's, but his .366 average was .06 behind Tony Gwynn and 130 RBI were 10 behind teammate Andres Galarraga. Walker did go on to win 3 of the next 4 batting titles, but was no where near the HR crown as these seasons were the Sosa/McGwire HR-fest.
The rest of the 2000's saw each category get a sneaky winner, and the trivia fans out there can have some fun with this one...2003 AL batting champ, 2004 AL HR champ, and the 2003 NL RBI champ were all off the radar winners...answers below.
Now for the reasoning on why we are getting closer and closer to seeing another winner. Take a look at the names of the guys that have won batting titles the last 10 years.
Earlier in the 2000's it looked like guys like Todd Helton and Ichiro may go on runs like Boggs and Gwynn, but it was been big power guys that have taken home batting titles.
Pujols led the league in all 3 categories over the span of 2 seasons, Bonds couldn't rack enough at bats with all his intentional walks to get HR's and RBI in 04, and Cabrera and Ramirez won batting titles when there was a top 20 all-time HR season (A-Rod, Batista).
It would sure be good for the game if Hamilton takes these leads past the All-Star break to give the league a story that can attract some marginal fans. We aren't going to see another 30 game winner and the .400 hitter hasn't been challenged in 30+ years outside of Gwynn's .394 in the strike year (94) and George Brett in 1980.
The league also has the Josh Hamilton story in their favor too, as Hamilton's road to this point is well documented. He is probably one of the top 3 most talented players to come through the game since I've been alive. I like to describe his talent this way...Coming out of HS in North Carolina, he was the top pick in the 1999 draft. However, that draft featured a guy that almost every other year would have been the top pick...think about it, Josh Beckett was everything a MLB scout wants. Tall, powerful pitcher, with a 99+ fastball...Tampa didn't even flinch, "We'll, take Hamilton."
On Hamilton's ESPN.com player card, he is currently on pace for a .402/86/195 season. I don't think we will see anything near that, but I would certainly give him a fighting chance to achieve what we haven't seen since 1967...
03 AL Batting title - Bill Mueller
03 NL RBI title - Preston Wilson
04 AL HR title - Adrian Beltre