The Triple Crown is probably the most impressive accomplishment a hitter can hope to win.
It features a supreme combination of power and batting average. Only the greatest hitters who ever walked the planet have been fortunate and talented enough to win this award.
Yet Babe Ruth never did it.
Neither did Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, or Barry Bonds, closing out the top four home run hitters who ever lived.
That shows just how difficult it is to win a Triple Crown.
In fact, the hitter's Triple Crown hasn't occurred in over 40 years—since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski won it for the American League in 1967, with a .326-44-121 statline.
This feat has been achieved just 15 times by 13 hitters in the history of the game, with Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams as the lone hitters to lead the league in all three hitting categories twice.
This makes a Triple Crown about as rare as a perfect game (17 such occurrences in MLB history), unassisted triple play (14), and four home runs in one game (15).
To win a Triple Crown requires an extraordinary amount of skill as a hitter, namely the ability to combine power AND batting average.
The first hitter ever to lead the league in all three categories was outfielder Paul Hines back in 1877, who topped the NL with four home runs, 50 runs batted in, and a .358 batting average. Hugh Duffy won it in 1894, meaning just 11 hitters have won the award since the turn of the 20th century.
Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb—two hitters noted more for their high batting average than ability to hit for power—won it for the AL in 1901 and 1909, respectively.
Rogers Hornsby won it twice in four years in the '20s before the award exploded in the '30s and '40s.
Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein each won it for separate leagues in 1933—the only year the Triple Crown was won in both the National League AND the American League.
Lou Gehrig won it in '34, Joe Medwick in '37 (the last NL winner), and Ted Williams in '42 and '47. Mickey Mantle won it in '56, as the last man to lead the entire major leagues in all three categories.
Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski captured the Triple Crown in '66 and '67 for the American League, and no hitter has done so since.
At this point, I can't say for sure whether it will ever be done again.
Today's hitters face more competition. In 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski last won it, he was competing against 80 or so mostly white hitters. In today's era, a hitter is competing against 120 or so players from a much wider pool of talent.
Many of the game's top hitters are one-dimensional, greatly reducing their chances of winning a Triple Crown.
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, arguably the most feared power hitter in the game today, led the league in home runs and runs batted in last year, two of the three Triple Crown categories. However, his .251 batting average ranked just 60th out of the 72 qualifying NL hitters.
Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki, arguably the game's top pure contact hitter, has won two batting titles and finished in the top seven in the AL in batting average all seven seasons of his career. However, he has never hit more than 15 home runs or drove in so much as 70 runs in a season.
In fact, just two active hitters in baseball have even led the league in all three hitting categories in a season during his entire career.
That would be Manny Ramirez, who led the AL in RBI in 1999 (165), batting average (.349) in 2002, and home runs (43) in 2004, and A-Rod, who won a batting title (.358) in 1996, and has won multiple HR and RBI titles.
Hard to believe that Albert Pujols has never done it.
Of the active players in baseball right now, he is the game's best hitter. I think most people would agree with that statement, and if not the best, definitely in the top three.
Pujols has the best chance to win a Triple Crown. By far.
And it's doubtful he'll ever win one.
As great as he has been—and he is probably the best pure non-steroids (as of now) hitter the game has seen since Willie Mays or Hank Aaron—Pujols has never even led the league in home runs or runs batted in. He's only won a batting title once, and that was by less than one-thousandth of a point.
See the following chart to view Pujols' year-by-year Triple Crown breakdown.
*Triple Crown number, while not an actual statistic (at least not to my knowledge), is computed by adding up the player's rank in his league in the three Triple Crown categories and dividing that number by three
Triple Crown #
6 (rank in the NL)
Wow. In a nine-year career (counting the abbreviated 2009), Albert Pujols has never finished lower than the top 12 in the league in any of the three Triple Crown categories. His average finish in each category is in the top five in the league.
And he most likely won't win a Triple Crown.
There always seems to be someone slightly better than Albert Pujols in one of the categories. As a Phillies fan, I will proudly admit that Pujols won't be winning too many home run or RBI titles with my man Ryan Howard around (or Raul Ibanez).
And while Pujols' .335 career batting average is first among all active players...it's probably not good enough. For Pujols—a man who has led the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average just ONCE in his career—to suddenly lead the league in all three categories is asking a lot.
Probably too much.
It could happen. I'm not saying there's no chance. If anyone could do it, it is Albert Pujols (although A-Rod is probably the AL's best chance).
But I don't think Pujols will ever do it.
Barry Bonds couldn't do it.
When Bonds smashed a major-league record 73 home runs in the 2001 season, his 137 RBI finished a distant 23 behind leader Sammy Sosa and his .328 batting average finished a full 22 points behind leader Larry Walker.
Manny Ramirez never did it, and although he was phenomenal down the stretch last season, it's unlikely he will win the award having just turned 37 years old and not getting any younger.
Alex Rodriguez certainly has the power to do it, having led the league in home runs five times in the last eight years and RBI twice, but he hasn't won a batting title since his first full season of '96, a year in which he hit 37 points higher (.358) than any other year of his career.
He has only finished in the top ten in the AL in batting average twice since '96, and playing in a league that includes perennial batting contender Ichiro Suzuki doesn't make matters easier for A-Rod.
This shows just how difficult the Triple Crown is for even the game's best hitters.
Those who are old enough to have seen Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson in the mid-'60s should enjoy those memories of a Triple Crown winner, because it sure doesn't look like any hitter will be winning one anytime soon.