MLB: Lou Gehrig's RBI Record Under Attack

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 20, 2011

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Lou Gehrig is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There is a real controversy raging among members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

One of its most distinguished members, Herm Krabbenhoft, claims that Lou Gehrig's single-season American League RBI record was equaled by Hank Greenberg.

Gehrig batted in 184 runs during the 1931 season.

Greenberg came within one RBI of Gehrig's record in 1937.

Krabbenhoft points to the second game of a doubleheader played in Philadelphia between the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia A's on June 20, 1937.

The official box score does not credit Greenberg with an RBI, but Krabbenhoft discovered that several newspapers do have a Greenberg RBI in their box scores.

The Tigers had two runners on base in the top of the sixth inning. Facing left-hander Harry Kelley, Greenberg hit a hard ground ball to the shortstop, Skeeter Newsome, who made a wild throw to second base, allowing Flea Clifton to score.

This brings us to the controversy: No one knows if Clifton was on second or third.

If Clifton was on third, Greenberg would receive an RBI, since there was one out and one cannot anticipate a double play. 

But if Clifton was on second, there would be no RBI credited to Greenberg.

Clifton was a fast, aggressive base runner who entered the game to run for Billy Rogell. Charlie Gehringer singled.

Krabbenhoft believes—and that is the key word; he doesn't know, he merely believes—that Clifton would have been on third, since he was such a fast and aggressive runner.

He cites the several newspaper box scores that credited Greenberg with an RBI.

At the SABR conference last week, Krabbenhoft presented his case.

"If you make a mistake, you have to get it right," he says. "You don't just leave it out there. It's not out of any loyalty to the Tigers or Hank Greenberg or baseball. It's about loyalty to accuracy. If I found an error, it should be corrected."

He has sent documentation to the Elias Sports Bureau for review.

Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of Elias, stated in an email that "Herm is a dedicated researcher who has kindly shared with us the research that he did on RBIs for the Tigers' 1937 season. We are in the process of reviewing that material and trying to determine whether any other evidence exists that could be gathered and evaluated before making a judgment on the matter."

The problem is that there is no evidence to support the contention that Flea Clifton had gone from first to third on Gehringer's single. It is mere speculation.

Krabbenhoft wants to set the record straight, but without solid proof that Clifton scored from third and not second on Newsome's error, it would be patently unfair to credit Greenberg with one more RBI, which would mean that he and Gehrig would share the single-season RBI record.

Hack Wilson holds the major-league record with 191 RBIs in 1930. Wilson's total was increased by one in 1999. but that didn't change ownership of the record.

If Greenberg is to receive an additional RBI, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that proof simply does not exist.

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Iorizzo, Pete. "Man driven to set the record straight." Albany Times Union. 11 July 2011.

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