Last night before I went to bed I took a look at Lou Gehrig’s stats on Baseball Reference. That’s the kind of guy I am. I’ve been obsessed with baseball history since I was about 5. Every now and then I like to take a look at some of the old-time greats, mostly to see how dominant they were. In Gehrig’s case, last night I saw something that would have made Ken Tremendous explode if the internet and FireJoeMorgan existed in 1934.
Baseball Reference highlights a player’s stat from a given year if that player led his league, or both, in the statistics. 1934 jumped out at me because Gehrig led all of baseball in BA, OBP and Slugging, with a .363/.465/.706 line, good for an OPS+ of 208. (Before I go any further I feel I should mention that I’ll turn into a puddle of warm goo if any one of the 2010 Yankees puts up an OPS+ of 208.) The reason this jumped out at me, aside from the fact that Lou was an absolute beast, is also because he came in 5th in the MVP voting in 1934.
Anyone who followed the MVP hunt this year knows how hard it is to lead baseball in all three batting slash stats. Harder still is leading baseball in those stats and not winning the MVP, or coming in some place in the voting that says you weren’t even on writers minds, like, say, 5th, which is exactly what happened to Gehrig in 1934. Needless to say I took a closer look at his stats.
Please recall that I did this at about 1am, so I didn’t notice two other stats from that season that Baseball Reference had highlighted: home runs and RBI. Gehrig led all of baseball in both in 1934 with 49 home runs and 165 RBI. I don’t know how closely you’re reading this post, but late last night my mind made the following calculation: “BA, home runs, + RBI … Wait, the dude won the triple crown!”
And therein lies the hilarity. In 1934 Gehrig didn’t walk, but stomped his way to the triple crown, leading all of baseball in home runs, RBI, BA, OBP and Slugging, and came in 5th in the MVP voting. If that happened this year a mob of angry bloggers would move from home to home tarring and feathering bad sports writers, whether they’d voted for Gehrig or not.
1. Mickey Cochrane, Tigers – C – .320/.428/.412, 2 HR, 76 RBI, 437 AB
2. Charlie Gehringer, Tigers – 2B – .356/.450/.517, 11 HR, 127 RBI, 601 AB
3. Lefty Gomez, Yankees – P – 26 W, 5 L, 2.33 ERA, 1.133 WHIP
4. Schoolboy Rowe, Tigers – P – 24 W, 8 L, 3.45 ERA, 1.278 WHIP
5. Lou Gehrig, Yankees – 1B – .363/.465/.706, 49 HR, 165 RBI, 579 AB
6. Hank Greenberg, Tigers -1B – .339/.404/.600, 26 HR, 139 RBI, 593 AB
Guess who came in first and second place in the AL that year? Correct! The Indians followed by the Athletics! No, seriously it was the Tigers then the Yankees. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 on this list are all in the Hall of Fame. But none of this, and I mean none of it, justifies Gehrig coming in 5th. Here’s how the voting should have looked:
1. Gehrig – All of the votes minus one
2. Greenberg – 1 vote (I love that the 2nd best player on the list came in 6th, by the way.)
I’m sure that I needed to have been alive in 1934 to appreciate just how much the defensively important Cochrane and Gehringer meant to that pennant winning Tigers squad. Without their intangibles, and Cochrane’s hefty .412 slugging, Detroit may not have finished in 1st. Gehrig only led the Yankees to 94 wins in a 154 win season. Although his tangibles won him the triple crown and led baseball in OBP and Slugging along the way, he was lucky to have finished in 5th (FIFTH!) in the MVP voting because his poor baserunning that year (9 SB, 5 CS) easily cost the Yankees 11 wins.
I will leave you now with a list of all the players who have ever won the triple crown in a single season:
Ted Williams (twice; number of times he won MVP those seasons: zero. You can’t make this stuff up.)
Absent notables: Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, … you get the idea.