Babe Ruth once won a batting title -- while hitting 46 home runs.
Matty Alou once won a batting title -- while hitting two home runs.
Just thought you’d want to remember that because it reminds us batting champs come in all shapes and sizes, and the record books don’t note any of that except batting average.
Ah, but we September history watchers note all of that. We can’t help ourselves. So let’s take a look at three potential 2014 batting champions -- and the potentially unique paths they’re traveling.
Six of one, half-dozen of the other
If the season ended today -- and luckily, that’s highly unlikely -- Josh Harrison of the Pirates would be your National League batting champ. What’s fascinating about that is he has basically been a guy who plays every day. You just never know where.
He’s started 46 games at third base, 44 games at all three outfield positions, 13 games at second base and four at short.
“Heck, he even pitched last year,” his teammate Andrew McCutchen said.
The guy gets around the diamond, all right. So allow me to repeat another McCutchen quote on Harrison, which originally was part of an NL MVP column this week. It’s so good -- how can you ever get tired of it?
“He’s like the hyena of our team,” McCutchen said. “He eats up anything that needs to be eaten up. You need someone to cover third base, or shortstop, or the outfield? He steps in. If you need something, he’s there.”
To be honest, I’d always focused more on the laughing portion of the hyena’s skill set than the eating portion. But that’s why MVPs are different from the rest of us, I guess. And that also brings us to the historic part of Josh Harrison’s pursuit of a batting title.
So, you ask, has there ever been a batting champion who played six positions the year he won?
Thanks for asking. And the answer is
Not since 1900. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in the modern era, we’ve had two batting champs who played five positions. One was Billy Goodman in 1950. The other might shock you; it shocked me.
Yep. In 1921, Hornsby played first, second, third, short and left field while hitting .397 in his spare time. You can look that up. Pretty good player!
But to find the most recent six-position batting champ, you have to travel back in time all the way to 1883, when Michael (King) Kelly moved his throne around to all four infield positions plus right field and also caught 56 games.
Pretty impressive. But I bet he was never compared to a hyena. So Josh Harrison, meet King Kelly. You two have a lot to talk about -- at the next séance.
Short people can hit
If you’re not aware of the awesome Twitter account @HowManyAltuves, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Just the other day, in fact, you could have learned, by following it, that the great Jose Altuve’s hits this season have covered 4,668.4 Altuves (or close to 26,500 feet, if you haven’t mastered the Metric Altuve System yet).
— Ulysses S. Cocksman (@USCocksman) September 17, 2014
But we focus on that sort of thing only because Jose Altuve is kinda, well, short. Or height-challenged. Or, at the very least, minimalistic.
Officially, he’s listed as 5-foot-7, which could lead him to all kinds of fun achievements, such as
He’d be the shortest batting champ since 5-foot-4 Willie Keeler led the NL in 1898. (Hey, why do you think they called him “Wee Willie?”)
But that’s not all Jose Altuve has on the line. Here’s more:
• He’s on pace for 227 hits. The record for most hits by an AL second baseman in the live-ball era just happens to be 227, by Charlie Gehringer in 1936.
• Altuve is leading the league in both batting average and stolen bases. The only other players to win a batting title and stolen-base title in the same season in the past 90 years: Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Jackie Robinson in 1949 and the legendary Snuffy Stirnweis in 1945. Yeah, Snuffy Stirnweis.
• If Altuve keeps up his current, furious pace, he’d finish with 227 hits, 57 steals and 46 doubles. Only one man who ever lived had a season in which he reached those three totals: Tyrus R. Cobb in 1911 (248/83/47). Whoa.
Ah, but there’s one more thing we probably ought to mention: Due to the fact that his team’s offensive talents don’t match its second baseman’s, Altuve has scored only 82 runs this year -- even with all those hits, all those steals and all those doubles. So
• The record for fewest runs scored by a guy who had 220 or more hits is 88, by Ichiro in 2009. That one’s in big trouble.
• The AL record for fewest runs scored in the live-ball era by a guy who had 220 hits and stole 50 bases is (ready?) 127, by Ichiro in 2001. That one’s in bigger trouble.
• The only batting champs who ever had 215 or more hits and still scored fewer than 90 runs are Kirby Puckett (215 hits, 75 runs for the 1989 Twins) and Rod Carew (218 hits, 86 runs for the 1974 Twins). Puckett’s record, thankfully, is in no trouble.
So is it worth rooting for Jose Altuve to win a batting title just for all the fabulous statistical tidbits it would generate? Of course it is. All the @HowManyAltuves tidbits it would generate would be an added bonus.
The midnight ride of Ben Revere
Finally, there’s one more guy with a shot at a highly unusual sort of batting title -- Ben Revere of the Phillies. He has faded to .309, which is nine points back of Harrison, so he probably isn’t going to win this thing. But if he does, boy is he headed for some odd history:
• His on-base percentage is .326. That would be the lowest OBP by any batting champ since 1900. Current record: .353 by Bill Buckner.
• Revere’s OPS is .693. Not only would that be the lowest by any batting champ in modern history, it would also be the lowest by many Altuves. Current record: .749 by Rod Carew in 1972.
• In a related development, Revere has walked precisely 12 times this season, so he’s undoubtedly headed for the fewest by any batting champ over a full season since 1900. Zack Wheat (16 in 1918) holds that esteemed mark.
• Revere also has racked up exactly 22 extra-base hits. That would be the fewest in a full season by any batting champ in the live-ball era (Carew’s 27 being the current record) -- and the fewest by any batting champ since Wheat’s 18 in 1918. Had the “gapper” even been invented in 1918?
• Revere has driven in 26 runs. He needs to avoid driving in any more if he wants to break Matty Alou’s record for fewest in a full season by any batting champ since 1900. (Alou drove in 27 in 1966.)
• Finally, Revere has scored just 68 runs. That’s not going to break any records. But it’s still pretty incredible. Here’s the most incredible part of all: That’s the same number of runs scored by Jay Bruce, the man with the fewest hits this year of any qualifying NL player. Ben Revere has 175 hits. Jay Bruce has 100. Granted, this might say more about the lineups around these players than about them specifically. But it’s worthy of mention in our September History Watch. Don’t you think?