Diamond Crown

Joe Medwick’s National League Triple Crown season has gone unmatched for 75 years

October 05, 2012
Hall of Famer Joe Medwick's Triple Crown season has gone unmatched in the National League for 75 years. (NBHOF Library)

The last time a National League batter won the Triple Crown, Franklin Roosevelt was President of the United States and Kenesaw Mountain Landis was Commissioner of Baseball.

World War I was still known as “The Great War.” And “World War II” was not yet part of our language.

Seventy-five years ago, Joe Medwick produced one of the greatest single seasons in the history of the game. Since then, five American League batters have authored six Triple Crown seasons, including the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Meanwhile, the world has changed immeasurably. But no change has brought forth a National Leaguer able to win the batting crown, the home run title and the RBI championship in a single season.

Joseph Michael Medwick was 25 in 1937, and his historic season seemed perfectly in place with his career arc. Debuting with the St. Louis Cardinals as the team’s regular left fielder in 1933, Medwick was a powerful gap hitter who consistently hit over .300 with a slugging percentage of better than .500.

Medwick led the NL in triples with 18 in 1934, his first of six straight seasons with at least 100 RBI. In 1935, Medwick pushed his batting average over .350 for the first of three straight years, and the next year he hit an NL-record 64 doubles to go along with a league-leading 138 RBI. In 1937, however, Medwick led the league in just about everything.

The blockily-built Medwick led the NL that year in runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), home runs (31, tied with Mel Ott), RBI (154), average (.374), slugging percentage (.641) and total bases (406).

“Ducky”, as he was called, was a notorious bad-ball hitter who disdained walks (drawing only 41 that year). But he also didn’t strike out (fanning just 50 times in 1937), leaving opposing pitchers scratching their heads.

“I think he shouldn’t be allowed to carry a bat to the plate,” said pitcher Dutch Leonard, who faced Medwick often as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Make his use his fists to swing. Then he’d only hit singles.”

Medwick capped his 1937 season with the NL Most Valuable Player Award, but amazingly finished only two points ahead of runner-up Gabby Hartnett in the vote. Perhaps the voters did not fully realize the history they were witnessing.

In the modern (post 1900) era, four batters have won NL Triple Crowns. Rogers Hornsby took home the title in 1922 and 1925, and Chuck Klein won it in 1933. So by the start of the 1938 season, the NL Triple Crown had been won four times in 16 years.

Since then, five American League batters in six different seasons have captured the Triple Crown: Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966), Carl Yastrzemski (1967) and Cabrera (2012). But few NL batters have even come close to the feat.

Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey rewarded Medwick with a $22,500 raise in 1938, pushing his salary to $27,500 following his Triple Crown season. In 1938, Medwick hit .322 and once again paced the NL in RBI (122) and doubles (47).

Rickey offered a contract for 1939 for $22,500.

“You know what (Rickey) told me?” said Medwick. “He said: ‘Well, Joe, you didn’t have the kind of year you had the year before.’”

Three-quarters of a century later, no one in a National League uniform has.

Medwick was traded to the Dodgers during the 1940 season, and bounced to the Giants and Braves and back to the Dodgers again before finishing his career with the Cardinals in 1948. He fashioned a .324 career batting average, was named to 10 All-Star Games and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1968, proving that he was no one-year wonder.

But that one year, however, has stood the test of time.

“I just wonder what he would have hit if he didn’t go for those bad pitches,” said Frankie Frisch, who – like Medwick – would one day be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “But he might not have hit as well as he did, you know?”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum