In the long history of Major League Baseball, Triple Crown seasons are few and far between; most years, no player even comes close.
But when the Boston Red Sox open up a four-game series against the New York Yankees on Thursday night, they will face a familiar foe endeavoring to achieve the rare feat.
Aaron Judge is currently striving for the first Hitting Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012, and only the second since Carl Yastremski earned the title during Boston’s Impossible Dream season in 1967.
In order to have a Triple Crown year, a hitter must lead their league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Judge has at least 20 more homers than any other hitter in all of MLB, never mind the American League, and a comfortable lead in the RBI category, so the only thing he really needs to do is keep hitting to maintain his batting average. He is currently only a fraction of a point ahead of Xander Bogaerts, who is vying for his first batting title.
Whereas there have been 39 Pitching Triple Crowns, only 17 hitters have won the Triple Crown. That shows – and can partially be attributed to – how much the game has changed over the decades. The Dead Ball Era gave way to Live Ball (and Juiced Ball); the league has expanded several times and been carved into divisions, impacting the schedule. There’s inter-league play, different equipment, and a slew of other variables that render today’s game so different from the baseball our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents, grew up watching.
With the Sox in the Bronx, it’s interesting to look back at the franchise’s only Triple Crown sluggers, and see how their seasons compare to Judge’s. Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski are the only two Boston Red Sox hitters to achieve the feat, with Williams winning in 1942 and 47, and Yaz in 1967.
The obvious disclaimer is that any time a comparison is made between two players of entirely different eras of the game, it will be a skewed exercise to some extent. Williams and Yastrzemski played decades before Judge was even born. The two Sox legends played in ballparks that no longer exist; Judge plays in a ballpark that wouldn’t be built until years after Williams passed away. “Teddy Ballgame” lost a significant portion of his prime to military service.
Nevertheless, Judge’s Triple Crown aspirations present an opportunity to compare and contrast slugging outfielders from the greatest rivalry in sports, and it’s simply too tantalizing to pass up.
Ted Williams: 1942, 1947 Triple Crown
In 1942, Williams was 22 years old and already in his fourth MLB season. In what would turn out to be his last season before joining the Navy Reserve to do his part for the Allied Forces in World War II, he won his first Triple Crown by leading MLB with 36 home runs, 137 RBI, and a .356 batting average. He somehow how finished second in MVP voting to Yankees infielder Joe Gordon, despite outdoing him in every offensive metric.
After he returned to the Sox in 1946, Williams had a second Triple Crown season in 1947. That year, he led the AL with 32 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .343 AVG.
It’s interesting to note that Williams somehow finished second to a Yankees player in AL MVP voting in each of his Triple Crown seasons, despite outhitting both of the winners. In 1942, second baseman Joe Gordon took home the prize despite being bafflingly inferior to Williams, and in 1947, it happened again, but with Joe DiMaggio.
Carl Yastrzemski: 1967 Triple Crown winner
Carl Yastrzemski was also significantly younger than Judge in his Triple Crown season. In 1967, he led MLB with 44 home runs and 121 RBI and led the league with a .326 AVG to take home the title. Despite back-to-back 40-homer seasons in ’69 and ’70, his metrics never lined up for another crown.
Will Aaron Judge win a Triple Crown in 2022?
Judge already blew past Mickey Mantle’s 52 home runs, the record for any player in their Triple Crown year. He’s up to 60, which puts him one round-tripper away from tying Roger Maris for the American League single-season record.
As for RBI, his 128 give him a double-digit lead on the next closes American League hitter.
So really, it all comes down to batting average, which is almost comical in today’s advanced metrics-heavy game. He could definitely do it, but he’ll never have a .400+ season like Teddy Ballgame.