Sunday, December 23, 2012

Controversial Batting Crowns (Part II)

Prior to the 1920 campaign, rules required that players appear in just 100 games to qualify for the annual batting title. This led to some pretty interesting results.

In 1926, Cincinnati backstop Bubbles Hargrave captured the crown with a .353 average. This placed him 3 percentage points above the runner-up, outfielder (and teammate) Cuckoo Christensen. Third in line for the honor that year was catcher Earl Smith of the Pirates, who posted a .346 mark.  None of the named players logged more than 385 plate appearances, prompting many to argue that the NL title should go to rookie outfielder (and future Hall of Famer) Paul Waner, who had hit .336 in 144 games.

A similar situation arose in 1932, when infielder Dale Alexander compiled a .367 average with the Tigers and Red Sox. A notoriously ham-fisted first baseman, Alexander had languished on the Detroit bench until a June trade sent him to Boston. In the cozy confines of Fenway, his bat caught fire as he hit at a .372 clip the rest of the way. Despite making just 103 defensive appearances and logging a paltry total of 392 official at-bats, he wrestled a triple crown away from slugger Jimmie Foxx, who had a monster year with 58 homers, 169 RBI and a .369 average. Needless to say, this made quite a few people unhappy.

In 1936, the American League attempted to discourage a repeat of the '32 fiasco by changing the requirement to 400 at-bats. The National League lagged behind and consequently suffered another round of controversy in 1940, when outfielder/ third baseman Debs Garms of Pittsburgh snatched the crown with a .355 mark in 103 games--many as a pinch-hitter. Since neither of his closest competitors (Ernie Lombardi and Johnny Cooney) had recorded more than 376 at-bats,  numerous writers complained that the batting championship should be awarded to Stan Hack, who finished fourth with a .317 mark in 694 plate appearances.

Though the rules would change more than once over the next several decades, controversy emerged nevertheless. I'll conclude this discussion in my next post.

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