Nobody has won the Triple Crown in the majors since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Nobody has won the Triple Crown in the National League since Joe "Ducky" Medwick in 1937. Back when those Triple Crowns were won, that was considered an accomplishment of epic proportions.
45 years after Yaz's Triple Crown, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera is the latest star poised to make an assault on the impressive feat. There is a real question as to whether or not Cabrera can close the 23 point gap between him and wunderkind Mike Trout in batting average, but there is an even more pressing question as to whether winning the Triple Crown would still garner Miggy the same level of acclaim as the other 13 men who won it in the history of baseball.
The Triple Crown is the same as it ever was: leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Three very simple stats that have never changed in the way they are calculated. Perception, now that is a whole other matter.
Batting average is a metric that has never been sexy as it has long been realized known that luck plays a role, but it remains a mighty fine statistic.
Homers, those have been and always will be the marquee stat because you can't argue with a ball going over the wall. Plus, chicks dig the long ball.
And that leaves us with RBIs. Oh, poor little RBI. Since the rise in popularity of sabermetrics, it seems that the RBI has been one of the "old school" statistics that is finding itself to be more and more antiquated with every season. It is to hitting what the win is to pitching. There is a reason that nobody really cares about the pitching Triple Crown anymore. In fact, I'd venture to guess that many of you reading this don't realize that both Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw won the pitching Triple Crowns in their respective leagues last season. That's because it didn't get nearly as much press as it once would have thanks to the growing percentage of baseball fans who realize a pitcher's win total is dependent on so many other factors that it isn't really a good indication of how good a pitcher is. This is why Felix Hernandez was able to win the 2010 AL Cy Young with only 13 wins.
Like wins, RBIs have been exposed as a flawed stat that is heavily dependent upon situation and context. So who is really going to care if Cabrera wins the RBI title this season? Sure, it is a nice accomplishment for him, but it is arguably just as nice of an accomplishment for Austin Jackson who is the leadoff man for Cabrera who is scoring a lot of those runs that Miguel has been batting in.
None of this is to say that a potential Triple Crown from Miguel Cabrera would not be impressive, far from it. Anyone who even threatens it is clearly an exceptional ballplayer. But is that player any less exceptional if he leads the league in average and homers but trails the RBI leader by four or even fourteen? Certainly not.
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I'm not sure it's lost its luster so much as it has become so rare that neither fans nor baseball scribes get excited when somebody appears to be in the running. They expect it not to happen. Albert Pujols finished in the top five of all three categories for several years, but always came up short.
Compare the occasional "threat" to achieve the triple crown today with Yastrzemski winning in '67, Frank Robinson the year before, Mickey Mantle in '56, and Ted Williams in '42, '47 and just missing in '49. That's five in 25 years, nearly six. Since then, it's become one of those old time stats that are technically possible, but only at incredible odds, like winning 30 games, or hitting .400.
I'm old enough to have followed Ted Williams' last 4 years playing, and took his side with his feuds with Boston baseball writers, so naturally, I blame the writers for not talking it up. There are very few writers remaining who wrote stories about the last two triple crowns, and the newer writers just aren't aware of it, even though its rarity should have burnished its standing as a career accomplishment.
BTW, there HAVE been changes in how the batting title has been calculated, and home runs and RBIs awarded over the years. The most recent was when Ted Williams lost the 1955 batting title because it was based on minimum at-bats, not plate appearances. He led the league in walks with 132, and didn't have the required at-bats for his .345 average to qualify. Al Kaline won it with a .340 average.