In the midst of researching material for the VORG World Series Preview, I came upon the fact that Albert Pujols finished the year at .299, with 37 homers and 99 RBI. I noted that he was the first player in history to finish one point short of .300 AND one RBI short of 100 in the same season. That got me thinking of the nice round numbers we have considered goals in baseball: .300, 200 hits, 100 RBI, 30 HR, etc.
Now, I know we use a decimal number system, so once we get to “9” of anything, there isn’t anywhere else to go but “0”. However, players are always described in terms of their round numbers. Check out any plaque in the Hall of Fame. There are mentions of the gross numbers …. 714 homers, 4,192 hits, .406 . . . but more often than not, the text boils down to benchmarks, nearly all ending in a zero.
Really, there is no difference in the player who hits .299 and the one who hits .300, especially given the changing league batting averages over time. A .300 average in the “Year of the Pitcher” (1968, when the league average was .237) should be considered more of an achievement than hitting that same number in say, 1999 (when the league average was .271). But I digress.
Some award voters rely too heavily upon the “0”s when making out their ballots for regular season and Hall of Fame honors. While its highly unlikely Pujols will miss out on his Cooperstown enshrinement based upon falling short on a couple of “0” benchmarks in one year, for some others, it might be the difference between a contract incentive bonus and “just another year”.
With that in mind, the VORG hereby pays tribute to “the 9″s . . . those batters whose stats, while quite good, weren’t quite good enough to reach the vaunted (and arbitrary) goodness of “the 0s”.
First up, the .299 average. We have two players who hit .299 in two different seasons (with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title). Gabby Hartnett did it 10 years apart (1924 and 1934), and DID hit over .300 in other seasons. The other batter was a guy named Prince Fielder, whose free agent resume won’t be dinged that much by his mere .299 seasons in 2009 and 2011, and the lack of a .300 season to date.
Next, 99 runs batted in. Five different players have had two seasons with “100-1” runs batted in. Ty Cobb did it seven years apart (1915 and 1922), to go along with seven seasons over 100 runs batted in. White Sox outfielder Bibb Falk managed to do it in two consecutive seasons (1924 and 1925), with one single season over 100 RBI. More than 50 years passed until Baltimore’s Lee May turned the trick in 1975 and 1977. May also had three other years over 100 RBI. The late Kirby Puckett reached 99 RBI twice (1987, 1995), with three seasons above 100. The most recent member of the club is Sean Casey (1999 and 2004), with no 100+ RBI years to his credit.
Moving onto homers, Reggie Jackson (he of the precisely one .300 season) hit exactly 29 homers a record three times in his Hall of Fame career. He hit 30 or more seven times. Jim Rice, Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro are tied for the most seasons with exactly 39 homers (3). Palmeiro had four 40+ homer seasons, Bagwell three and Rice one. In the “49 homer club”, we have the Lou Gehrig and the late Harmon Killebrew each leading with two seasons. Neither man ever surpassed 49 in a season.
We streak over to the power/speed threats, the “HR/SB” club. Joe Carter is the ONLY member of the “29/29” club (1986). He DID go “32/31” the very next season. No player has been admitted to the “39/39” club. Matt Kemp and Vlad Guerrero drove past the club entrance, each having one “39/40” season.
In the 199 hit department, we find Miguel Tejada (2005 and 2009) and Duke Snider (1950 and 1954) leading the pack with their two such seasons. Tejada also had two 200+ hit seasons, while Snider threw in a 198-hit season for good measure.
Finally, as you realize from Pujols feat, you can understand that no one has made the “9”s Triple Crown club (29 HR, 99 RBI, .299 BA). The closest finishers:
Of those with 29 homers, Mike Sweeney’s 2001 campaign with 99 RBIs and a .304 average just misses. So, with Sweeney therefore also coming closest amongst those with 99 RBIs, we move onto the average. Of those with a .299 average, Pujols’ 2011 ledger (a total difference of eight HRs and/or RBI), is the best.