Triple crown chance will keep me watching

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It isn’t, and probably won’t, getting as much attention as all the home run-record chases of the last 12 years of baseball seasons, but for baseball purists, the run Albert Pujols is going to make at a triple crown is going to be intensely exciting.

No MLB player has completed a triple crown, leading a league in home runs, RBI and batting average in the same season, since 1967 and Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski. In the NL, go back to 1937, that’s three generations, and Joe Medwick.

Going back to the Great Depression means bypassing names such as Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson and Barry Bonds.

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Through Monday’s MLB games, Pujols has 34 home runs, nine more than his closest competitors. Pujols, with 90 RBI, which is a pace for 150-160 for the year, is six RBI clear of Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder. After Fielder, the RBI leaders drop into the 60s. Barring injury, Pujols is better than 50-50 at sweeping the homer and RBI categories.

Pujols faces another player who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves, Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, in the batting average race. Ramirez leads the NL at .345 heading into Tuesday’s schedule and Pujols trails in second at .333.

Seventy-two years is enough to prove a triple crown’s rarity, but it’s difficult, perhaps even fickle, for players to lead the league in any of the three hitting categories. Bonds, who was a seven-time MVP, led the National League in home runs in two seasons in his career.

Frank Thomas, debatably the best offensive player in the AL for most of the 90s, won one batting average title. Probable Hall of Fame players Mike Piazza and Vladimir Guerrero never led a league for a season in any of the three stats.

Pujols has won one NL batting average crown. In 2003, Pujols led the NL in average and was fourth in homers (four HRs behind the leader) and RBI (17 behind), which gave him a heroic season and a “close call” at a triple crown.

There’s one more reason for any baseball fan who surfs across a St. Louis game on TV during the next couple months to stop for an at-bat or two: baseball fans in St. Louis will be behind Pujols doing this even more than the Cardinal fans were for Mark McGwire’s homers.

St. Louis baseball fans are the equivalent of high school football fans in Texas or Pennsylvania, or high school hoops diehards in Indiana, Kentucky, or perhaps even right here in Suffolk. Pujols’s home games will be theater for veteran baseball fans who want to feel nostalgic and for younger viewers who can’t turn back the clock.

Finally, as far as we know, which isn’t meant to be commentary by itself but it’s the way it is now, but as far as we know Pujols has no steroid history. Furthermore, he’s always been a quiet, humble star. A player who’s not known as a superstar, even as he’s a pro athlete who would live up to that billing, because of how humble he is.