Triple Crown Near Misses
No player has won baseball's hitting Triple Crown by leading his respective league in batting average, home runs and RBIs since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 but several players have come close." McCovey led the National League in home runs and batting average in each of the first two seasons after Carl Yastrzemski won the last Triple Crown in 1967. In 1969, he posted his only full-season average over .300, but his .320 mark still fell 24 points shy of Pete Rose, who led the majors in batting average in both of McCovey's "double-crown" seasons.
A player has led his league in home runs and RBIs 40 times since Yastrzemski won the last Triple Crown, but none has come closer to the batting title than Dick Allen did in 1972, when his .308 average fell ten points shy of Rod Carew's .318. Allen, who also led the league in walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases, had to settle for the league MVP, as did the most of the players on this list.
In 1977, George Foster became the only player between Willie Mays in 1965 and Cecil Fielder in 1990 to hit 50 home runs and had more RBIs than any other payer between Tommy Davis's 153 in 1962 and Andres Galarraga's 150 in 1996, but while he led a quarter century in both of those categories, he still fell 18 points shy of Dave Parker's NL-best .338 average.
Jim Rice's 1978 season practically put him in the Hall of Fame all by itself. That year, Rice led the majors in home runs, RBIs, hits, triples, total bases, slugging percentage, games, plate appearances, at-bats, led the American League in OPS, and OPS , started the All-Star Game and took home the AL MVP, but he fell 18 points shy of Rod Carew's AL-best .333 batting average.
Schmidt led the National League in both home runs and RBIs four times, but never came closer to the Triple Crown than in the strike-shortened 1981 season, when he hit .316, the only .300 average of his Hall of Fame career, yet fell 24 points behind Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock, who led both leagues with a .341 mark.
At 23, Sheffield arguably came closer to the Triple Crown than any other player since Yastrzemski last won it. Yes, Sheffield only led the league in batting average and didn't even finish second in either of the other two categories, but he fell just two home runs and nine RBIs short of the NL leaders in those statistics (Fred McGriff and Darren Daulton, respectively), gaps he might have closed had he not broken a finger with six games left on the schedule, or if Tony Gwynn, who hit ahead of Sheffield in the Padres' lineup, not missed most of the final moth with a knee injury.
Albert Belle and Frank Thomas
Neither Belle nor Thomas led the American League in any of the three Triple Crown categories in the strike-shortened 1994, but when the strike hit, both were within striking distance of all three. Belle was two points behind Paul O'Neill in batting average, four homers behind Ken Griffey Jr., and 11 RBIs behind Kirby Puckett. Thomas was also 11 RBIs behind Puckett and just two homers behind Griffey, while trailing O'Neill by a mere six points.
Walker led the NL in just one category in 1997 but was remarkably close in the other two. Lest anyone accuse him of being a product of Coors Field at its most extreme, Walker hit 29 of his league-leading 49 homers on the road drove in 62 of his 130 RBIs outside of Colorado, but fell just 10 RBIs short of teammate Andres Galarraga, who drove in 84 of his 140 runs at home, and six points shy of batting leader Tony Gwynn, who won the last of his eight batting titles by hitting .372.
Bonds set the single-season home run record in 2001, and in 2002 he was intentionally walked a then-record 68 times. All those walks likely robbed Bonds of the Triple Crown as he won the batting crown by 32 points over Larry Walker, but fell 18 RBIs short of Lance Berkman's NL-best mark of 128 and just three home runs shy of Sammy Sosa's league-leading total of 49.
If asked in March to name the player most likely to win a Triple Crown, you'd pick Pujols every year. Indeed, Prince Albert is no stranger to the Triple Crown chase. In 2003, at the age of 23, he led the majors with a .359 average while falling just four homers and 17 RBIs short of National League leaders Jim Thome and Preston Wilson (another Rockie who drove in 84 of his 141 runs at home). In 2009, Pujols led the majors with 47 homers, but fell just six RBIs short of co-leaders Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder and 15 points behind batting leader Hanley Ramirez.