At the start, there were big plans for the intricately decorated sterling silver trophy called the Triple Crown Award. When it was first designed by the silversmith Samuel Kirk & Son in 1967, a replica was to be awarded to every player who won the Triple Crown. The permanent trophy would be on display at the Hall of Fame, with every recipient's name inscribed.
It was a nice concept, except that if you search every corner of the Hall in Cooperstown these days, you won't find it. Nor will you find someone who knows where it is. "We know it's not on display," said Brad Horn, senior director of communications at the Hall. "From what we can tell, it is not an official award. It is more just part of awards lore."
The plain fact is, it never caught on, and there is a good reason for that. There has been no reason to present it since 1967. Not one player has won the Triple Crown - leading his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in during the same season - since then. There has been no need to dust off the trophy commissioned by the Orioles' owner for Frank Robinson after the 1966 season and earned by Carl Yastrzemski the next year (Yaz was credited with the Triple Crown even though he tied Harmon Killebrew for the home run title).
Baseball's Triple Crown might as well be the Holy Grail, its appeal lying in its elusiveness. Perfect games come and go. Roger Maris' single-season home run mark has been broken. Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's career home run records have been surpassed (Ruth, Aaron and Barry Bonds have zero Triple Crowns among them). The Red Sox and White Sox have won the World Series. All of that has happened since the last Triple Crown.
A challenging feat
So it is a rarity of Halley's Comet proportions that two National League stars, Joey Votto of the Reds and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, each has a shot at it. And Albert Pujols is now a longshot because his batting average sagged in recent weeks. Yes, Halley's Comet also has come and gone since the last Triple Crown. World War II and all subsequent historical events have come and gone since the last time it was done in the National League, by Ducky Medwick of the Cardinals in 1937.
Baseball people have many explanations for the drought, starting with the fact that hitters have become specialized and guys who hit for high averages rarely are sluggers. Plus, there is another factor that caused Yastrzemski and Pujols to use the same exact words in interviews more than 40 years apart: "It's hard."
Every now and then, it does come up in conversation. If someone is doing well at the All-Star break, people start talking about it. But the efforts of the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas, Miguel Cabrera, Derek Lee, Gary Sheffield, Luis Gonzalez and Pujols (in 2005) all have fallen short. Not since Dick Allen in 1972 has anyone led all three categories in September. He missed by 10 points in the batting race.
No wonder players aren't clearing space in their dens for that silver Samuel Kirk & Son trophy. "We try to stay away from that," Gonzalez said when the Rockies visited Citi Field last month. "It's about what your team does. You can go 5-for-5 and if you lose, you've wasted your time."
Gonzalez led the National League with a .335 average through Friday's games, shared the RBI lead with Votto with 100 (one more than Pujols) and was tied for third in home runs with 32 (five behind Pujols). He would have been an unlikely Triple threat before the season. He was just looking to establish himself as a major-league regular for the first time.
"When you're young, you always have it in your mind, 'I've got to play well because I might get sent down to the minors.' That's a lot of pressure," he said.
Votto, who also had 32 home runs, stood third in average (.320). He, too, had more immediate concerns in 2010. Votto was looking to rebound fully from depression that followed his father's death and curtailed his 2009 season.
He definitely isn't a limelight seeker. Of the attention his season has generated, he recently said, "This type of stuff is kind of embarrassing, but in a good way, if that makes sense. I think I'm just too shy to really get into this type of stuff. I just enjoy doing my job. But I know that sometimes there's a little more to my job - our job - than just going out there and playing ball."
Some close calls
There will be no hiding if one of them holds all three titles - and holds off Omar Infante of the Braves, who could take the batting title if he has enough plate appearances. Baseball historian Paul Dickson, in "The Dickson Baseball Dictionary," said the term Triple Crown was popular in horse racing in the 1800s (races other than the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont). Its first known use in a baseball context was in 1936, recalling Lou Gehrig's feat in 1934.
The achievement always has been appreciated by ballplayers, especially those who came ever so close.
In 1948, Stan Musial of the Cardinals fell one home run short of Johnny Mize's and Ralph Kiner's total of 40. He later recalled that a home run against the Pirates was nullified when a game was rained out before it became official.
Still, it is such an oddity that a player can win it without knowing it. Yastrzemski told The Associated Press in 2007 that he didn't know he had won the Triple Crown in 1967 until the day after the regular season ended. He said he had been so caught up with the Red Sox's thrilling last-second pennant drive that he learned about the Triple Crown when he read the next day's paper.
"I had no reaction," he said on the 40th anniversary of his individual achievement. "I was ecstatic about the World Series and the pennant."
Should someone win the Triple Crown this year, or any time before Halley's Comet reappears, people surely will notice.