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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 9, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Ichiro vs. Mauer batting race could be epic (Warning: Lots of numbers)


With all the hoopla over Ichiro’s 2,000th and 200th hits, here’s another batting achievement to monitor: the race for the American League batting title between Minnesota’s Joe Mauer (who won in 2008 and 2006) and Ichiro (who won in 2001 and 2004).

After Tuesday’s games, Mauer led at .368, while Ichiro had dropped to .358 with an 0-for-5 in Anaheim.

As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci pointed out in a recent column, the loser of this race has a chance to be the most prolific runnerup in the American League since 1957, when a couple of hacks named Ted Williams (.388) and Mickey Mantle (.365) finished 1-2. Mantle is the only AL runnerup in the past 70 years, according to Verducci, to hit higher than .360. These two are quite capable of finishing over .360, no doubt about it.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered that since 1950, the National League has had three such occasions (the runnerup finishing over .360) — each of them involving the person who finished second to Tony Gwynn. In 1997, Gwynn hit. 372, while Larry Walker hit .366 (and Mike Piazza finished third at .362!) In 1995, it was Gwynn at .368, Piazza at .360. And in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Gwynn had his run at .400 interrupted by the work stoppage, hitting .394 to Jeff Bagwell’s .368.

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Instances since 1950 in which the runnerup for the batting title has exceeded .350 are a little more common — eight in each league (but none between 1950 and 1993 in the National League). The most recent case happened just last season, when Atlanta’s Chipper Jones hit .364 and the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols was second at .357. In 2007, Ichiro’s .350 wasn’t good enough to beat out Magglio Ordonez’s .363.

Here’s the entire list of runnersup for the batting title to hit at least .340 since 1950. Those who exceeded .350 are in boldface, and those who exceeded .360 are bold and underlined.

A couple of things that jumped out at me:

  • Moises Alou hit .355? Really?

  • Mike Sweeney used to be very good, and not that long ago.

  • Tony Gwynn was insanely good.

  • Ditto Wade Boggs.

  • Colorado was a hitters paradise, pre-humidor.

  • Nomar Garciaparra’s Hall of Fame path sure went off track.

  • Willie Mays: Even better than you thought.

  • Melvin Mora hit .340? Really?

    American League

    (Champion, runnerup)

    2007: Magglio Ordonez (Detroit) .363, Ichiro (Seattle) .351

    2006: Joe Mauer (Minnesota) .347, Derek Jeter (NY) .343

    2004: Ichiro (Seattle) .372, Melvin Mora (Baltimore) .340

    2002: Manny Ramirez (Boston) .349, Mike Sweeney (KC) .340

    2001: Ichiro (Seattle) .350, Jason Giambi (Oakland) .342

    2000: Nomar Garciaparra (Boston) .372, Darin Erstad (Anaheim) .355

    1999: Nomar Garciaparra (Boston) .357, Derek Jeter (NY) .349

    1996: Alex Rodriguez (Seattle) .358, Frank Thomas (Chicago) .349

    1994: Paul O’Neill (NY) .359, Albert Belle (Cleveland) .357

    1988: Wade Boggs (Boston) .366, Kirby Puckett (Minnesota) .356

    1987: Wade Boggs (Boston) .363, Paul Molitor (Milwaukee) .353

    1986: Wade Boggs (Boston) .357, Don Mattingly (NY) .352

    1984: Don Mattingly (NY) .343, Dave Winfield (NY) .340

    1980: George Brett (KC) .390, Cecil Cooper (Milwaukee) .352

    1957: Ted Williams (Boston) .388, Mickey Mantle (NY) .365

    1956: Mickey Mantle (NY) .353, Ted Williams (Boston) .345

    1954: Bobby Avila (Cleveland) .341, Ted Williams (Boston) .345*

    1950: Billy Goodman (Boston) .354, George Kell (Detroit) .340

    *Williams didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the title. Under current rules, which count plate appearances, he would have won.

    National League

    (Champion, runnerup)

    2008: Chipper Jones (Atlanta) .364, Albert Pujols (St. Louis) .357

    2003: Albert Pujols (St. Louis) .359, Todd Helton (Colorado) .358

    2000: Todd Helton (Colorado) .372, Moises Alou (Houston) .355

    1998: Larry Walker (Colorado) .363, John Olerud (NY) .354

    1997: Tony Gwynn (San Diego) .372, Larry Walker (Colorado) .366

    1996: Tony Gwynn (San Diego) .353, Ellis Burks (Colorado) .344

    1995: Tony Gwynn (San Diego) .368, Mike Piazza (Los Angeles) .360

    1994: Tony Gwynn (San Diego) .394, Jeff Bagwell (Houston) .368

    1993: Andres Galarraga (Colorado) .370, Tony Gwynn (San Diego) .358

    1971: Joe Torre (St. Louis) .363, Ralph Garr (Atlanta) .343

    1969: Pete Rose (Cincinnati) .348, Roberto Clemente (Pittsburgh) .345

    1962: Tommy Davis (Los Angeles) .346, Frank Robinson (Cincinnati)) .342

    1961: Roberto Clemente (Pittsburgh) .351, Vada Pinson (Cincinnati) .343

    1959: Hank Aaron (Milwaukee) .355, Joe Cunningham (St. Louis) .345

    1958: Richie Ashburn (Philadelphia) .350, Willie Mays (San Francisco) .347

    1954: Willie Mays (New York) .345, Don Mueller (New York) .342

    1953: Carl Furillo (New York) .344, Red Schoendienst (St. Lous) .342

    1951: Stan Musial (St. Louis) .355, Richie Asburn (Philadelphia) .344

    (Photos by Associated Press)

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