I was writing a story on Jim Rice the other day – he’ll be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, along with Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon – and going over some statistics when something jumped out at me.
In 1978, the year he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Rice led the league in home runs (46) and triples (15) and about nine other things, as well. Home runs and triples? Who ever did that? I figured that has to be an extreme rarity. Usually power hitters aren’t going to be sprinting full bore for 90 yards to get three bases more than a couple of times a summer.
It turns out, it is indeed a rarity. Beyond that, Rice is a member of a triumvirate of hitters who have done something even more rare.
Craig Muder, my former boss as sports editor of The Observer-Dispatch and now director of communications for the Hall of Fame, provided me with a list of players who have led their leagues in homers and triples in the same year. It’s a short one. There are two guys on it I should have expected. Mickey Mantle led the American League with 11 triples and 37 homers in 1955, and Willie Mays led the National League with 13 triples and 51 home runs the same year.
The others? Jim Bottomley led the NL with 20 triples and 31 homers in 1928. He really is the only other “modern” player to have done so. The others were Harry Stovey (NL, 1880, 14 triples, 6 homers); Tip O’Neill (American Association, 1887, 19 triples, 14 homers); Harry Stovey (NL, 1891, 20 triples, 16 homers); Tommy Leach (NL, 1902, 22 triples, 6 homes), and Harry Lumley (NL, 1904, 18 triples, 9 homers).
But Craig passed on one more stunning stat. Only three players in the 130-plus history of big league baseball have led their leagues in home runs, triples, AND RBIs. O’Neill and Bottomley are two. Rice is the other. He had 139 RBIs in 1978. If you hit a lot of home runs you’ll have a lot of RBIs, but still, to lead the league in triples, homers and RBIs in the same year? Well, again, only three guys have done it, which shows you something about the talents of Jim Rice.