It was nice to see Houston’s second baseman Jose Altuve win a Silver Slugger Award. Altuve won the 2014 American League batting title (are the Astros really in the AL- my ’70s fan DNA still does not allow me to fully digest this fact) with a .341 mark, going 2 for 4 in the final contest, a game where he insisted he play rather than sit as per the strong preference of the suits in the Houston organization. Altuve had not been in the original lineup posted at 9AM, but his name was inserted two hours later.
This is in contrast to the Mets’ Jose Reyes, who was holding a one point batting race lead over Ryan Braun going into the 2011 finale, dropped down a bunt single in the first inning, and then abruptly left the game. While Reyes’ batting title was earned over a full season of hard work, he certainly did not close it out in the most noble way possible, like Altuve, or Ted Williams in 1941. Going into that season’s last day, Williams was hitting .3996, which rounded to .400. Boston manager Joe Cronin gave Williams the option to play and Williams replied if he couldn’t hit .400 from the beginning to the end of a season, he didn’t deserve it. The Splendid Splinter went 6-8 in the double header, finishing at .406.
In 1976 Ken Griffey decided to sit out the Reds’ final game, nursing a 5 point lead (.338 to .333) over Chicago’s Bill Madlock, the defending batting champ. Madlock went 4 for 4 that day, raising his average to .339. His fourth hit moved him ahead of Griffey, and Madlock was pinch hit for in his next turn at bat. Hearing about what had transpired in Montreal, Griffey asked back into his game, pinch hitting in the 7th inning, and struck out. He came up an inning later and whiffed again, finishing behind Madlock with a .336 average. It was the second of Mad Dog’s 4 batting titles.
Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the Royals’ George Brett and Hal McRae were fighting for the AL Batting title in their last game of the year against the Minnesota Twins. Minnesota’s Rod Carew was defending a four year batting crown streak. The day started off with McRae holding a slim lead:
After 8 1/2 innings, McRae and Brett were 2 for 3, and Carew had himself a 2 for 4 day, but was now out of the race. Both Brett, hitting 3rd that day, and McRae batting 4th, were due up in the bottom 9th.
Brett came up with one out, and hit a short fly to left field. The ball fell in front of Twins leftfielder Steve Brye, then took a high bounce off the artificial turf over Brye’s head, and rolled to the fence. Brett never stopped running and wound up with an inside-the-park homerun, putting him ahead at .333. McRae came up next with the batting title on the line and grounded out to short, then hollered toward the Twins dugout at manager Gene Mauch, and flipped him off, accusing him and Brye of intentionally letting Brett win the title because Brett was white and McRae black.
“Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”
McRae never explained why Mauch or Brye would have any interest in helping the upstart Brett win a batting title, or why Brye would not only let the ball drop but then embarrass himself further by letting it roll for a home run.
Brett took the high road, saying he felt bad for Hal because they were good friends and that he learned how to play the game hard from the older McRae. He never brought up finishing with 40 more hits than McRae, primarily a DH who played only 31 games in the outfield all season.
Carew weighed in after the game, “that’s a bunch of crap when they talk about racial stuff.” He proceeded to win the next two batting crowns, giving him 6 titles in 7 years, including a .388 season in 1977 that was the high mark in the majors during the 1970s. Brett went on to lead the league in hitting during 3 different decades, hitting .390 in 1980 and .329 in 1990.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: