Hamilton is a legit Triple Crown threat

Hamilton is a legit Triple Crown threat

ARLINGTON -- A couple of months ago, Rangers third baseman Michael Young was asked if there was a player in baseball capable of winning the Triple Crown.

Young brought up only one name: Albert Pujols.

Two months later, he is revising his thinking.

"Yeah," Young said. "Josh Hamilton is having an incredible year."

There is no doubt about that. Hamilton, entering the All-Star break, was tied for first in the American League with a .346 batting average and was tied for second with 22 home runs, one behind Toronto's Jose Baustista. He also had 64 RBIs, ranking him fourth in the league. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera led with 77.

Those are the three categories that make up baseball's offensive Triple Crown and only 13 times since 1900 has a player led his league in all three. Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski was the last player to do so, in 1967, when he led the American League with a .326 average, 44 home runs and 121 RBIs.

The possibility is growing that Hamilton, who will start for the third consecutive year for the AL in Tuesday night's All-Star Game, could make a serious run at that hallowed accomplishment when the Rangers resume their run after the break toward their first division title since 1999.

"He's having an MVP caliber year," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He's got a legitimate shot at winning the Triple Crown, and I don't see him slowing down."

It would be a tremendous accomplishment for a player who started off slow at the plate and then turned it on with a torrid June that ranks as one of the best months ever put together in Rangers history.

"If I said it wouldn't be nice, obviously, I would be lying," Hamilton said. "If it happens, it happens. If not, I'll just settle for a strong year and a winning year. Those are the two things that are foremost on my mind."

Triple Crown winners since 1900
Year Name Avg. HR RBI
1967 C. Yastrzemski (BOS) 326 44 121
1966 Frank Robinson (BAL) 316 49 122
1956 Mickey Mantle (NYY) 353 52 130
1947 Ted Williams (BOS) 343 32 114
1942 Ted Williams (BOS) 356 37 137
1937 Joe Medwick (STL) 374 31 154
1934 Lou Gehrig (NYY) 363 49 165
1933 Jimmie Foxx (PHI) 356 48 163
1933 Chuck Klein (PHI) 368 28 120
1925 Rogers Hornsby (STL) 403 39 143
1922 Rogers Hornsby (STL) 401 42 152
1909 Ty Cobb (DET) 377 9 107
1901 Nap Lajoie (PHI) 426 14 125

Hamilton had a strong year in 2008 when he hit .304 with 32 home runs and 130 RBIs. He led the league in RBIs but was tied for eighth in home runs and was 11th in the league in hitting.

Hamilton knows it was not a complete season. Hamilton, the AL Player of the Month for April and May that year, hit .310 with 21 home runs and 95 RBIs in 93 games before the All-Star break, but .296 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs afterward. Only a strong September, when he hit .366, kept his average from dipping below .300.

"I had two great months and a strong finish," Hamilton said. "It's hard to say it was a great year."

To win a Triple Crown, a player needs to have a complete season. In 1967, Yastrzemski hit .324 with 19 home runs and 56 RBIs in 79 games before the All-Star break, and .329 with 25 home runs and 65 RBIs afterward.

When Frank Robinson won the AL Triple Crown in 1966, he hit .312 with 21 home runs and 56 RBIs in 85 games before the break, and .321 with 28 home runs and 66 RBIs in 70 games afterward.

Both Yastrzemski and Robinson had complete seasons, and they were also better in the second half than in the first half.

"It's all about just trying to stay consistent," Hamilton said. "That's the main thing I'm trying to do."

Kinsler sees Hamilton as a Triple Crown threat because he is simply a much smarter player than he was in 2008. In '08, Hamilton had a hard time adjusting after pitchers started pitching him differently in the second half. They kept throwing him off-speed stuff outside the zone and Hamilton kept impatiently chasing those pitches.

"Offensively, he didn't know what he was doing," Kinsler said. "He was going on raw ability. Now he knows the game better and his capability. The better you understand yourself, the faster you can stop the downward slides. He's learned a lot about himself and the game. That's why I don't see him slowing down."

Remember, 2008 was just Hamilton's second year in the Major Leagues. Remember also that he missed almost four complete years while being out of baseball because of his drug and alcohol addictions. The talent has never been a question, and it helped him get to the big leagues once he was able to get his personal life under control. But his tortuous path to the Majors also put him far behind on the baseball learning curve. Now he no longer gets by on ability alone.

"A couple of months ago, Josh made some adjustments," Young said. "When you do that, come through it and get out at the end swinging the bat well, you're a better player for it. You prove to yourself that you can make adjustments, and that's what Josh did.

"That's what great hitters do. They're hitting well, then they hit a stretch where things aren't falling and they adjust. They find a way to get it done. Great hitters do it all through their careers, and that's what Josh is doing."

That's why Hamilton is considered a better player now than he was during his magical run in 2008 when he was the talk of baseball.

"I would agree with that," Hamilton said. "You just get to the point where you trust yourself completely, you trust your ability and you don't question it. You know the numbers will be there if you do the things you're supposed to do before the game to prepare.

"Plus, when I make an out in a game, [hitting coach] Clint Hurdle or [assistant] Johnny Narron will go up and look at the video, then come back and say, 'What do you think you did wrong?' I'll tell them and they'll say, 'You're exactly right.'"

Hamilton is also learning what it takes to stay on the field. He was on the disabled list twice in 2007 with the Reds and again twice last year when he played in just 89 games.

"The biggest thing is not deviating from my routine," Hamilton said. "I'm getting my rest. I'm doing my workouts before the game and getting treatment. If you don't feel like working out, you can't say I'm going to miss a couple of days. You've got to stay with it.

"Obviously, I'm a lot smarter about chasing fly balls and running into walls. If we're up by a run or down by a run, you go after it hard. But if it's not a situation where you just have to make a play, maybe you ease up a little bit. I know what I'm doing out there."

The Rangers were 87-75 in 2009, finishing in second place despite getting more than a half of season from Hamilton. They were 52-37 in games he played and 35-38 when he was absent. Beginning Sept. 1, he played in just five of the Rangers' final 32 games. Texas won the five games he played, but were 10-17 in the others as they faded from contention.

The last three Triple Crown winners -- Yastrzemski, Robinson and Mickey Mantle in 1956 -- all played for teams that won the pennant. The Rangers, in first place at the All-Star break, need Hamilton to finish what he has started. If he does, the Triple Crown and a division title could both be in play.

chasing the crown
Players who have put up near-Triple Crown numbers since the award was last won, by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
American League
Year Player AVG HR RBI
2005 Alex Rodriguez .321 (2nd; .331) 48 (1st) 130 (4th; 148)
2001 Alex Rodriguez .318 (7th; .350) 52 (1st) 135 (3rd; 141)
2000 Carlos Delgado .344 (4th; .372) 41 (T-4th; 47) 137 (T-4th; 145)
1999 Manny Ramirez .337 (5th; .357) 44 (T-3rd; 48) 165 (1st)
1998 Albert Belle .328 (3rd; .339) 49 (2nd; 56) 152 (2nd; 157)
1994 Albert Belle .357 (2nd; .359) 36 (3rd; 40) 101 (T-3rd; 112)
1994 Frank Thomas .353 (3rd; .359) 38 (2nd; 40) 101 (T-3rd; 112)
1986 Don Mattingly .352 (2nd; .357) 31 (T-6th; 40) 113 (3rd; 121)
1982 Cecil Cooper .313 (5th; .332) 32 (T-5th; 39) 121 (2nd; 133)
1979 Fred Lynn .333 (1st) 39 (T-2nd; 45) 122 (4th; 139)
1979 Jim Rice .325 (4th; .333) 39 (T-2nd; 45) 130 (2nd; 139)
1978 Jim Rice .315 (3rd; .333) 46 (1st) 139 (1st)
National League
Year Player AVG HR RBI
2009 Albert Pujols .342 (2nd) 47 (1st) 135 (3rd)
2007 Matt Holliday .340 (1st) 36 (4th; 50) 137 (1st)
2006 Albert Pujols .331 (3rd; .344) 49 (2nd; 58) 137 (2nd; 149)
2003 Albert Pujols .359 (1st) 43 (4th; 47) 124 (4th; 141)
2002 Barry Bonds .370 (1st) 46 (2nd; 49) 110 (6th; 128)
2000 Todd Helton .372 (1st) 42 (7th; 50) 147 (1st)
1997 Larry Walker .366 (2nd; .372) 49 (1st) 130 (3rd; 140)
1995 Dante Bichette .340 (3rd; .368) 40 (1st) 128 (1st)
1994 Jeff Bagwell .368 (2nd; .394) 39 (2nd; 43) 116 (1st)
1992 Gary Sheffield .330 (1st) 33 (3rd; 35) 100 (5th; 109)
1983 Dale Murphy .302 (6th; .323) 36 (2nd; 40) 121 (1st)
1981 Mike Schmidt .316 (4th; .341) 31 (1st) 91 (1st)
1978 Dave Parker .334 (1st) 30 (3rd; 40) 117 (2nd; 120)
1977 George Foster .320 (4th; .338) 52 (1st) 149 (1st)
1972 Billy Williams .333 37 (3rd; 40) 122 (2nd; 125)
1969 Willie McCovey .320 (5th; .348) 45 (1st) 126 (1st)

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.