Solving the mystery of Heinie Zimmerman’s 1912 National League Triple Crown
This article was written by Herm Krabbenhoft
This article was published in SABR Deadball Era newsletter articles
Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in the SABR Deadball Era Research Committee’s February 2015 newsletter. This article expands upon a well-received presentation at SABR 44 in 2014 in Houston. Supporting documentation and other aspects of the research upon which this article is founded has been posted on the SABR website here.
Who won the first Triple Crown in the National League in the twentieth century?
Was it Heinie Zimmerman, a Deadball Era infielder who had only one superstar campaign during his career?
Or was it Rogers Hornsby, a Hall of Famer during the live-ball era with ten superstar seasons to his credit?
For many years, according to several prestigious sources, Zimmerman was shown as having achieved the Triple Crown in 1912 while playing with the Chicago Cubs — ten years before Hornsby earned the honor in 1922 while with the St. Louis Cardinals. However, since 1969, other prominent sources have shown that Zimmerman did not win the Triple Crown in 1912, thereby making Hornsby the answer to the opening question. What happened?
According to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary[fn]Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 3rd ed., 2009), 891.[/fn], the first use of the term “Triple Crown” in baseball was on page 5 of the July 9, 1936, issue of The Sporting News: “Gehrig insists that he will win the Triple Crown again, as in 1934 — batting, homers, and runs driven in.”
At that time, because Runs Batted In had not become an officially-recorded statistic until 1920, there had been only four players who had won an official Triple Crown. Since then, six more players have earned the Triple Crown. Table 1 presents the complete list of the twelve official Triple Crowns (achieved by ten players) according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statisticians of Major League Baseball.[fn]Seymour Siwoff, The Elias Book of Baseball Records (New York: Elias Sports Bureau, 2014), 378, 379, 382, 383, 394, 395. Note: The RBI number (166) given for Gehrig’s Triple Crown in 1934 is different from the RBI number (165) given in the originally-generated official day-by-day records. This is a consequence of my research, which has been approved by the Elias Sports Bureau — see: Herm Krabbenhoft, “Lou Gehrig’s RBI Record: 1923-1939,” The Baseball Research Journal, Vol. 41 (Fall 2012), 10.[/fn]
Table 1: Official Triple Crown Winners (1920-2014), according to the Elias Sports Bureau
|1922||Rogers Hornsby||St. Louis (NL)||.401||42||152|
|1925||Rogers Hornsby||St. Louis (NL)||.403||39||143|
|1933||Chuck Klein||Philadelphia (NL)||.368||28||120|
|1933||Jimmie Foxx||Philadelphia (AL)||.356||48||163|
|1934||Lou Gehrig||New York (AL)||.363||49||166|
|1937||Joe Medwick||St. Louis (NL)||.374||31||154|
|1942||Ted Williams||Boston (AL)||.356||36||137|
|1947||Ted Williams||Boston (AL)||.343||32||114|
|1956||Mickey Mantle||New York (AL)||.353||52||130|
|1966||Frank Robinson||Baltimore (AL)||.316||49||122|
|1967||Carl Yastrzemski||Boston (AL)||.326||44||121|
|2012||Miguel Cabrera||Detroit (AL)||.330||44||139|
However, prior to Runs Batted In becoming an official stat in 1920, baseball researcher-writer Ernie Lanigan had tracked RBIs unofficially each year from 1907 through 1919, his RBI numbers having been reported annually in various publications, such as The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, Sporting Life, The (New York) Press, The Chicago Tribune, and others. Combining Lanigan’s unofficial RBI numbers with the official numbers for batting average and home runs results in two more players being credited with unofficial Triple Crowns. See Table 2.[fn]The entries for Batting Average and Home Runs are from Reference 2. Note: The originally-generated official day-by-day sheets have .377 for Cobb’s batting average.[/fn] [fn]The entries for Runs Batted In are from J.G. Taylor Spink, Daguerreotypes of Great Stars of Baseball (St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1958), 25, 235.[/fn] [fn]“Hitting in a Pinch,” The Sporting News, January 2, 1913, 5.[/fn]
Table 2: Unofficial Triple Crown Winners (1907-1919), according to Ernie Lanigan’s RBI Stats
|1909||Ty Cobb||Detroit (AL)||.376||9||115|
|1912||Heinie Zimmerman||Chicago (NL)||.372||14||98|
The unofficial Triple Crowns earned by Ty Cobb in 1909 and by Heinie Zimmerman in 1912 became accepted across the baseball horizon and were included in lists of Triple Crown winners in several highly-regarded baseball publications, including (a) Turkin and Thompson’s classic — The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball[fn]Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1951). Note (1): While no specific list of Triple Crown winners is given, the “League Leaders” section shows that (a) in 1909 Ty Cobb led the American League in batting (.377), home runs (9), and runs batted in (115) and (b) in 1912 Heinie Zimmerman led the National League in batting (.372), home runs (14) and runs batted in (106). Note (2): The “106” RBIs shown for Zimmerman does not agree with the 98 RBIs first reported in The Sporting News (Reference 5) and subsequently given in References 7 and 8.[/fn]; (b) the go-to baseball record book put out by The Sporting News — One For The Book[fn]Leonard Gettelson, One For The Book (St. Louis: Charles C. Spink & Son, 1956), 78. Note (1): The title of the book was changed to Baseball Record Book in 1972, to Official Baseball Record Book in 1973, and to The Complete Baseball Record Book in 1990. Note (2): Zimmerman is included in the list of Triple Crown winners in each edition through 2006; Zimmerman was not included in the list of Triple Crown winners in the final two editions, 2007 and 2008.[/fn]; and (c) the esteemed baseball record book published by Elias — The Little Red Book of Major League Baseball.[fn]Seymour Siwoff, The Little Red Book of Major League Baseball (New York: Al Munro Elias Baseball Bureau, Inc.,1957), 19. Note: The title of the book was changed to The Book of Baseball Records in 1972, in which the list of Triple Crown winners was discontinued and in which only official RBI stats (i.e., those from 1920 forward) were included.[/fn]
Then, in the mid-1960s, David S. Neft recruited and directed a team of baseball researchers who determined the unofficial RBI numbers for all players from the 1891-1919 period. (John C. Tattersall had previously determined the unofficial RBI stats for almost all players from the 1876-1890 period.) Neft’s RBI numbers and Tattersall’s RBI stats first appeared in print in The Baseball Encyclopedia (frequently referred to as “Big-Mac”) published in 1969 by Macmillan.[fn]David S. Neft (Director of Research, Information Concepts Incorporated), Lee Allen (Historian, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum), and Robert Markel (Executive Editor, Macmillan Company), The Baseball Encyclopedia, (New York: Macmillan, 1969). Note: Reference 2 has .422 for Lajoie’s batting average and .376 for Cobb’s batting average.[/fn]
Big-Mac identified three more unofficial Triple Crowns — and expelled Zimmerman from the group of Triple Crown winners. See Table 3.[fn]Subsequently, another nineteenth century triple crown was discovered. For the 1885-1887 and 1890 American Association seasons, no RBI stats were provided in Big-Mac (Reference 9). According to the information given in the fifth edition (1997) of Total Baseball (edited by John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershwin, and David Pietrusza), in 1887 Tip O’Neill of the St. Louis Browns (American Association) led the league in batting average (.485) home runs (14), and runs batted in (123). In a Palmer-to-Krabbenhoft email (August 5, 2014) Palmer wrote: “I did the research for AA rbi in 1885-1887 and 90. I started with the ICI sheets which had partial data and then got contributions from various SABR members from newspaper accounts for the games that were missing. Bob Bailey in Louisville and Ralph Horton in StL were major contributors, also Lyle Spatz, Tom Chase, John O’Malley, and Bill Deane. About 80% of the 1887 data was on the ICI sheets and 16% was obtained from the newspaper research. The remaining missing games had estimated rbi based on the batting stats in the game, 1.7 per homer, .7 per triple, .5 per double and .25 per single (more or less) as I remember it.”[/fn]
Table 3: Unofficial Triple Crown Winners (1876-1919), according to David Neft’s Big-Mac RBI Stats
|1878||Paul Hines||Providence (NL)||.358||4||50|
|1894||Hugh Duffy||Boston (NL)||.440||18||145|
|1901||Nap Lajoie||Philadelphia (AL)||.426||14||125|
|1909||Ty Cobb||Detroit (AL)||.376||9||115|
So, what caused Zimmerman’s Triple Crown to be rescinded? Table 4 provides the answer — by comparing the RBIs credited to the top-six RBI accumulators in 1912 — according to Lanigan (see reference 5) and to Neft (see reference 9).
Table 4: Unofficial 1912 NL RBI Leaders, according to Lanigan and Neft
|LANIGAN TOTALS||NEFT TOTALS|
|1||Heinie Zimmerman||CHC||98||Honus Wagner||PIT||102|
|2||Larry Doyle||NYG||97||Bill Sweeney||BSN||100|
|3||Honus Wagner||PIT||94||Heinie Zimmerman||CHC||99|
|4||Chief Wilson||PIT||93||Chief Wilson||PIT||95|
|5||Bill Sweeney||BSN||92||Red Murray||NYG||92|
|6||Red Murray||NYG||88||Larry Doyle||NYG||90|
As can be seen in Table 4, Neft showed Honus Wagner as the NL’s RBI champion in 1912 with 102 runs batted in — three more than the 99 RBIs Neft credited to Zimmerman. Moreover, Neft ranked Zimmerman third, behind Bill Sweeney, whom Neft credited with 100 RBIs. Indeed, among the top-six RBI accumulators, the only position that Lanigan and Neft agreed on was fourth place, occupied by Chief Wilson.
Furthermore, Lanigan and Neft did not agree on the RBI numbers for any of the top-six RBI accumulators — Doyle (97 vs. 90), Murray (88 vs. 92), Sweeney (92 vs. 100), Wagner (94 vs. 102), Wilson (93 vs. 95), and Zimmerman (98 vs. 99). Since Lanigan and Neft disagree on the RBIs credited to each of the NL’s top-six RBI accumulators, both Lanigan and Neft cannot be correct — at least one of them must be wrong.
So, with respect to the unofficial RBI leaders in the National League for 1912, the salient question is: “Whose RBI numbers are correct — Lanigan’s or Neft’s — OR are Lanigan’s RBI numbers AND Neft’s RBI numbers BOTH wrong?”[fn]An analogous question can be asked about the actual number of runs batted in Ty Cobb achieved in his 1909 Triple Crown season — Lanigan credited Cobb with 115 RBIs (Table 2) while Neft credited Cobb with 107 RBIs (Table 3).[/fn]
Regrettably, the criteria used by Lanigan and by Neft to credit or to not credit a player with a run batted in were apparently not recorded and, therefore, are unknown. And, unfortunately, no game-by-game RBI data are extant to support the full-season RBI numbers claimed by Lanigan or by Neft. Thus, there is absolutely nothing to substantiate the full-season RBI numbers claimed by Lanigan or by Neft.
In an effort to ascertain incontrovertibly which of the top-six RBI accumulators (according to Lanigan and to Neft) actually amassed the most RBIs in the NL in 1912 — and simultaneously resolve irrefutably the Triple Crown discrepancy, I initiated a comprehensive and in-depth research program to obtain the complete details for each and every run scored by the players on the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The most rigorous approach for ascertaining accurate RBI statistics for any player is to obtain the complete details for each and every run scored by his team in each of the games the player participated. That is precisely the research procedure I employed. Obtaining “complete details” for each run means that I identified:
- The player who scored the run.
- The run-scoring event — e.g., a 2-RBI double, a 1-RBI groundout, a 1-RBI grounder (batter safe on a fielding error), a 0-RBI grounder (batter safe on a fielding error), a 1-RBI bases-loaded walk, a 0-RBI balk, etc.
- The player who completed his plate appearance during the run-scoring event — i.e., the player who may have earned credit for batting in the run. [Note that when the run scored on a steal of home, a passed ball, a wild pitch, etc., no batter completed his plate appearance during the run-scoring event.]
In order to obtain the complete details for each run I relied upon the descriptions given in the game accounts from multiple independent newspapers as well as many unpublished play-by-play accounts from Retrosheet.
Finally, in order to properly assign credit to a player for batting in a run, I adhered strictly to appropriate official scoring rules. Because runs batted in were not officially recorded until 1920, there were no official scoring rules for RBIs in 1912. Therefore, logically, one would utilize the 1920 official RBI scoring rules for awarding RBIs to players in earlier seasons. But, as shown here, the official scoring rules for RBIs for 1920 (indeed, through 1930) provide no guidance whatsoever for properly assigning credit for RBIs in prior seasons:
“The summary shall contain: The number of runs batted in by each batsman.” [Rule 86, Section B].
So, to assign credit for RBIs for the 1912 season, I utilized the 1931 official scoring rules — which do provide appropriate instruction:
“Runs Batted In are runs scored on safe hits (including home runs), sacrifice hits, outfield put-outs, infield put-outs, and when the run is forced over by reason of the batsman becoming a base runner. With less than two outs, if an error is made on a play on which a runner from third would ordinarily score, credit the batsman with a Run Batted In.” [Rule 70; Section 13].
The 1931 official scoring rules for RBIs are essentially the same rules that are in effect today, the only significant difference being the provision which, introduced in 1939, does not credit a batter with an RBI when the batter hits into a force groundout double play.
Appendices 1-4 present the complete details for each run scored by the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Appendices 5-8 present the game-by-game run-scored and run-batted-in details for each player on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates. Appendices 9-12 provide comparisons of the full-season RBI numbers obtained in the present investigation with those claimed by Neft.
Culled from the information provided in Appendices 5-8, Table 5 presents the full-season RBI numbers obtained in the present investigation for the top-six RBI accumulators in the National League in 1912.[fn]While Murray’s 88 RBIs rank sixth in the NL according to my research on the Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates, it is possible that Dick Hoblitzell (of the Cincinnati Reds, with 85 RBIs according to Neft and 84 RBIs according to Lanigan) or Ed Konetchy (of the St. Louis Cardinals, with 82 RBIs according to Neft and 86 RBIs according to Lanigan) or Mike Mitchell (of the Cincinnati Reds, with 78 RBIs according to Neft and 85 RBIs according to Lanigan) could actually have had 88 or more RBIs. It is noted that Fred Merkle (of the New York Giants, with 84 RBIs according to Neft and 78 RBIs according to Lanigan) actually had 88 RBIs according to my research, as shown in Appendix 11 and Table 8. It is noted that Dots Miller (of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with 87 RBIs according to Neft and 83 RBIs according to Lanigan) actually had 86 RBIs according to my research, as shown in Appendix 12 and Table 9.[/fn] Also shown for comparison are the RBI numbers claimed by Lanigan and by Neft. Comparative full-season RBI statistics for all of the other players on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates are abstracted from Appendices 9-12 and presented in Tables 6-9, respectively.
Table 5: Unofficial 1912 NL RBI Leaders, according to the present research
And to provide additional perspective, Table 10 summarizes the number of RBIs each of the top-six RBI accumulators achieved via each run-scoring event (i.e., 1-RBI single, 2-RBI single, 1-RBI double, and so forth).
Editor’s note: Tables 6 through 9 — which contain unofficial full-season RBI totals for all players on the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates rosters — can be found by clicking here to download the PDF file.
Table 10: RBIs Achieved by Each Top-Six RBI Player via Each Run-Scoring Event
|1-RBI Sac Fly||7||8||10||5||7||11|
|1-RBI Sac Hit||—||—||—||—||—||1|
|1-RBI Fielder’s Choice
Note: The values in the “0-RBI Safe-On-Error” row are bracketed with asterisks to indicate the number of runs scored when the player batted and was safe on a fielding error, the player not being credited with an RBI (e.g., when the run scored on a fielding error committed when there were two outs).
Included in Table 10 are (a) the number of RBIs each player was credited with on “Safe-On-Errors” (SOE) plays — i.e., the “1-RBI Safe-On-Error (1-RBI SOE)” row — and (b) the number of RBIs each player was not credited with when the runner scored from third base and the batter was safe on a fielding error — i.e., the “0-RBI Safe-On-Error (0-RBI SOE)” row. Such plays are judgment plays on which the game’s official scorer would have to render a decision — e.g., credit the batsman with an RBI when then “runner from third would ordinarily score.” Since the official scorer did not make such decisions before 1920, it becomes the responsibility of the researcher to make the decisions based on the information provided in the text descriptions given in the newspaper game accounts. Appendices 13-16 provide the pertinent text descriptions for each SOE run-scoring event included in Table 10.
First of all, it is important to emphasize that the RBI numbers reported here are fully supported by rock-solid evidence gleaned from multiple independent newspaper accounts. The crystal-clear bottom-line take-away message is — the RBI numbers from my research are completely reliable. The results presented in Appendices 2, 6, and 14, and summarized in Tables 5 and 10, conclusively prove that Heinie Zimmerman actually amassed 104 runs batted in in 1912.[fn]For the text descriptions given in the various newspaper accounts for each of the 756 runs scored by the Chicago Cubs in 1912, see: Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate Runs-Scored Statistics for the Players on the 1912 Chicago Cubs,” The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 6 (December 2014), 1.[/fn] Likewise, analogous results (derived from Appendices 4, 8, and 16) prove undeniably that Honus Wagner actually collected 101 RBIs in 1912. And similarly, Bill Sweeney actually had 99 RBIs, Chief Wilson 94, Larry Doyle 91, and Red Murray 88.
Therefore, Zimmerman actually had the most runs batted in for the National League during the 1912 season. And, therefore, in conjunction with his batting and home run titles, Zimmerman did, in fact, win the Triple Crown in 1912 … and should — just like Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, etc. — be included in the list of Triple Crown winners given on MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball.[fn]As of this writing, the lists of “Triple Crown Winners” given on MLB.com can be accessed by clicking here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/rare_feats/index.jsp?feature=triple_crown.[/fn]
Inspection of Table 10 shows that only a handful of runs involved Safe-On-Error plays. Because their RBI numbers are so close to one another, the SOE run-scoring events involving Zimmerman, Wagner, and Sweeney require close scrutiny. Appendices 13-16 provide the pertinent newspaper text descriptions of the SOE run-scoring events for the top-six RBI accumulators — and my judgments to credit or to not credit RBIs. Others may disagree with some or all of my RBI decisions; that is their prerogative based on their interpretations of the information. Significantly, however, even if Zimmerman’s two RBIs from the two 1-RBI SOE plays are revoked, he would still have 102 RBIs — which are still more than Wagner’s 101 RBIs and Sweeney’s 99 RBIs. The unmistakable conclusion remains that, regardless of the RBI decisions on the SOE-impacted run-scoring plays, Zimmerman still had the most runs batted in for the National League in 1912 — and therefore, won the Triple Crown.
Turning now to the RBI numbers achieved by other players on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates, inspection of Tables 6-9 reveals that my RBI numbers and Neft’s RBI numbers are different for more than half of the players — 22 out of 37 players on the Braves (i.e., 59%); 20 out of 40 players on the Cubs (50%); 19 out of 28 players on the Giants (68%); and 19 out of 38 players on the Pirates (50%). Again, the correctness of my RBI numbers is fully validated by multiple newspaper accounts. With regard to the specific differences between my RBI numbers and Neft’s RBI numbers, it is seen that the deltas are both negative and positive, the range being minus-five to plus-seven. The overall absolute-value median difference is just one RBI. So, from a mathematical perspective, while Neft’s RBI numbers and my RBI numbers are different, they are similar, i.e., approximately the same. Recently, it has been advanced that old-time baseball statistics are only approximate.[fn]Rob Neyer, “Old-Time Baseball Statistics: Merely An Approximation,” SBNation.com, June 29, 2012.[/fn] However, it would seem that (some/many/most) baseball fans are not satisfied with approximate numbers; they expect (demand?) accurate numbers — especially when the subject is “Which player had the most whatevers?” Again, my RBI numbers are fully supported by iron-clad substantiation and, therefore, are actual (not approximate) RBI numbers. In 1912, Zimmerman actually had 104 runs batted in — which were the most in the National League. And, therefore, Zimmerman did indeed win the Triple Crown.
As it has transpired, all of Neft’s Big-Mac RBI numbers for the 1912 season — indeed, for each of the 1891-1919 seasons — were adopted by Pete Palmer and incorporated into his data base of baseball statistics. Furthermore, the “Neft-Palmer” full-season RBI statistics for the 1891-1919 seasons are currently utilized throughout baseball. For instance, they are employed in the most-recent editions of the various hard-cover baseball encyclopedias (e.g., Total Baseball[fn]John Thorn, Phil Birnbaum, Bill Deane, Total Baseball (New York: Sport Media Publishing, New York, 8th ed., 2004).[/fn] and The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia[fn]Gary Gillette, Pete Palmer, The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: Sterling Publishing, 5th ed., 2008).[/fn]) and on numerous baseball websites (e.g., Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com). However, recent research has shown that Neft’s RBI numbers are not completely accurate for most of the players on the 1919 Boston Red Sox[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate RBI Records for the Players of the Deadball Era: Part 1 — The Players on the 1919 Boston Red Sox,” The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 1 (February 2014), 1. (Click here to download the PDF).[/fn], the 1906 Detroit Tigers[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate RBI Records for the Players of the Deadball Era: Part 2 — The Players on the 1906 Detroit Tigers,” The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 3 (June 2014), 4. (Click here to download the PDF).[/fn], the 1919 Detroit Tigers[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, Accurate RBI Numbers for the Players of the Deadball Era: Part 3 — The Players on the 1919 Detroit Tigers,” The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 4 (September 2014), 11. (Click here to download the PDF).[/fn], the 1914-1918 Detroit Tigers[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “Consecutive Games RUN Batted In (CGRUNBI) Streaks for Players on the Detroit Tigers — 1919-1914,” Research Presentation given at the annual Retrosheet meeting during SABR 44, Houston, Texas, July 31, 2014.[/fn], and the 1895 Philadelphia Phillies.[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate RBI Numbers for the Players on the 1895 Philadelphia Phillies,” Research Presentation given at the annual SABR Baseball Records Committee meeting during SABR 44, Houston, Texas, August 2, 2014.[/fn]
Since the results from my RBI research on the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates are in alignment with those findings[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft, “The Definitive Resolution of the 1912 NL Triple Crown Discrepancy,” Research Presentation given during SABR 44, Houston, Texas, August 2, 2014.[/fn], I provided the evidence I had collected to Pete Palmer for his review.[fn]Herm Krabbenhoft to Pete Palmer email, November 2, 2014.[/fn] Significantly, Palmer concurred with my conclusions and has incorporated all of the corrections in his data base of baseball statistics.[fn]Pete Palmer to Herm Krabbenhoft email, November 8, 2014.[/fn] Palmer’s updated runs-scored and runs-batted-in numbers have already been incorporated on Retrosheet.org and should also be on Baseball-Reference.com sometime in 2015.[fn]Retrosheet’s semi-annual release on December 14, 2014, includes runs-scored and runs-batted-in information from Pete Palmer’s updated data base of baseball statistics — which are in 100% agreement with my RBI numbers (Appendices 9-12) for all of the players on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates. For instance, on the Retrosheet.org website, selecting the path “Games/Players/Parks” —> “Games” —> “Regular Season” —> “1912” —> “ML League Leaders,” one sees that, for “NL Batting,” Zimmerman had the highest batting average (.372), the most home runs (14), and the most RBIs (104) — i.e. Zimmerman led the National League in each of the three categories that define the Triple Crown. Similarly, by choosing “Chicago Cubs” (instead of “ML League Leaders”) and then “Complete Roster” (either “Alphabetical” or “By Position”), one sees that Zimmerman’s stats for HR (14), RBI (104), and AVG (.372) are all in bold-faced type, indicating that he led the league in each of those batting departments, thereby winning the Triple Crown.[/fn] [fn]In his November 8, 2014, email (Reference 25), Palmer stated that while he usually sends his updated statistics to Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference, and SABR in mid-November, he could not tell when the corrected stats will appear on the websites.[/fn]
So, the prospect for achieving and presenting accurate RBI statistics across the baseball landscape is indeed heartening. That is particularly important for the 1901-1919 period for which, according to Neft’s RBI numbers, the NL’s annual RBI leaders topped the runners-up by just three RBIs of fewer in ten of those nineteen Deadball Era seasons.[fn]Listed here are Neft’s RBI numbers for those players who were league leaders or runners-up for selected NL seasons during the Deadball Era: (a) 1903: Sam Mertes (104), Honus Wagner (101); (b) 1904: Bill Dahlen (80), Harry Lumley (78), Sam Mertes (78); (c) 1906: Joe Nealon (83), Harry Steinfeldt (83), Cy Seymour (80); (d) 1907: Sherry Magee (85), Ed Abbaticchio (82), Honus Wagner (82); (e) 1908: Honus Wagner (109), Mike Donlin (106); (f) 1911: Wildfire Schulte (107), Chief Wilson (107); (g) 1912: Honus Wagner (102), Bill Sweeney (100), Heinie Zimmerman (99); (h) 1914: Sherry Magee (103), Gavvy Cravath (100); (i) 1916: Heinie Zimmerman (83), Hal Chase (82); (j) 1919: Hi Myers (73), Rogers Hornsby (71), Edd Roush (71).[/fn] Accordingly, fellow researchers are encouraged to join the pursuit of ascertaining accurate RBI stats for the players on their favorite teams — and thereby determine the true RBI champions.
Accurate RBI statistics have been ascertained for each player on the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Consequently, it has been definitively shown that Heinie Zimmerman led the National league in runs batted in for 1912. And therefore, in combination with his league-leading marks in batting average and home runs, Heinie Zimmerman won the Triple Crown and … is the correct answer to the opening question.
HERM KRABBENHOFT, a SABR member since 1981, is a retired research chemist. His baseball research has focused on ultimate grand slam home runs, leadoff batters, triple plays, the uniform numbers of Detroit Tigers, and consecutive games streaks for scoring runs and batting in runs—which requires having accurate game-by-game runs and RBI statistics—which requires correcting the runs and RBI errors in baseball’s official records.
With tremendous gratitude I gratefully thank the following people for the fantastic help and cooperation they have provided to me in this research endeavor: Steve Boren, Keith Carlson, Dave Newman, Pete Palmer, Gary Stone, Dixie Tourangeau, and Dave Smith and Tom Ruane and their fellow Retrosheet volunteers.
- Related link: Read “Seeking Resolution of the Discrepancy for the 1912 NL Triple Crown,” by Herm Krabbenhoft in the Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal