This article was written by Bill Nowlin
This article was published in the Fall 2013 Baseball Research Journal
Tthere is one team in baseball which has a disproportionate number of on-base percentage champions to its credit: the Boston Red Sox. Ted Williams’ success alone (12 OBP titles) gives the Red Sox a head start, but he’s not the only Boston player to lead the league.
Following up on my 2008 article “The OBP Triple Crown” (Baseball Research Journal, Vol. 37), it struck me recently that there is one team in baseball which has a disproportionate number of OBP champions to its credit: the Boston Red Sox.
In the 112 seasons of American League baseball from 1901 through 2012, a Red Sox player has been the leader in On-Base Percentage 36 times. Almost a third of the time, a Red Sox player won the OBP title: 32.14 percent.
Of course, I knew Ted Williams ranked first 12 times. His success alone gave the Red Sox more than 10 percent. During the three years Williams served in the military during World War II, two Red Sox filled the top spot: Bob Johnson in 1944 and Eddie Lake in 1945. That caught my eye. I realized it might be worth looking into the annual results a little more. I knew that both Wade Boggs and Carl Yastrzemski had won a few on-base percentage titles, too.
The table speaks for itself. In major-league history, the player who won the OBP title most often was indeed Ted Williams, with 12. He remains the all-time leader in On-Base Percentage with a career 48.2 mark — incredibly, reaching base almost 50 percent of the time over a career which ran from 1939 through 1960. Two players are tied for second place with ten titles each: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. One can legitimately question what might have been behind Bonds’s accomplishment in the early twenty-first century, but unless the figures were to be expunged a la Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France titles (and which seems very unlikely), he’s there and tied with The Babe.
Rogers Hornsby had nine titles, Ty Cobb seven, and Stan Musial and Boggs six. No other player has more than five. Presented by league, the rank order of those with four or more OBP titles to their credit are as follows:
TABLE 1: Individual OBP winners by number of seasons
|National League||American League|
|Barry Bonds, 10||Ted Williams, 12|
|Rogers Hornsby, 9||Babe Ruth, 10|
|Stan Musial, 6||Ty Cobb, 7|
|Billy Hamilton, 5||Wade Boggs, 6|
|Richie Ashburn, 4||Lou Gehrig, 5|
|Joe Morgan, 4||Carl Yastrzemski, 5|
|Mel Ott, 4||Rod Carew 4|
|Honus Wagner, 4||Frank Thomas, 4|
|Tris Speaker, 4|
Incidentally, nine of Ruth’s ten OBP titles are credited to the New York Yankees; only his 1919 win helps bolster Boston’s winning percentage. It is parenthetically interesting to note that three years in which Ruth led in OBP (1923, 1924, and 1927), he also led the league in strikeouts. Williams struck out less than 11 percent of the time over the course of his career; neither Williams nor Bonds ever led their league in strikeouts.
Even with the National League starting in 1876, and thus offering 25 more possible titles to any given team, no single team approaches the Red Sox in the sheer number of OBP titles. The Red Sox hold 36. The top NL team is the Phillies with 22 titles. The Phils owe their many titles in large part to Billy Hamilton with five OBP crowns and Richie Ashburn and Mike Schmidt with three apiece.
Looking at which teams had a player winning the OBP title, the list comes out this way:
TABLE 2: OBP champions by team
|National League||American League|
|Phillies, 22 (16.1%)||Red Sox, 36 (32.1%)|
|Giants, 21 (15.3%)||Yankees, 20 (17.9%)|
|Cardinals, 20 (14.6%)||Tigers, 13 (11.6%)|
|Cubs, 16||Athletics, 10|
|Pirates, 14||Senators/Twins, 8|
|Reds, 13||Indians, 7|
|Braves, 9||White Sox, 6|
The rest of the teams have four or fewer titles to their credit. The Buffalo Bisons have two (1882 and 1883) and the Providence Grays have one (1879). The only cities in either league to have not yet had an OBP winner are Anaheim, Houston, Phoenix, and Tampa.
We are not counting the National Association, the American Association, the Federal League, or any other league in this article. Had we done so, we might wish to note that Dan Brouthers won five titles spread over three leagues. The NL’s 1887 Detroit Wolverines are not counted toward the AL figures, nor is the title won by Cupid Childs of the NL’s 1892 Cleveland Spiders. And, considering the names of the winners, we do see a Cuckoo as well as a Cupid, and 1926 NL winner Cuckoo Christensen has to be one of the least likely winners. He won it with a 42.6 mark in his rookie season and played in only 57 more major-league games, though he played in the minors through the 1934 season.
Thanks to Lyle Spatz and Cliff Blau.
BILL NOWLIN has been Vice President of SABR since 2004 and helped edit numerous BioProject team books. He is a co-founder of Rounder Records and author or editor of around 40 baseball books.