A Look at Come-From-Behind Batting Champions

From SABR member Tom Ruane at Retrosheet on September 23, 2011:

Trent McCotter sent me a note yesterday pointing out that Matt Kemp has very nearly closed a recent 19-point gap in the NL batting race as part of his three-prong effort to capture the triple-crown. Which got us to wondering about the largest deficits overcome by batting champions.


Bill Madlock went 4-4 on the last day of the 1976 season to overtake Ken Griffey, who was sitting out the game. Once word of Madlock’s preformance reached the Reds, the right-fielder was rushed into the game only to strike out in his two at-bats. Of course, that is only the record since 1918. On the last day of the 1910 season, Nap Lajoie got eight straight hits, most of them very questionable, against the Browns in a double-header to make up a .0078 deficit and slip past Ty Cobb. It’s a famous story and doesn’t need retelling here, but one of the outcomes of those hits gifted to Lajoie on the last day of the 1910 season was that Ty Cobb was officially credited with two more hits than he actually had. Which means that major league baseball picked the wrong hit by Pete Rose to celebrate and he actually broke Cobb’s hit record three days earlier.

Ted Williams went 12-19 in his final four games of 1958 to raise his average fourteen points and win his last batting title. At the time, it must have been heart-breaking for teammate Pete Runnels. After all, Williams had already led the league in batting average six times; how many chances was Runnels going to get? The story had a happy ending, however, partly because of a rule change. After the games of September 25, 1960, Runnels had a .317 average. This was higher than anyone in the American League except Ted Williams, who had picked up the last two singles of his career that day to boost his average to .318. Up to that point, he had played in 111 games that year, more than enough to qualify for the title by the standards of the 1920s or 1930s. Fortunately for Runnels, the rules had been changed in the meantime, and Williams’ 383 plate appearances at the end of that day were not close to qualifying. So Williams played in only two more games, hitting a homer in his final at-bat, and Runnels had the first of what would turn out to be two batting crowns.

Read the full article here: http://www.retrosheet.org/Research/RuaneT/retro_fun.htm#A110923

Originally published: September 26, 2011. Last Updated: September 26, 2011.