Seeking Resolution of the Discrepancy for the 1912 NL Triple Crown

By Herm Krabbenhoft

This article was published in the Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal.

Chicago Cubs infielder was thought for many years to have won the 1912 NL Triple Crown. According to the official averages reported in the November 28, 1912, issue of The Sporting News, Heinie Zimmerman won the 1912 National League batting championship with a .372 average and the home run title with 14.1 Five weeks later, The Sporting News reported that—according to the research of baseball writer Ernie Lanigan—Zimmerman also had the most RBIs (98).2 3 Having topped the league in all three categories, Zimmerman won the Triple Crown.4 5

Zimmerman's NL?Triple Crown was accepted throughout baseball and were printed in several major baseball publications, including Turkin and Thompson’s classic The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, One for the Book—the record book published by The Sporting News—and Elias’s baseball record book The Little Red Book of Baseball.6 7 8

However, when one checks the official website of Major League Baseball today, one does not find Zimmerman in its tabulation of “Triple Crown Winners: Batting”—see Table 1.9 A discrepancy exists between MLB.com’s information and the record books.

 

Table 1: Triple Crown Winners: Batting, according to MLB.com (accessed January 12, 2015)

Year Player Team AVG HR RBI
1878 Paul Hines Providence (NL) .358 4 50
1894 Hugh Duffy Boston (NL) .438 18 145
1901 Nap Lajoie Philadelphia (AL) .422 14 125
1909 Ty Cobb Detroit (AL) .377 9 115
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


Notes: (1) According to the Elias Sports Bureau—the official statistician of Major League Baseball—Ty Cobb’s Batting Average was .376 in 1909 and Lou Gehrig had 166 Runs Batted In in 1934.10 (2) According to several sources, Ty Cobb had 107 Runs Batted In in 1909.11 12 13 14 15


 

Since MLB.com shows that Zimmerman was the NL’s batting champion and home run king in 1912, but doesn't list him as a Triple Crown winner, the discrepancy boils down to MLB.com’s reckoning of Zimmerman's RBIs. MLB.com shows Zimmerman with 99 RBIs in 1912, third in the Senior Circuit behind Honus Wagner (102) and Bill Sweeney (100).

Since RBIs were not recorded officially until 1920, MLB.com employs the RBI numbers generated from the phenomenal research effort directed by David S. Neft during the mid-1960s which culminated in Macmillan’s 1969 publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia (frequently referred to as “Big-Mac”).16 17 18

The question then is this: who actually led the NL in RBIs in 1912? Was it Zimmerman (according to Lanigan) or Wagner (according to Neft) or someone else? Table 2 compares Lanigan and Neft's RBI totals.19 20 (MLB.com displays the Neft numbers for the top-six RBI accumulators.)

 

Table 2: 1912 NL RBI Leaders, according to Lanigan and Neft

  LANIGAN TOTALS   NEFT TOTALS
Rank Player Team RBIs   Player Team RBIs
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

 

Neft shows Honus Wagner topping Zimmerman by three RBIs. The only position that Lanigan and Neft agree on is fourth place: Chief Wilson, but they disagree on all the RBI totals for all six players. At least one of the two researchers must be wrong, possibly both. Regrettably, the criteria used by Lanigan and by Neft to credit a player with a run batted in are unknown. No game-by-game RBI data are extant to support the full-season RBI numbers claimed by Lanigan or Neft.21

In 2013 I initiated a baseball research program—“Accurate RBI Records for Players of the Deadball Era”—in order to determine the longest consecutive games streaks for batting in at least one run during the 1901–19 period.22 23 24 As part of this ongoing program I have ascertained the RBI records for each player on the 1912 Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates—the teams for whom the top-six RBI accumulators played.25 My data should resolve the discrepancy.

RESEARCH PROCEDURE

As in my previous papers on the subject of RBI records, I employed the method of “obtaining complete details” for every run scored by the teams in question in 1912. The “complete details” include the following:

  1. The player who scored the run.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.]

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.

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. One would think it logical to utilize the 1920 rules for awarding RBIs to players in earlier seasons, but in fact 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 entirety of the rule reads: “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]

These are essentially the same rules that are in effect today. The only significant difference is the

provision introduced in 1939 which does not credit a batter with an RBI when the batter hits into a force groundout double play.

RESULTS

Table 3 presents the full-season RBI numbers achieved by Zimmerman, Wagner, Sweeney, Wilson, Doyle,and Murray according to my research, compared with Lanigan and Neft.26 27 28

 

Table 3: Unofficial 1912 NL RBI Leaders, according to the present research

Rank Player Team Krabbenhoft
RBIs
Lanigan
RBIs
Neft
RBIs
1 Heinie Zimmerman CHC 104 98 99
2 Honus Wagner PIT 101 94 102
3 Bill Sweeney BSN 99 92 100
4 Chief Wilson PIT 94 93 95
5 Larry Doyle NYG 91 97 90
6 Red Murray NYG 88 88 92

 

My research indicates while Honus Wagner and Bill Sweeney collected 101 and 99 RBIs respectively, that Heinie Zimmerman amassed 104 RBIs in 1912, led the league, and therefore won the Triple Crown in 1912.

 

DISCUSSION

Each of the RBI numbers determined in my research is gleaned from multiple independent newspaper accounts. Thus, I believe that my RBI numbers are reliable and that both Lanigan’s and Neft's unsupported RBI numbers are incorrect. I encourage others to review the evidence I assembled and which has been published in The Inside Game.29

All of Neft’s Big-Mac RBI numbers for 1891–1919 were adopted by Pete Palmer for his database of baseball statistics and these “Neft-Palmer” statistics are currently utilized throughout baseball. They are employed in the most-recent editions of Total Baseball and The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia and on numerous baseball websites including Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com. My research has also shown that Neft’s RBI numbers are not completely accurate for the 1919 Boston Red Sox, 1906 and 1914–19 Detroit Tigers, or 1895 Philadelphia Phillies, either.30 31

I provided the evidence I collected to Pete Palmer for his review and Palmer has since incorporated all of the corrections in his database.32 33 Palmer’s updated numbers have been incorporated on Retrosheet, as well and are expected to appear on Baseball-Reference.com sometime in 2015.34 35 Hopefully, Heinie Zimmerman’s 1912 NL Triple Crown will also be recognized at some point down the road by/on MLB.com.36

 

Table 4: NL Batting Leaders for 1912, as presented on Retrosheet (accessed January 12, 2015)

Rank AVG Player Team
1 .372 Zimmerman CHC
2 .344 Sweeney BSN
3 .341 Evers CHC
4 .330 Doyle NYG

Rank HRs Player Team
1 14 Zimmerman CHC
2 12 Schulte CHC
3 11 Cravath PHI
4 11 Merkle NYG
5 11 Wilson PIT

Rank RBI Player Team
1 104 Zimmerman CHC
2 101 Wagner PIT
3 99 Sweeney BSN
4 94 Wilson PIT

 

CONCLUSION

My research resolves the discrepancy for the 1912 NL Triple Crown. Based on the RBI numbers ascertained for all six relevant teams, I determine that Heinie Zimmerman did lead the National League in RBIs for 1912. Therefore, with his league-leading marks in batting average and home runs, Heinie Zimmerman did earn the prestigious Triple Crown—again.37

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. He proudly dedicates this article to Seymour Siwoff, the editor since 1953 of "The Little Red Book of Baseball" and since 1972 its renamed successor "The (Elias) Book of Baseball Records." Thanks, Seymour!

 

Acknowledgments

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.

  • 1. “National League Batting Averages For 1912 Season,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1912, 2.
  • 2. “Hitting in a Pinch,” The Sporting News, January 2, 1913, 5.
  • 3. Fred Lieb, “Ernie Lanigan, Patron Saint of SABR,” The Baseball Research Journal, Volume 2 (1973), 29. See also: Fred Lieb, “Ernie Lanigan,” SABR BioProject. Lieb wrote, “[Lanigan’s] big gift to the field of baseball statistics is the important Runs Batted In (RBI) column of today.”
  • 4. It is pointed out that the term “Triple Crown” had not yet been used in baseball when Zimmerman achieved the feat. According to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the first use of the term “Triple Crown” in baseball was on page five of the July 9, 1936, issue of The Sporting News: “Gehrig insists that he will win the Triple Crown again…—batting, homers, and runs driven in.” See: Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Third Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York (2009), 891.
  • 5. “Runs Batted In” was not an officially-recorded statistic when Zimmerman accomplished his Triple Crown achievement. RBIs became an official stat in 1920. From 1907 through 1919, RBIs were tracked unofficially by Ernie Lanigan, his RBI numbers having been reported annually in various publications, such as The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, and Sporting Life.
  • 6. Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, A.S. Barnes and Company, New York (1951). While no specific list of Triple Crown winners is given, the “League Leaders” section shows that for 1912 Heinie Zimmerman led the National League in batting (.372), home runs (14), and runs batted in (106). Each of Zimmerman’s league-leading Triple Crown numbers was repeated in each subsequent edition through the final edition in 1979. The “106” RBIs shown for Zimmerman does not agree with the “98” RBIs first reported in The Sporting News (note 2) and subsequently given in notes 7 and 8. I should add that I have not been able to find out the original source of the “106” RBIs; I have also not seen the “106” RBIs mentioned anywhere besides The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball.
  • 7. Leonard Gettelson, One For The Book, The Sporting News (Charles C. Spink & Son), St. Louis (1956), 78. 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. Zimmerman is included in the list of Triple Crown winners in each edition through 2004; Zimmerman was not included in the list of Triple Crown winners in the final four editions, 2005–08.
  • 8. Seymour Siwoff, The Little Red Book of Major League Baseball, Al Munro Elias Baseball Bureau, Inc., New York (1957), 19. 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.
  • 9. The list of “Triple Crown Winners: Batting” given on MLB.com can be accessed here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/rare_feats/index.jsp?feature=triple_crown.
  • 10. Seymour Siwoff, The Elias Book of Baseball Records, Elias Sports Bureau, New York (2014), 378, 379, 382, 383, 394, 395.
  • 11. 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, Macmillan, New York (1969).
  • 12. John Thorn, Phil Birnbaum, Bill Deane, Total Baseball, Sport Media Publishing, New York, Eighth Edition (2004).
  • 13. Gary Gillette, Pete Palmer, The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Sterling Publishing, New York, Fifth Edition (2008).
  • 14. Baseball-Reference.com—accessed on January 12, 2015.
  • 15. Neft, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
  • 16. Neft, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
  • 17. Herm Krabbenhoft, “RBI records 1891–1919,” email to Pete Palmer (March 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm) in which I wrote, “Subsequent to Big-Mac, you used Neft’s RBI numbers—exclusively (i.e., none of Lanigan’s RBI numbers)—in your baseball statistics data base. Subsequently, your baseball statistics data base has been used in your BB Encyclopedias (Total Baseball with John Thorn and The ESPN BB Encyclopedia with Gary Gillette) as well as some/all Internet sites presenting RBI stats—e.g., Baseball-Reference. So, all of the 1891–1919 RBI numbers out there now are from your baseball statistics database and ultimately from Neft’s RBI numbers in the first Big-Mac.” On March 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm, Palmer replied to me via email, “I have no argument with anything you said.” In a subsequent email to me (January 9, 2015) Palmer wrote that MLB.com obtained his data base of baseball statistics “probably in 2001 or so” and that “MLB has not done much with the data besides adding in current years.” Along that line, in an email (July 16, 2012) to me from John Thorn (the Official Historian of Major League Baseball) about Hank Greenberg’s 1935 RBI stats, John wrote: “Herm I have no sway with the mlb.com data. It is Pete Palmer’s old Total Baseball database, with some tinkering by unknown hands.”
  • 18. Herm Krabbenhoft, “RBIs before 1920,” retrolist@yahoo.com, post submitted March 29, 2014 at 12:57pm, with courtesy copies to John Thorn and David S. Neft. Here is one of the key items I expressed: “David S. Neft was the third person to compile RBI stats for the seasons before 1920. According to the presentation given in The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz, Neft recruited people (many of them being college students) to go through game accounts in microfilmed newspapers and generate DBD RBI numbers for those players who played from 1891 through 1919. The result of Neft’s research project was the first edition of Big-Mac—which utilized Tattersall’s RBI numbers for the 1876–1890 seasons, Neft’s RBI numbers for the 1891–1919 seasons, and the official DBD RBI numbers for the 1920–68 seasons. Neft’s RBI numbers for the 1891–1919 seasons—as well as Tattersall’s RBI numbers for the 1876–90 seasons—were subsequently incorporated by Pete Palmer into his data base of baseball statistics. Palmer’s data base of baseball statistics—including Neft’s RBI numbers for the 1891–1919 seasons and Tattersall’s RBI numbers for the 1876-1890 seasons—has been utilized extensively in both printed encyclopedias (e.g., Total Baseball and The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia) and on Internet websites (e.g., Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com). It is important to point out that Neft’s RBI numbers for the players from the 1891–1904 seasons are supported by DBD records (‘ICI sheets’) which are available on microfilm at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Regrettably, Neft’s DBD RBI records for the players from the 1905–1919 seasons are no longer available.” On March 29, 2014 at 1:09pm, Thorn responded via an email to me, “Fine summation, Herm. I have no quibbles with any of it.” On March 29, 2014 at 4:37pm, Neft replied via an email to me, “Thanks for sending this to me. As far as I know this is an accurate statement of the history of this research.”
  • 19. “Hitting in a Pinch,” The Sporting News, January 2, 1913, 5.
  • 20. Neft, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
  • 21. In a telephone conversation with Mr. Neft on June 25, 1913, I asked him about there not being any game-by-game RBI data for the 1905–1919 seasons. Mr. Neft told me that the intention was to donate the original 1905–1919 files to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as had been done with the 1891–1904 files. In the meantime, however, the 1905–1919 files were stored in a warehouse, which had a fire and apparently all of the 1905–1919 files were destroyed. I also asked Mr. Neft if there were any back-up files or printouts for the 1905–1919 files. He said that he was not aware of any. I then asked, “So, does that mean there are no data available to support your RBI numbers for the 1905–1919 seasons?” Mr. Neft answered, “That appears to be so.”
  • 22. Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate RBI Records for the Players of the Deadball Era: Part 1 — The Players on the 1906 Detroit Tigers,” The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 1 (February 2014), 1. (Click here to download the PDF).
  • 23. 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).
  • 24. 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).
  • 25. Herm Krabbenhoft, “Accurate RBI Records for the Players of the Deadball Era: Part 4—The Players on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates,” The Inside Game, Volume XV, Number 1 (February 2015), 5. (Click here to download the PDF).
  • 26. Herm Krabbenhoft, “The Definitive Resolution of the 1912 NL Triple Crown Discrepancy,” Research Presentation given during SABR 44, Houston, Texas, August 2, 2014.
  • 27. Krabbenhoft, The Inside Game, Volume XV, Number 1 (February 2015). (Click here to download the PDF). The Appendices to this article (available as a “Supplement” on SABR.org on the Deadball Era Committee Newsletters page) provide (a) complete details for each run scored by each team: the identity of the player who scored the run, the run-scoring event, and the identity of the player who completed his plate appearance during the run-scoring event; (b) a game-by-game log of each run scored and each run batted in by each player on each team; (c) the text descriptions from multiple independent newspaper accounts for each run-scoring event in which a fielding error was involved for each of the top-six RBI accumulators.
  • 28. 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. (Click here to download the PDF).
  • 29. Krabbenhoft, The Inside Game, Volume XV, Number 1 (February 2015). (Click here to download the PDF). Krabbenhoft, The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 6 (December 2014). (Click here to download the PDF).
  • 30. Krabbenhoft, The Inside Game, Volume XIV, Number 1–4 (2014); Volume XV, Number 1 (February 2015). 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.
  • 31. 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.
  • 32. Herm Krabbenhoft, email to Pete Palmer, November 2, 2014.
  • 33. Pete Palmer, email to Herm Krabbenhoft, November 8, 2014.
  • 34. Retrosheet’s semi-annual release on December 14, 2014, includes the runs-batted-in information from Pete Palmer’s updated data base of baseball statistics—which are in 100% agreement with my RBI numbers for all of the players on the 1912 Braves, Cubs, Giants, and Pirates.
  • 35. Baseball-Reference.com, accessed on February 22, 2015.
  • 36. The final draft of this manuscript was provided to Cory Schwartz (Vice President of MLB.com with the responsibility for the statistics presented on MLB.com).
  • 37. As these conclusions are incorporated across baseball, biographical articles on Heinie Zimmerman will need to be updated as well. For example, the SABR BioProject entry on Zimmerman read as of February 22, 2015, “It was believed at the time that Zimmerman also paced the circuit with 103 RBIs, which would have made him the National League’s first Triple Crown winner since…1894. Research conducted a half-century later, however, determined that his actual RBI total was only 99, ranking third behind Honus Wagner (102) and Bill Sweeney (100).”