Some may argue OBP or even OPS, but batting average is the true test of the best hitter.
Here are baseballs 10 most unlikely batting champs:
1. Norm Cash, Tigers, 1961, .361 – Cash never came within 75 points of his magical season, and finished with a career .271 BA. His 41 homers and 132 RBIs that year were overshadowed by the great Maris-Mantle home run chase.
2. Snuffy Stirnweiss, Yankees, 1945, .309 – A second baseman with a .268 lifetime average, Stirnweiss won the AL batting title in the final year of World War II while many stars were still in the service.
3. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies, 2014, .331 – Cuddyer never hit higher than .284 until his breakout season last year, 53 points above his lifetime .278 average.
4. George Stone, Browns, 1906, .358 – Stone played just seven seasons, six with the Browns, yet managed to win an AL batting title. Ty Cobb would go on to win 11 of the next 13.
5. Debs Garms, Pirates, 1940, .355 – A singles hitter, Garms had a career year with Pittsburgh. He batted .293 lifetime with just 17 home runs.
6. Ferris Fain, A’s, 1951, .344; 1952, .327 – Fain, a journeyman first baseman who played nine years with four AL teams, won back-to-back batting titles for Philadelphia. He wound up a .290 career hitter.
7. Bubbles Hargrave, Reds, 1926, .353 – Bubbles, whose real name was Eugene, broke a run of six straight batting titles by the great Rogers Hornsby, who hit .400 three times in four years before Hargrave stole his crown.
8. Derrek Lee, Cubs, 2005, .335 – Lee had a career year in 2005 when he led the NL in batting, hits, doubles and slugging percentage. But lifetime he hit just .281.
9. Alex Johnson, Angels, 1970, .329 – Johnson played for eight teams during a 13-year career and hit .288 lifetime, yet edged out Carl Yastrzemski to win a batting title.
10. Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox, 1968, .301 – Yaz is a Hall of Famer who won three batting titles. But he managed to win one of them with the lowest average for a batting champion in baseball history.
Scoping out the village of Wappingers Falls the other day when I stumbled upon this plaque in the center of town, right near the waterfalls in front of a bicycle shop. Turns out Dan Brouthers, a native of Dutchess County, was quite a ballplayer.
Brouthers was born in Sylvan Lake, NY, in 1858. As a teen-ager he played for the semi-pro Actives in Wappingers Falls before making his professional debut in 1879 with the Troy Trojans.
A big man by the standards of the time (6-2, 207), he was known as the first great slugger in baseball history. “Big Dan” held the career record for home runs from 1887 to 1889 and hit 106 home runs, fourth highest total of any 19th Century player.
A left-hand hitting first baseman, he had a career slugging percentage of .519, which remained a major league record until Ty Cobb moved ahead in 1922. When Brouthers retired, he ranked second with 205 triples and third in RBIs (1,296) and hits (2,296).
Brouthers played for a variety of teams throughout a 19-year career that spanned four decades, including the Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Wolverines, Brooklyn Grooms and Boston Beaneaters, all of the National League.
He earned five batting titles, and his lifetime average of .342 ranks ninth on the all-time list, tied with another great slugger, guy named Babe Ruth.
John McGraw, the long-time manager of the New York Giants, once said: “Brouthers really was a great hitter, one of the most powerful batters of all time. ‘Big Dan’ in his prime, against the present-day pitching and the modern lively ball, would have hit as many home runs as anybody. I don’t think I ever saw a longer hitter.”
Brouthers retired in 1896, but returned eight years later in 1904 to play two games for the Giants. He is one of 29 players in MLB history whose career spanned four decades.
At the age of 46, he played for Poughkeepsie and led the Hudson River League in batting with a .373 average. He spent nearly 20 years working with the Giants, and was in charge of the Polo Grounds press gate.
Brouthers died in 1932, and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wappingers Falls. Dan Brouthers was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1945. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) ranks him as the ninth greatest player of the 19th Century.
Related blog: Be sure to read about another great Dutchess County baseball player, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins of Millerton.