It was one of the most dominant offensive seasons in baseball history, yet it has been virtually forgotten, primarily for two reasons.
The first is that the New York Yankees won the 1949 American League pennant on the final day of the season by beating the Boston Red Sox, and the second is that Ted Williams lost the batting title by 0.0002 of a point to George Kell.
Williams hit .3427 to Kell’s 3429.
If Ted Williams had one more hit or one less at bat, he would have become the first player to win the Triple Crown three times.
Since 1901, only Rogers Hornsby and Williams have won two Triple Crowns, and there have been only 13 Triple Crown winners in all, which makes it more rare than pitching a perfect game.
No player has won the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat in 1967.
Ted Williams led the league in batting most of the 1949 season, but George Kell was closing fast, despite having suffered two major injuries. Kell broke a bone in his right foot, which was followed later in the season by a broken left thumb.
In his last game, with the batting title on the line, Kell faced the Cleveland Indians’ future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, who was removed after five innings in favor of future Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Kell managed to get a pair of hits in three at bats.
Meanwhile, at Yankee Stadium, Williams was hitless in two official at bats against Vic Raschi. That did it. George Kell was the American League batting champion.
In 1949, Ted Williams dominated the American League. He led the league with 43 home runs, and tied for the lead in RBIs with 159, but there was much more to one of the most of all dominant offensive seasons.
Williams led the league in on base average (.490), in slugging (.650), in plate appearances (730), in runs scored (150), in total bases (368), in doubles (39), and in walks (162). He was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
Babe Ruth’s best season was probably 1921, although it is recognized that he had other seasons that were comparable.
In 1921, Ruth hit .378, to finish third in the batting race, behind Harry Heilmann’s .394 and Ty Cobb’s .389.
Ruth led the league with 59 home runs, 171 RBIs, an incredible .846 slugging average, a .512 on base average, 177 runs scored, 457 total bases, and 145 walks. He also finished tied for fourth in triples with 16. Yes, young Babe Ruth could run.
When Ted Williams led the league with 43 home runs in 1949, the only other player to hit as many as 30 was Vern Stephens, who hit 39. Four players tied for third with 24 each.
When Ruth led the league with 59 home runs in 1921, Bob Meusel and Ken Williams tied for runner up with 24 each.
The fact that Babe Ruth didn’t win the Triple Crown in 1921 merely points out how difficult it is to win.
Few players hit for both a high batting average and a high home run total, especially in the 21st century (with the exception of Mr. Pujols.) A potential Triple Crown winner must be a team that gives him many opportunities to drive in runs.
George Kell is a Hall of Famer, and he deserved to win the 1949 batting title, but wouldn’t it have been amazing if Williams had won three Triple Crowns?
“Kell Batting Victor; Indians Get Third Place. New York Times. 3 October 1949, p. 22.
“Batting Title Goes to Kell of Tigers; He Tops American League on .3429 Average to .3427 by Williams of Red Sox.” New York Times. 23 December 1949, p. 25.