I got on the scent of this question during Wednesday’s game between the Tigers and Blue Jays. Miguel Cabrera singled in the first inning, giving the Tigers two .400 hitters on the young season, Cabrera and Torii Hunter.
I hopped on Baseball-Reference.com and learned that the only team to have more than one .400 hitter was the Philadelphia Phillies of 1894. They had three players bat at least .400: the starting outfield of Sam Thompson, Ed Delahanty and Billy Hamilton.
None won the batting title. Boston’s Hugh Duffy established that season what remains the highest single-season average in major league history. Duffy’s mark for 1894 was listed for decades at .438, but the scrupulous Baseball-Reference.com now lists it at .440.
I was eager to know why the 1894 season produced all those .400 hitters, and why the Phillies had three. So I called the library at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Within a few moments, I was speaking with Tom Shieber, the Senior Curator of the Hall of Fame. He cited one immediate reason for all that .400 hitting in 1894: It was the second season since the pitcher had been moved 10 feet farther away from the batter, to the current 60 feet, 6 inches.
...More runs would seem to mean more hits. Maybe one or more of those .400 hitters on the 1894 Phillies was able to hit .400 because he played the final few months in one or two parks below major league standards, and which favored hitters to an unfair extent.
Shieber said day-by-day individual records for players don’t go back to 1894. We don’t know if those trio of .400 hitters were hitting below .400 when the fire occurred, then raised their averages above .400 at the temporary parks.
This might sound frustrating. I find it refreshing. In modern baseball, we know everything down to the decimal point. I love a mystery.
Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:50 AM | 22 comment(s)
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