by Harold Friend
Joe Mauer won the 2009 American League batting championship, hitting.365, which set a record for the highest batting average by a catcher, surpassing the .362 of Bill Dickey in 1936 and Mike Piazza in 1997. The batting title was Mauer's third in the last four seasons,
Bubbles Hargrave's Batting Title
The only other catchers to win a batting title are Bubbles Hargrave and Ernie Lombardi, both of whom played a long, long time ago. Hargrave's batting championship had an interesting twist.
In 1926, Hargrave had 365 plate appearances, 326 official at bats, and 115 hits, for a .353 batting average. His Cincinnati teammate, outfielder Rube Bressler, hit .357, and until late in December, many thought that Bressler was the batting champion.
The problem was that Bressler appeared in only 86 games, with only 297 official at bats, while Hargrave appeared in 105 games. The "rule" in 1926 was that a player had to appear in at least 100 games to qualify for the batting title.
John Heydler's Declaration
National League president John Heydler, on December 28, 1926, declared Bubbles Hargrave the league's batting champion. Walter "Cuckoo" Christensen batted .350, but had only official at bats, although he did lead the league in on base percentage with a .426 mark.
Earl Smith, who finished third (.346), and Cy Williams, who was fourth (.345), each had fewer than 400 official at bats. Under modern rules, Paul Waner would have been the 1926 National League batting champion.
Rookie Paul Waner Would Have Won Today
Paul Waner batted .336. He had 618 plate appearances, and 536 official at bats. What is interesting is that 1926 was Paul Waner's rookie season. He had a .413 on base average to go along with a .528 slugging average.
Waner, whose playing weight is listed at 153 pounds, did not hit home runs, despite his fine slugging average. In 1926, he hit only 8, but Waner led the league with 22 triples and also had 35 doubles.
Highest Lifetime Batting Average
Joe Mauer was only 23 years old when he won his first batting title in 2006. In 2008, he won again, batting .328. Mauer, whose rookie season was 2004, has a .327 lifetime batting average, which is the highest of any catcher in baseball history. Mickey Cochrane batted .320, and Bill Dickey hit .313.
The chances are excellent that in a few seasons, the wear and tear of catching will take its toll on Joe Mauer, forcing him to switch positions in order for him to maintain his offensive excellence, but that remains to be seen.
Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Jason Varitek are three catchers who could hit, yet have remained behind the plate as they approach the age of 40. Only Posada had a solid 2009 season, but injuries limited his playing time behind the plate.
There may be more batting titles for Joe Mauer, but the fact remains that he has already achieved much individual glory, which the 2009 Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels know. They also know that Joe Mauer is a team player, which makes the Twins an interesting team to watch the next few days.
Heydler Considers Hargrave National League Batting King. (1926, December 28). New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 15. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 118880260).