While researching my recent post about the Yankees’ Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield battling for the 1984 batting title, I discovered that teammates battling for the batting title, though rare, has happened several times over the long and rich history of major league baseball.
The most recent occurred in 2003 when Bill Mueller and Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox went head-to-head. The switching-hitting Mueller wound up on top batting .326 to Ramirez’s .325. Mueller would go on to future fame as the only player ever to hit two grand slam homers from both sides of the plate in a single game. Remarkably he hit a third home run in that game.
Ramirez won the AL batting title with a .349 average the prior year 2002.
The most contentious contest occurred in 1976 when Kansas City teammates George Brett and Hal McRae went down to the last game and McRae’s last at bat. McRae was ahead of Brett .33078 to .33073 on the final day of the season and they both went two for three through eight innings against the Minnesota Twins. In his last at bat in the bottom of the ninth Brett hit a fly ball to leftfield where Twins’ outfielder Steve Brye took a step back on the ball misjudging it. He was unable to recover, and the ball fell in for a hit and bounced past Brye allowing Brett to come all the way around for an inside-the-park home run. McRae then came up knowing he needed a base hit to win the batting title. But he grounded out to third leaving Brett ahead .333 to .332. Unfortunately, McRae was upset by the turn of events. According to SABR, when McRae walked back to the dugout, he tipped his batting helmet to a standing ovation by the Royals fans. Then McRae turned and gave the Twins’ dugout the finger. Twins’ manager Gene Mauch immediately charged the field and both benches emptied. It took several minutes for the umpires to restore order. Later McRae accused Brye of misplaying the ball in order to give Brett the title. “This is America, and not that much has changed. Too bad in 1976 things are still like that,” he said, citing racism as the reason why he came in second. Mauch denied the charge, saying: “This thing hurts me more than anything that has ever happened in my 35 years in baseball.”
Brett went on to win two more batting titles. Although McRae had many solid seasons, 1976 was his best chance at a title.
In 1958 Boston Red Sox mates, Ted Williams and Pete Runnells were tied at .323 after 153 games. In the final two games “The Splendid Splinter” went five for eight and Runnells was three for ten giving Williams the batting title with a .328 average. It would be the last of his six titles. Runnells would go on to win the AL batting title in 1960 and 1962.
In 1954 Willie Mays and Don Mueller (no relation to Bill) of the World Champion New York Giants battled to the final game with Mueller having a slight edge .343 to .342. But “The Say Hey Kid” went three for four with a walk and Mueller slumped to two for six giving Mays the title at .345 to .342. This would be the only batting title for Mays.
The only battle involving .400 hitters occurred in 1930 when Willie Wells of the St. Louis Stars in the NNL edged out his teammate Mule Suttles .410 to .409. This was the only title for Wells, but Suttles earned the NNL batting titles in 1926 and 1928.
The tightest of all contests was in 1928 when Jud Wilson of the Baltimore Black Sox in the ECL bested his mate Rap Dixon .3987 to .3982. Wilson also won the ECL batting title in 1927.
Way back in 1903 Honus Wagner of the Pittsburg Pirates won the batting title when his teammate Fred Clarke went zero for his last nine at bats. Wagner finished at .355 to Clarke’s .351. Wagner would win 8 NL batting titles in his illustrious career.
SABR Society for American Baseball Research
Photos: courtesy of Bing Photos