In 1961, during their Ruthian home run chase, Yankee sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were dubbed the M&M Boys. 46 years later we might have to redefine that term to refer to catchers Joe Mauer and Brian McCann.
There’s been a lot of press about the Twins’ Joe Mauer becoming the
first catcher in 64 years and the first AL catcher ever to win the
batting title. But, it’s time to realize that an even more rare feat
could be accomplished this season. If Braves’ catcher Brian McCann can
manage another 170 plate appearances (PA) in the Braves’ final 46
games, the major leagues could experience the first ever instance of
two catchers winning the batting title in the same season.
While Mauer, at .361, currently has a commanding .020 lead in the AL,
McCann at .350 would have a .004 lead in the NL if he had enough plate
appearances to qualify. Presently, McCann is taking off about only one
game a week, so the probability of him qualifying by the end of the
season is pretty good. If McCann were to play in 40 of the Braves’
final 46 games, which would keep with his recent pattern of games
played, he would have to average 4.25 plate appearances per game. If
you consider that McCann has averaged 4.18 plate appearances in his 77
game starts so far, and you add in a few pinch-hitting appearances, his
shot at qualifying is definitely within reach.
If McCann should fail, another NL catcher who is in the running for the batting title is the Cubs’ Michael Barrett.
Like McCann, Barrett is a little short of having the necessary plate
appearances required to qualify, but he is closer than McCann. To date,
Barrett would need 143 more plate appearances. The Cubs have 45 games
remaining, so barring another injury Barrett should have no problem
qualifying. His .330 average would presently rank 4th in the NL.
When you consider the history of catchers winning a batting title,
there aren’t many places to look. Cincinnati has been the benefactor of
this rare feat two of the three times it has been accomplished. And
neither time was the player’s name Johnny Bench. The only two catchers
who have ever won a batting title since 1900 are Bubbles Hargrave and
Ernie Lombardi (Photo to the left). Hargraves was the first, winning in 1926 for the
Cincinnati Reds (.353). Lombardi also won a batting title for the Reds
when he led the NL in 1938 (.342). Lombardi became the last catcher to
top the batting charts in 1942 (a war year when many of the best
hitters were out of the league because they had joined the U.S. armed
services) when he again led the NL, hitting .330 for the Boston Braves.
To further bolster the proclamation that this is truly the year of
the catcher here are a few other backstops batting over .300 in 2006:
Through August 13th
Starters AVG PA
Paul Lo Duca (Mets) .316 402
Victor Martinez (Indians) .315 471
Ronny Paulino (Pirates) .312 341
A.J Pierzynski (White Sox) .308 404
Johnny Estrada (D’Backs) .303 344
Mike Redmond (Twins) .346 136
Gerald Laird (Rangers) .340 158
Chris Coste (Phillies) .340 103
Josh Bard (Padres) .330 207
On The Cusp
Russell Martin (Dodgers) .299 310
Kenji Johjima (Mariners) .297 383
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) .295 411
Mike Piazza (Padres) .291 321
* A player needs 502 PA (Hits, Walks, SF, SH, HBP) to qualify for the batting title.