I came up with a point system for this. A player would get 10 points for each time he led his league in HRs, 9 for a 2nd place, etc. The same was done for AVG and RBIs. So the player had a career total number of points for each stat (data from the Lee Sinins Complete Baseball Encyclopedia). A tie for 1st was still worth 10 points. Then those three numbers were multiplied times each other (meaning if a player never finished in the top 10 in one of these stats, his total will be zero). So the idea was that players that finished among the league leaders often are the ones most likely to win the triple crown.
The table below shows the point total for all the winners, from lowest to highest. I used the list from The Baseball Almanac.
Baseball Reference includes Paul Hines (1878, 36,613 points) and Tip O'Neill (1887, 50,525 points) but not Duffy. They have Sam Thompson leading the NL with 147 RBIs in 1894 and Duffy with 145. Click here to see the leaders. Hines' point total includes one year of 6th in average in the National Association, the precursor of the NL. O'Neill played most of his career in the American Association and all of his points are from that league.
So, depending on who you want to count, it is Duffy, Hines or O'Neill. Yaz is definitely the one from the live ball era (If I use the data from Baseball Reference for Duffy, his point total would be 50,456, including data from the American Association-Click here to see his page)
I did not take age into account. The oldest was Gehrig, but 31 is not that old and he is 4th all-time in this point total (see Friday's post). Cobb was just 22, but he is 5th all-time. I also did not try to figure out how far from the leader these guys were when they finished in the top 10. That could matter but I would have to come up with a way to evaluate it.
Babe Ruth was by far the most likely to win who did not. In fact, his point total is way ahead of everyone else (Ted Williams might have surpassed him without military service). How could Ruth have not won it, even once? He led the league in HRs 12 times and RBIs 6. He did win one batting title. His 81 points from AVG is the 13th highest of all-time.
In his era, not surprisingly, he ranked very high in AVG. Here are the top 4 in AVG in the AL from 1918-1931 (covering all the years he led the league in HRs) for AL players with 2500+ PAs (data from the Lee Sinins Complete Baseball Encyclopedia):
1 Al Simmons .363
2 Ty Cobb .362
3 Harry Heilmann .356
4 Babe Ruth .352
Ruth's highest average was .393 in 1923. Heilmann beat him in AVG by 10 points. Ruth lost the batting title to Heinie Manush in 1926 by just 6 points (.378-.372), a year he led in both HRs and RBIs. Ruth won the HR crown that year 47-19 over Simmons and beat George Burns 146-114 in RBIs. According to Retrosheet, Ruth was at .371 after 9-21 while Manush was at .370. It is not clear that Ruth would have known this. The NY Times does not show Ruth in the lead in the 9-22 edition. I can't find any day he was listed as the leader in Sept using Proquest.
Manush went 9 for 14 in his last 3 games after 9-21. Ruth went 5 for 12 in his last 4 games after 9-21.
In 1924, Ruth won the batting title over Charlie Jamieson, .378-.359. He led in HRs 46-27 over Joe Hauser. Goose Goslin beat him in RBIs 129-121 (the Retrosheet splits page had Goslin at 130). At the end of August, Goslin led 108-107 (but it would have been a tie if we go with the 129 figure). Ruth had only 2 RBIs in his last 13 games after 9-13. Goslin had 16 RBIs after 9-13 in his last 14 games.
Ruth was walked 12 times in his last 13 games. But that was not unusual for him. He batted 3rd the whole season (except for 1 AB). The 1st two guys in the order had OBPs of .350 and .341. Goslin batted 4th 93% of the time. The 1st 3 guys had OBPs of .357, .364 and .386. Goslin did bat 3rd the rest of the time so some of that .386 is from him. But Sam Rice batted 3rd in 318 ABs with and OBP of .399 and Bucky Harris batted 3rd in 190 ABs and had a .352 OBP. So it looks like Goslin had more RBI opportunities. It would be great to know Ruth's and Goslin's stats with runners on and in scoring position.
In 1923 Ruth led in HRs 41-29 over Ken Williams. He beat Speaker 131-130 in RBIs. As late as 9-3, Ruth led Heilman .393-.390. On the 20th, Ruth only trailed .387-.386.