Nationals fans are having fun watching their team move closer to its third division title in the past five seasons, but an even more exciting race is in full swing between the Nats’ Daniel Murphy and Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu for the National League batting title.
The two second basemen came into last weekend’s series as the league’s top two hitters, with Murphy at .345 and LeMahieu at .344. Even though LeMahieu didn’t play in Friday’s series opener, he moved into the top spot by going 3-for-9 in the series to maintain his .344 mark, while Murphy went 2-for-9 to drop his average to .343.
Washington hasn’t been home to a league batting champion since 1953, when Mickey Vernon hit .337, taking the American League title from Cleveland’s Al Rosen on the last day of the season. Vernon went 2-for-4 while Rosen, going for the Triple Crown, went 3-for-5, but finished at .336 after grounding out on a close play at first in his final at-bat.
The closest anyone in a Washington uniform has come since then was last season, when Bryce Harper was in the race for the NL crown with Miami’s Dee Gordon until the final week, finishing at .330 to Gordon’s .333.
But in his quest for this season’s title, Murphy has a chance to join an elite list that not even Harper’s 2015 campaign or Vernon’s ‘53 season would qualify for: the top 10 single-season averages in D.C. baseball history.
Mark Hornbaker, curator of dcbaseballhistory.com, has compiled this list of single-season records by Washington baseball players. It includes only seasons actually played in Washington -- not the cities where the original franchises moved, so you won’t find Rod Carew or Josh Hamilton. Not since 1946, when Vernon’s .353 average beat Ted Williams by 11 points for the AL title, has a new player joined this list.
Murphy would actually have to raise his average three points to match Joe Cronin’s .346 average in 1930 for the tenth spot, but he has a shot at history here.
Murphy’s name would be listed along with Goose Goslin, perhaps the greatest all-around hitter ever to wear a Washington uniform, who won the 1928 batting title with a .379 average to top the list. His 1926 average of .354, fourth on the list, was only good for fifth in the AL that season.
Second on the list is Ed Delehanty, whose .376 average in 1902 was the best in the AL. Delehanty met a tragic end in July of 1903, when he was ordered off a train near Buffalo, N.Y., fell off the International Bridge and was swept over Niagara Falls.
No. 3 is Cecil Travis, who finished second in the AL in 1941 with a .359 average before joining the army for World War II. Travis was sent to Europe in 1944 and suffered severe frostbite in the Battle of the Bulge. The injury hindered his baseball career after the war, and he retired after the 1947 season. His .314 career average remains the best for any AL shortstop.
Murphy’s quest for history won’t be easy, but with his propensity for multi-hit games, it’s entirely possible for him to join a list of Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars.
Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.