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The Triple Gold Club of Baseball

Last weekend, as you probably know, was the running of the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown of horse racing. This weekend, as you probably know, is Memorial Day Weekend, which, as you probably know, means the Indianapolis 500 runs this weekend. What you might not know is that motor racing has its own triple crown of three races: the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix and either the Daytona 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, depending on whether you ask an American or a European. Likewise in hockey, where the Stanley Cup, the World Championship, and the Olympic gold medal comprise the Triple Gold Club.

This got me wondering: what if there were something similar in baseball. This would require a combination of events contested in different countries at what is considered to be the highest possible level. Of course, this conversation has just about nothing to do with the Phillies, or Chase Utley‘s imminent return, so by all means, feel free not to follow to the jump.

The Triple Gold Club of hockey (24 players and one coach) and Triple Crown of Motorsport (one winner) are quite exclusive. Of course, baseball has it own Triple Crown (leading the league in RBI, batting, and home runs in the same season), but that’s an individual achievement–one can win the Triple Crown without winning the pennant (though the last three Triple Crown winners have, incidentally, done so).

Any list of the top three baseball competitions must, obviously, include the World Series. Because the World Baseball Classic has only been contested twice and won by Japan both times, using the WBC as a leg would make any list of Triple Gold Club winners extremely short. Therefore, because of the relatively minor overlap between Olympic baseball and the WBC, the second leg will include either the  Olympic gold medal or the WBC title. Olympic baseball was only a medal sport from 1992 to 2008, so we’ll include the demonstration tournaments of 1984 and 1988 as well.

The final leg of the Triple Gold Club of Baseball is the College World Series. Granted, not all MLB players play in college, and very few indeed have gone on to win the CWS, but it’s a prestigious competition put on by an entirely different sanctioning body, keeping in line with ice hockey’s Triple Gold Club and the Triple Crown of Motorsport that all three competitions are administered by different organizations and often on different continents.

As it turns out, the only member of baseball’s Triple Gold Club is Ed Sprague, who won the College World Series at Stanford in 1987, the Olympic gold in 1988, and the World Series with Toronto in 1992 and 1993. However, by my count (and bear in mind, this is only what I could put together in an afternoon going through Baseball Reference by hand, so I might have missed someone), 26 other players have completed two of the three legs. They are listed below:

Name WBC/Olympics World Series College World Series
Ed Sprague 1988 1992, 1993 1987
Mark Kotsay None 1997* 1995
Tino Martinez 1988 1996, 1998-2000 None
Pat Borders 2000 1992, 1993 None
Doug Mientkewich 2000 2004 None
Daisuke Matsuzaka 2006, 2009 2007 None
Sal Bando None 1972-1974 1965
Rick Monday None 1981 1965
Gary Gentry None 1969 1967
Lerrin LaGrow None 1980 1969
Chris Bando None 1989* 1977
Ron Hassey None 1989 1976
Mike Fontenot None 2010 2000
Ed Yarnall None 1999*, 2000* 1996
Dave Campbell None 1962* 1968
Mark Redman None 2003 1994
Jim Bridweiser None 1951-1953 1948
Don Buford None 1970 1958
Ron Fairly None 1959, 1963, 1965 1958
Roy Smalley None 1987 1972, 1973
Bobby Mitchell None 1974* 1981
Johnny Werhas None 1965* 1958
Kal Segrist None 1952* 1950
Ed Vosberg None 1997 1980
Keith Moreland None 1980 1975
Roger Clemens None 1999, 2000 1983
Jackie Jensen None 1950, 1951 1947

*Played 15 games or less.

Among those near misses, there are a few interesting cases.

  • Mark Kotsay came closest to becoming the club’s second member, collecting the College World Series MVP in 1995 on the way to winning with Cal State Fullerton. The next year, Kotsay was part of the bronze medal-winning United States team in the Atlanta Olympics, and in 1997, Kotsay was a member of the Florida Marlins, though he only played in 14 games and did not dress for the World Series.
  • Jason Varitek won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, lost the College World Series with Georgia Tech in 1994 to Mark Redman and the University of Oklahoma, and played in both the 1992 Olympics (finishing 4th) and 2006 World Baseball Classic (finishing 7th). Varitek and Ed Vosberg, who is also on this list, also played in the Little League World Series.
  • Robin Ventura arguably came even closer than Varitek, winning the 1988 Olympic Gold, but losing the 1987 College World Series title game and the 2000 World Series.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka is, along with Kotsay, one of two active players to win two legs of the Triple Gold Club. However, it could be argued that Matsuzaka completed his own version of the trifecta. In 1998, Dice-K was the ace of the team that won the summer national high school baseball invitational. The Koshien, as it is known, is Japan’s most prestigious amateur baseball competition and, as such, could be said to be analogous to the College World Series.
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has, in fact, won two legs of the Triple Gold Club, after a fashion, first winning the 1987 College World Series with Stanford. While he never won the Series as a player, Amaro did turn the trick as the Phillies’ assistant GM in 2008.

The most likely scenario for a second person to join the club probably does not lie with anyone on this list–Matsuzaka is not eligible to play NCAA baseball and Kotsay is a long shot for the 2013 U.S. WBC team. Among current players, the smart money is on Drew Stubbs, who won the College World Series with Texas in 2005. As a rising star on a good team, Stubbs could win a World Series in the next few years with the Reds, then present a strong case to play in and possibly win the World Baseball Classic in 2013 or 2017.

This list will never be as impressive as its hockey counterpart, because top players get more chances to win the Olympics (which are open to major leaguers) and World Championships (which are contested every year). Because of this, Ed Sprague does not match up to the likes of Igor Larionov, Peter Forsberg, Chris Pronger, and Jonathan Toews in terms of stature. Perhaps because of that, no one really knows or cares about baseball’s trifecta, and it will probably always stay that way.

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