25 years ago, two Yankees teammates went neck-and-neck for the American League batting title. It took until the very last lineup turn to determine if Don Mattingly or Dave Winfield would wear the crown. This year, DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela are in a similar position. Although there are still 39 more games on the schedule, it’s fun to think about the possibility of two teammates having some friendly competition until the very end of the regular season.
After last night, LeMahieu (.338) had a slight edge on Urshela (.337). Of course, Urshela doesn’t quite qualify for the batting title yet, though he will barring injury. In order to be eligible, the rules dictate that a batter must have 3.1 plate appearances per team game, or 502 over a 162 game season. Urshela is just short right now, at 364 in 123 games (2.96). If he averages 3.54 plate appearances per game the rest of the way, he’ll qualify.
Prior to the season, thinking that LeMahieu and Urshela could battle for the title was ludicrous. And yet, here we are. It’s no shock that LeMahieu is here; he’s a former batting champion after all. When he was with Colorado, LeMahieu won the 2016 crown with a .348 avareage. Meanwhile, Urshela being a good hitter is completely newfound ground. And really, he wasn’t even in the batting title conversation until a week or so ago.
Of course, LeMahieu and Urshela aren’t only competing against each other in the American League. Entering last night, Michael Brantley (.328) and Rafael Devers (.327) weren’t too far off. If one of LeMahieu or Urshela holds off the field, we could be in for the first all-New York batting crown season. The Mets’ Jeff McNeil currently sits atop of the National League race. That said, it wouldn’t be the first cross-city title.
The last time a Yankee won the batting title was in 1998, when Bernie Williams (.339) beat Mo Vaughn (.337). Before that, Paul O’Neill’s .359 mark in the strike shortened 1994 topped the junior circuit. And of course, prior to Williams and O’Neill, Mattingly topped the 1984 leadboard. A Yankee has topped the league six other times, but let’s reflect on the last day of the 1984 season for a moment.
Entering the last game of 1984, Winfield led Mattingly .341 to .340. Even though Mattingly recorded three hits to Winfield’s one through seven innings of play, Donnie Baseball hadn’t won the crown just yet. Both were due up in the eighth inning, and Winfield could have been the victor if he recorded a hit and Mattingly went down. Instead, Mattingly grounded a single to right (friendly hometown scoring, though) and Winfield was subsequently retired. The final: Mattingly .343, Winfield .340.
Could we see a redux of 1984 in 2019? The safe bet would be that Urshela cools off a bit while LeMahieu remains at or near the top of the leaderboard. After all, LeMahieu’s been here before and Urshela hasn’t. But it’s no fun to pour cold water on the idea of a photo finish! It’s not like Urshela hasn’t proven his doubters wrong time and time again this year.
Given the Yankees significant division lead, it’s nice to have a story line like this to follow as the long season winds down. That isn’t to say there’s nothing else to watch for – but we can only agonize over the postseason rotation and recovery of injured players for so long. At it’s core, baseball is a game and the point of it is to entertain us. Hopefully, LeMahieu and Urshela provide us with some excitement and go down to the wire for the batting crown.