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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Tulo could pass batting title torch to teammate

Shortstop won't qualify, but Morneau could maintain Rockies' mystique

Tulo could pass batting title torch to teammate play video for Tulo could pass batting title torch to teammate

DENVER -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki spent more than two months leading the Major Leagues in hitting.

Then on Friday, hours before he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, Tulowitzki disappeared from the league leaders.

He was still hitting .340, but teammate Justin Morneau, with a .323 batting average going into Saturday's game, was listed atop the NL average leaders.

Tulowitzki no longer qualified.

Major League rules require a player to have 3.1 plate appearances for every game his team has played -- in the Rockies case that would have meant 375.1 as of Friday. Tulowitzki only had 375.

And he's not going to get any more this year.

Technically he could still win a batting title. Reality, however, says no.

Under Major League rules a player who comes up shy of the 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title can add hitless at-bats to his season total and, if his revised average is still higher than anybody else, he wins the batting title.

Tony Gwynn of the Padres won a batting title that way in 1996 with what was officially a .352 average. He actually hit .353 that season but was four plate appearances shy of the required 502, which lowered his average by one point. That was eight points better than Ellis Burks of the Rockies, who was second in the NL in average that year.

Tulowitzki had 375 plate appearance this season, 127 shy of the required minimum. Add those 127 hitless at-bats to the 315 official at-bats he had, along with 107 hits, and his average falls to .242.

Even in a year when offense is down, it hasn't fallen that far.

Two years ago, Melky Cabrera technically could have won the NL batting title. He was hitting .346 and had 501 plate appearances on Aug. 15, the date he began serving a 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing substances. Cabrera, however, petitioned Commissioner Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association, requesting that he not be allowed to use Rule 10.22, and the two sides agreed.

Cabrera's Giants teammate Buster Posey was the official NL batting champion at .336.

Rule 10.22, which established the minimum of 3.1 plate appearances for each game a team played, was enacted after the 1957 season, primarily because in 1954 Ted Williams hit .345, but had only 386 at-bats, 14 shy of the at-bat requirement that existed at the time. He, however, had 526 plate appearances, which included 136 walks.

Bobby Avila was awarded the AL batting title with a .341 average. Avila is the only Mexico native to win a batting title.

Strange things do happen with batting titles.

In 1990, Willie McGee won the NL batting title with a .335 average for the Cardinals, but George Brett of the Royals led the Major Leagues with a .329 average. Confused? OK, McGee was traded from the Cardinals, with whom he had 542 plate appearances, to the A's on Aug. 29. McGee hit .274 in the final month of the season with the A's, which dropped his Major League average to .324.

That was nothing compared to 1910. Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie went into the final day of the season battling for the AL batting title. Lajoie needed to get a hit in every at-bat in the doubleheader his Indians played against the Browns, and with an assist from Browns manager Jack O'Connor, who despised Cobb, Lajoie went 8-for-8 with a sacrifice bunt.

O'Connor ordered third baseman Red Corridon to play deep every time Lajoie came up, giving Lajoie the opportunity to drop down seven bunt singles and the sacrifice bunt. Lajoie also tripled over the head of the center fielder on a ball that observers claimed was catchable.

In the early years of the Major Leagues, a batting title was based upon a player appearing in at least 60 percent of his team's games, which is how Lajoie won the AL title in 1902, hitting .378 and appearing in only 87 games with the Athletics and Indians.

While Tulowitzki is no longer a candidate for the batting title, Morneau could become the second former Twins player to win an NL batting title with the Rockies in two years. Michael Cuddyer, a longtime teammate of Morneau and key reason Morneau signed with the Rockies in the offseason, was the NL batting champion in 2013.

Batting titles and the Rockies are not unusual.

Rockies hitters have won eight batting titles since the franchise's inception in 1993 -- Andres Galarraga in 1993, Larry Walker in 1998, 1999 and 2001, Todd Helton in 2000, Matt Holliday in 2007, Carlos Gonzalez in 2010 and Cuddyer in 2013.

Gwynn of the Padres won four consecutive titles (1994-97) and the Giants are the only other team with multiple batting titles in that stretch -- Barry Bonds in 2002 and 2004, and Posey in 2012.

It's part of Denver's Mile High mystique.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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