SPORTS

Justin Morneau wins his 1st major league batting title

09/28/2014 07:27 EDT | Updated 11/28/2014 05:59 EST
Justin Morneau played his first home game with the Colorado Rockies on April 4, a memorable 12-2 drubbing of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After the game, the first baseman had his No. 33 jersey framed and sent to his good friend, fellow Canadian Larry Walker, who won the 1997 National League MVP award and three batting titles while playing for the Rockies.

Throughout the season, the picture hung on a wall in the living room of Walker’s home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Each morning, it served as a reminder to check how Morneau performed at the plate the previous day.

That won’t be necessary on Monday as Walker was fully aware what was at stake during Sunday’s season finale in Los Angeles.

Morneau wasn’t in the starting lineup for a second consecutive day but did enter the afternoon game in the eighth inning and grounded out as a pinch hitter. He ended the day with a .319 average and his first batting title in the major leagues.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Morneau, who bested Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison (.315) and Pirates teammate Andrew McCutchen (.314), told reporters after a 10-5 Colorado loss. He's the third Canadian to win a batting title, joining Tip O'Neill, a two-time league leader in 1887 and '88, and Walker.

[EMBED]

Morneau, 33, last played a full game on Friday when he homered against the Dodgers and went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .319. Harrison was at .318 after going 1-for-4 in Cincinnati.

[EMBED]

On Saturday, Rockies manager Walt Weiss decided to sit Morneau in an effort to help secure the batting championship. Both he and Morneau faced harsh criticism for the player’s absence for much of the weekend but Weiss, a former Colorado shortstop, stood firmly by his decision.

On Sunday morning, Houston Astros management told second baseman and American League batting leader Jose Altuve he would be held out of the lineup but reversed its decision before first pitch against the New York Mets. Altuve had two hits to win the title and finish the season with a .341 average.

"I think this is way better than just sitting on the bench," said Altuve. "If you want something, you've got to win it on the field."

[EMBED]

Weiss added he was aware Pittsburgh might have had to play a tiebreaker Monday against St. Louis to decide the NL Central and statistics from that game would have counted, giving Harrison a chance to catch Morneau.

“The way I look at it,” Weiss told reporters before Sunday’s game, “the guy has experienced a career-threatening injury and if he’s in a position to win a batting title, I’m going to try to make sure he does.”

On July 7, 2010, Morneau suffered a concussion while playing for the Minnesota Twins when his head banged against the knee of then-Toronto Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald.

Concussions

Concussions and other injuries derailed Morneau’s 2010 and 2011 campaigns and he struggled last season with Minnesota and Pittsburgh before signing a two-year, $12.5-million US deal, with a third-year option, in Colorado.

“He’s a success story, he’s bounced back,” Walker, who “didn’t think twice” about allowing Morneau to wear his No. 33 in Colorado this season, said in a phone interview with CBCSports.ca last week. Morneau played 152 games last season. “I think what he’s gone through these last few years … it’s been a pretty good year. I’m glad I told him to go to Colorado.”

Morneau, who was the American League MVP in 2006, also hit 17 home runs and 32 doubles while driving in 82 runs in 135 games this season.

The native of New Westminster, B.C., is the seventh Rockies player to win the batting crown. Morneau gives Colorado its ninth batting title in 22 years and back-to-back champions after Michael Cuddyer hit .331 last season to lead the NL.

Here’s a list of the Rockies batting champions:

- 1993: Andres Galarraga, .370

- 1998: Larry Walker, .363

- 1999: Larry Walker, .379

- 2000: Todd Helton, .372

- 2001: Larry Walker, .350

- 2007: Matt Holliday, .340

- 2010: Carlos Gonzalez, .336

- 2013: Michael Cuddyer, .331

Morneau’s feat marked just the third time since 1876 that the NL has been led with an average below .320. In 1988, the late Tony Gwynn hit .313 for the San Diego Padres.

Morneau said he was most impressed with his consistency throughout the season. He hit over .300 in five of the season’s six months, including .361 in September.

Morneau's 2014 monthly production

And no one can say playing half his games in the thin air at Coors Field in Colorado was a major factor in winning a batting crown as Morneau hit .327 at home and .309 on the road.“Sometimes you get hot for a while and hit .450,” he said, “but I think I was consistent all season and I focused and concentrated on that.”

“The Coors [Field] thing is what it is,” Walker said. “[The Rockies] are a major league ball team I got to play on and where [it plays] I can’t control. And thank God I did good [there] because if I didn’t play good with all the benefits that you have from playing there, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now because I would have been a minor leaguer for life.”

Morneau, on the other hand, will be a Rockie for at least one more season.

MORE:cbcSports