Both ranked in the top three in the NL in both home runs and stolen bases. And why is that significant?
Since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920, 10 players have won a total of 12 Triple Crowns in the AL or NL, most recently Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Four players have produced a 40-homer, 40-steal season, all since 1988. Those are difficult tasks, to say the least. Yet only three players in the Modern Era (since 1900) have led the AL or NL in both homers and steals, and none since 1932 (See below for the list). All three of them did it well before integration, night games or expansion, when each league consisted of just eight teams.
In other words, if Acuña or Tatis had pulled this off, there would have been no real precedent for it. But Acuña sustained a season-ending knee injury on July 10, ending his chances. And Tatis battled shoulder issues, ultimately playing in 130 games. That didn't stop him from winning the NL home run title (42), but Tatis stole just two bases after July 22 and finished third in that category (25).
This wasn't the first time either player had made a run at this feat. In 2019, Acuña tied for fifth in the NL in homers (41) and led in steals (37), also coming up just short in his 40-40 pursuit. In the shortened 2020 campaign, Tatis was second in homers (17) and fourth in steals (11).
They haven’t been alone in this quest in recent years. The Brewers’ Christian Yelich was fourth in the NL in homers and tied for third in steals in 2019. Cleveland’s José Ramírez was fourth in the AL in homers and third in steals in '18, then third and fifth in '20. Yet, still, Tatis joined Matt Kemp ('11 Dodgers) as the only players in the past 44 seasons to have even finished in the top three in the AL or NL in both categories.
But finishing first in homers and steals remains an elusive target. Here is a look at the three players to lead the AL or NL in both categories, as well as the 13 players to manage a pair of top-three finishes. Both groups are limited to the Modern Era (since 1900).
Led league in both
Chuck Klein, 1932 Phillies
38 HR (T-1st in NL), 20 SB (1st)
Klein stole only 59 bases in his Hall of Fame career outside of 1932, so his 20 swipes that year were something of an outlier. (He also was caught nine times). It’s also fair to say that as a left-handed batter, Klein benefited tremendously from playing his home games at the Baker Bowl, which measured only about 280 feet down the right-field line. During his 1932 NL MVP campaign, he launched 29 of his 38 dingers at home, where he slashed an absurd .423/.464/.799 (compared with .266/.340/.481 on the road). This was the third of Klein’s four NL home run crowns in a five-year span, although he shared it with the Giants’ Mel Ott.
Ty Cobb, 1909 Tigers
9 HR (1st in AL), 76 SB (1st)
Welcome to the Dead Ball Era. This was one of Cobb’s six stolen base titles but the only time he led his league in homers -- and none of those actually went over the fence. Yep, that’s nine inside-the-park homers. Cobb actually led the AL and NL in both categories, while also doing so in hits (216), RBIs (107), batting average (.377), OBP (.431), slugging (.517), total bases (296) and OPS+ (192).
Jimmy Sheckard, 1903 Superbas
9 HR (1st in NL), 67 SB (T-1st)
Back then, the Dodgers were actually the Brooklyn Superbas, and they hadn’t even moved into Ebbets Field yet. It was a long time ago. Sheckard enjoyed a productive, 17-year career, but this season was a little out of nowhere. In 1902 and ‘04 combined, the lefty-hitting left fielder totaled just five homers and 46 steals. But it all came together in 1903, when he batted .332.
Top three in both
Fernando Tatis Jr., 2021 Padres
42 HR (1st in NL), 25 SB (3rd)
Some missed time didn't stop Tatis from taking the NL home run crown, but he finished seven steals behind Trea Turner.
Matt Kemp, 2011 Dodgers
39 HR (1st in NL), 40 SB (T-2nd)
Kemp just missed a 40-40 campaign and an NL MVP Award (finishing second to Ryan Braun). He was 21 steals behind NL leader Michael Bourn.
Bobby Bonds, 1977 Angels
37 HR (T-2nd in AL), 41 SB (T-3rd)
Although his son would come to overshadow him, Bobby Bonds was a tremendous power-speed threat in his own right.
Hank Aaron, 1963 Braves
44 HR (1st in NL), 31 SB (2nd)
Aaron is remembered far more for his slugging, but he did steal 240 career bases, with 15 or more in each season from 1960-68.
Frank Robinson, 1961 Reds
37 HR (3rd in NL), 22 SB (3rd)
Like his fellow Hall of Famer Aaron, Robinson was a renowned power hitter who nonetheless stole over 200 career bases.
Willie Mays, 1955 Giants
51 HR (1st in NL), 24 SB (2nd)
Mays won four home run titles and four stolen base titles, but they didn’t line up in the same year. He was awfully close in 1955, finishing one steal behind the Braves’ Bill Bruton.
Goose Goslin, 1930 Senators/Browns
37 HR (T-3rd in AL), 17 SB (T-3rd)
The Hall of Fame outfielder was traded from Washington to St. Louis in the middle of the season and had 30 homers and 14 steals there.
Tony Lazzeri, 1927 Yankees
18 HR (3rd in AL), 22 SB (T-3rd)
Teammates Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47) made Lazzeri a distant third in homers.
Ken Williams, 1922 Browns
39 HR (1st in AL), 37 SB (2nd)
This was the only 30-30 season in AL or NL history until Mays in 1956.
George Sisler, 1919-20 Browns
1920: 19 HR (2nd in AL), 42 SB (2nd)
1919: 10 HR (T-2nd in AL), 28 SB (2nd)
Sisler also hit .407 in 1920, and his 257 hits stood as the single-season record until Ichiro broke it in 2004.
Ty Cobb, 1907/1910-12 Tigers
1912: 7 HR (3rd in AL), 61 SB (3rd)
1911: 8 HR (T-2nd in AL), 83 SB (1st)
1910: 8 HR (T-2nd in AL), 65 SB (2nd)
1907: 5 HR (T-2nd in AL), 53 SB (1st)
Again, things were a bit different in the Dead Ball Era.
Red Murray, 1908 Cardinals/1909 Giants
1909: 7 HR (1st in NL), 48 SB (2nd)
1908: 7 HR (3rd in NL), 48 SB (2nd)
Honus Wagner, 1908 Pirates
10 HR (2nd in NL), 53 SB (1st)
This was Wagner’s fifth stolen base title, but he never led in homers.