There was no doubt about the identity of baseball's best hitter last season. Clearly it was Kansas City's George Brett, with a .390 average. What suspense existed revolved around his eligibility for the batting crown. Since George missed a block of games with injuries, he was in danger of falling shy of the required 502 plate appearances. He made 508.
That's cutting it mighty close, so close, in fact, that Morton Roth, writing in the Baseball Digest, recommends reducing the appearance limit to 450.
Brett's close shave aside, though, the present limit hardly ever presents a problem for everyday players. The 502 figure was not picked out of thin air. It's meant to be a just figure, calculated by taking an average number of plate appearances in any game (4.13), multiplying it by 162 games, then determining 75 percent of the total, which, rounded off, comes to 502.
This sure beats the outmoded requirement of 400 at-bats, which baseball discovered totally inadequate. The case of Ted Williams, Roth explains, was instrumental in the change. Williams may have lost batting titles in 1954 and 1955 when opposing pitchers walked him so often as to drop his at-bats below 400 . ( Walks count as plate appearances, but not as at-bats.)