Bombs and bases on balls: state-of-the-art baseball offense
today. ¬∂ Barry Bonds. If the ball is not where he wants it (as
every pitcher prays), he sneers. If it is where he wants
it--Lord have mercy--he makes it disappear. Either way, he's the
god of get-that-thing-away-from-me. Unlike most things called
awesome these days, Barry Bonds batting is. But wouldn't it be
nice if, when Bonds steps into the box, you could expect some
fielding and running? ¬∂ And Billy Beane. General manager of the
Oakland A's, protagonist of Michael Lewis's crackerjack best
seller Moneyball. Having determined by computer analysis that
on-base percentage is the single most significant offensive
indicator, Beane devotes himself to the pursuit of men who are
fat (so nobody else will want them) and who walk a lot. O.K. But
who wants to watch fat men walking?
Isn't there something missing in baseball today? In The Great
American Novel, by Philip Roth, the wealthy seductress Angela
Whittling Trust tries to make the illiterate slugger Luke
Gofannon love her more than anything else. She succeeds in making
him love her more than a shoestring catch. Or a stolen base. Or
even a home run. But she never....
"Don't get me wrong, Angela, I ain't bad-mouthin' the home run.
... But smack a home run, and that's it, it's all over."
"And a triple?" ...
"Well.... smackin' it, first off. Off the wall, up the alley,
down the line, however it goes, it goes with that there crack.
Then runnin' like blazes.... Two hunerd and seventy feet of
runnin' behind ya, and with all that there momentum.... Over he
goes. Legs. Arms. Dust. Hell, ya might be in a tornado, Angela.
Then ya hear the ump, 'Safe!' ... Only that ain't all.... The
best part, in a way. Standin' up. Dustin' off y'r breeches and
standin' up there on that bag."
She never makes him love her more than a triple. The triple has
been called the most exciting 12 seconds in sports. Hard to think
of any other generic 12 seconds in sports to compare it with,
other than a furlong, but never mind that. A triple is absolutely
the most exciting 12 seconds in sports, and here's why it still
is, though it seems to be fading away.
1. The Triple, Once a Staple, Now Is Rare
It is like an unenhanced breast in Hollywood, service at a
service station, a soda fountain in a drugstore, a free-range
neighborhood dog. In on-base percentage a triple counts the same
as a walk, although only an idiot would love a walk more than
Angela Whittling Trust. In slugging percentage a triple counts
25% less than a home run, although it is 560% rarer. That's like
valuing all minerals solely by weight. In the early days of
baseball, when the game was played almost exclusively on the
field as opposed to over the fences, a home run was appropriately
the rarest hit, the triple next rarest, and so on. Today triples
represent only 2.1% of hits, home runs 11.8%.
Some more numbers:
In 1921, 16 major league teams, each playing a 154-game schedule
(a total of 1,229 games), hit 1,364 triples, more than one per
game. In 1950 the number of triples was down to 793, or one per
1.56 games. In 1960 it was 658, one per 1.88 games. Last season
30 teams playing a 162-game schedule (2,425 games) hit 921, or
one triple for every 2.63 games. Last year one triple was hit for
every 202.61 plate appearances. This year there may be a few
more; through Sunday, the ratio was one for every 201.69.
The triple is now the least common single box-score-statistic
occurrence, except for its defensive cousin the triple play,
which is so scarce as to be almost negligible, and the balk,
which doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the
triple. (The inside-the-park home run doesn't show up separately
in the box score, and at any rate should be properly regarded as
an extra-base triple.) Even the somewhat lamented, widely
disdained sacrifice bunt crops up more frequently now than the
Ballparks have gotten smaller over the years, so hitting a home
run is easier and hitting a triple is like building a ship in a
bottle. Many of the new parks of the 1970s had artificial turf,
which gave a ball in the gap enough scoot to enhance a triple's
chances, but inorganic grass is finally going the way of the
leisure suit. And as we know, the most powerful hitters hit the
ball farther these days, for whatever reasons, so it's harder to
keep in the park.
But the triple's decline is not entirely a matter of architecture
and physics. From the player's point of view, there is little
incentive to stretch a double into a triple. Offenses are so
formidable these days that it generally makes more sense to stop
at second and expect to be driven in from there than to risk
making an out. It has long been gospel that you should never make
the first or the third out of an inning at third base. Third base
coaches protect themselves by interpreting this dictum
conservatively, very seldom waving a runner to third on a close
play--the runner can ignore the stop sign, but if he's out, it's
Triples are not much of a bargaining chip in contract
negotiations. When Jim Palmer and Davey Johnson were Baltimore
Orioles teammates, Palmer recalls, Johnson hit what should have
been an easy triple, in the late innings of a tie game with one
out, but pulled up at second. The Baltimore bench was mystified.
"We said, 'Why didn't you go for the triple?' He said, 'I've got
a doubles clause.' We said, 'Don't you think they'd give you
credit for a double on a triple?' He said, 'I've got a doubles
clause.' He went on to make a pretty good manager," says Palmer,
"but we called him Dum-dum."
It used to be that serious home run hitters--Lou Gehrig, Joe
DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle--also sometimes
led the league in triples. Doesn't happen anymore. Mark McGwire,
who did so much to make the home run what it is in the 21st
century, hit four triples as an A's rookie in 1987 and exactly
two for the rest of his career. In one stretch he went 4,618 at
bats between triples.
You don't have to be a bulked-up, walk-conscious slugger to get
by without three-base hits. In 2002 Oakland shortstop Miguel
Tejada, a slashing, free-swinging speedster, set an alltime
single-season record for at bats (662) without a single triple.
He was the American League Most Valuable Player that year. (The
previous record was set by the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, in 1998.
He was the National League MVP that year.)
There is a traditionalist explanation for the triple's decline.
Broadcaster Tim McCarver, who as a St. Louis Cardinals catcher
led the National League with 13 triples in 1966, told the New
York Post, "Players, through the years, have been in the habit of
standing around, looking at the ball. The triple mostly comes
from running hard right out of the box." In McCarver's day the
hitter was past first when the ball went off the wall or cleared
it. "You'd never see the first base coach congratulate a hitter
[for a home run]; the hitter was long gone. Now you see it a
Blame it on Deion Sanders, maybe. In 1992 Sanders, playing for
the Atlanta Braves, led the majors with 14 triples, in only 303
at bats. Perhaps the triple ceased to strike him as enough of a
challenge after that, for his triples production slacked off, but
what remained distinctive about his triples was the way he
produced them. "He'd kind of just cruise to first base," recalls
Mark Grace, then with the Cubs and now with the Arizona
Diamondbacks, "and once he saw it was in the gap, he could get
from first to third faster than anybody I've ever seen. Deion was
a guy who could actually outrun the baseball. There were a few I
saw him hit in the gap, and I was just, like, I can't believe
he's trying for third. He'd round second base and the ball would
already be in the cutoff man's hand and he'd still get third
base. It was almost like in football, how he would be way off his
man, in pass coverage, and just goad the quarterback--he could
close so fast. Same way in baseball, he'd goad guys into trying
to throw him out at third."
It will be recalled that Sanders threw ice water all over
McCarver, three times, in the Atlanta locker room after a 1992
National League Championship Series game, because McCarver had
criticized him from an old school point of view. McCarver came by
that attitude honestly, as a Cardinals teammate of the
quintessential hard-nosed pitcher, Bob Gibson. Gibson was black
and McCarver white, and this was back in the '60s, when racial
integration was still aborning in the South, where McCarver came
from. For years Gibson kept McCarver at arm's length and
off-balance, testing him with racial jokes. But after McCarver
hit a triple one day, Gibson said to him, "Hey, you like to hit
triples," and the way he said it, it struck McCarver as a magic
moment. The two went on to become close friends.
2. Here's Something Really Rare: A Walk-Off Triple
Ozzie Guillen, the Florida Marlins' amiable third base coach, is
one of the few people who will say that his goal as a player was
to hit as many triples as possible--he wound up with 69 in 16
years. Guillen points out that a walk-off triple hardly ever
happens "because there's going to be a play at the plate, and
most guys stay at second to let the winning run score." But
Guillen has seen it done, by Lance Johnson, his teammate on the
Chicago White Sox. (Johnson led the American League in triples
four years in a row, from 1991 through '94, was beaten out by the
Cleveland Indians' Kenny Lofton on the last day of the season in
'95, then signed with the New York Mets and led the National
League in '96.) Once in a sudden-death situation with Tim Raines,
a fast man in his own right, on first base, "Lance hit a triple
down the line and made it. He was sliding into third base when
Raines was scoring." Of course, it could have been a smart play
to reach third, if Raines had been thrown out at home for just
the first out. But then it wouldn't have been a walk-off triple.
3. There Is Something About the Number Three
Heaven forbid we should slop over into mysticism here. In the
computer-based, rigorously unsentimental, cost-effective baseball
thinking of today, rationality rules. Let us just mention three
outs; three strikes; Babe Ruth wore number 3; the red, white and
blue (sorry, strike that); beginning, middle and end; Moe, Larry
and Curly; and the eternal triangle. And consider this
observation by science writer Jim Holt (not the same Jim Holt who
hit 10 triples for the Minnesota Twins and A's between 1968 and
'76) in The New York Review of Books: "Why does our everyday
world have three dimensions? ... In a space of more than three
dimensions, it can be shown, there are no stable orbits, either
for planets or for electrons. Therefore, there could be no
chemistry, and hence no chemically based life forms."
4. The Junior Felix Factor
So named, not so much because the career of Junior Felix is such
a clear-cut example as because junior felix, in Latin, means
There are, of course, many exceptions to the rule that triples
tend to reflect youthful ebullience. If the Diamondbacks' Steve
Finley, who at week's end had nine triples, placing him only one
behind the Braves' Rafael Furcal for the National League lead,
should wind up first in the category this year--as he did a
decade ago with the Houston Astros--he will become the oldest
player, at 38, ever to top either league in that department. So
far that distinction is held by Jake Daubert, who led the
National League at age 38 in 1922 with 22. But only 29% of league
leaders in triples, going back to 1900, have been as old as 30.
Home run prowess tends to build as a player matures, but triples
are largely a phenomenon of the early years.
People slow down and muscle up as they get older, of course, but
not as rapidly as their triple totals tend to decline. Consider
the numbers of Junior Francisco (Sanchez) Felix, of Laguna
Salada, Dominican Republic, in a career that stretched from 1989
through '94, with the Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels,
Marlins and Detroit Tigers.
Rookie year: eight triples, one every 52 at bats. Second year:
seven triples, one per 66 at bats. Third year: two triples, one
per 115. Fourth year: five triples, one per 102. Fifth year: one
triple, in 214 at bats. Sixth year: one, in 301. Then retirement.
No doubt there were injuries along the way, but nobody slows down
that progressively between the ages of 21 and 27. Conceivably the
devil was in the home runs. As a rookie Felix hit just one more
dinger than he did triples; in his second year, more than twice
as many. In his last season Felix hit 13 home runs to the one
triple. (After the second year, when Toronto traded Felix to
California, Bill James wrote of a computer program that projected
Felix to be a possible superstar, with 237 more home runs in his
future; he had hit nine in '89, 15 in '90. His lifetime total was
He had lost zest. It tends to happen. In his first three full
seasons Garry Templeton led the National League with 18, 13 and
19 triples, but then at age 24 he became alienated, told his
manager he was tired and made an obscene gesture to a fan on
Ladies' Day. In 11 more seasons he never again reached double
figures in triples. In Pistol Pete Reiser's first season as a
regular, at the age of 22, he hit 17 triples for the Brooklyn
Dodgers to lead the National League. The almost mythical Reiser,
who kept running full tilt into the concrete walls of Ebbets
Field in the act of trying to kill opponents' triples, had
several other productive campaigns, but all his dislocations and
concussions took their toll: He never again hit more than five
triples in a season. (Once, when Leo Durocher inserted Reiser
into the lineup too soon after a hospitalization, he hit a shot
that had triple all over it, then fainted dead away while
Ted Williams hit 25 triples in his first two seasons, when he was
the Kid, and 46 in the next 17, as he became a more professional
and irritable collector of walks and home runs. Ryne Sandberg,
who hit a league-leading 19 triples in his third full season,
when he was 24, never had another double-digit triples year in
his 12 remaining seasons. Junior Gilliam's only year hitting more
than eight triples was his rookie year, when he led the league
with 17. Kirby Puckett's only double-figure season was his second
one, when he hit 13. Paul Waner led the league in triples twice,
his first two years. Willie McCovey hit two triples in his first
game, and 44 in his next 2,587.
Consider catchers. We do not associate them with triples, because
they squat so much, but when it comes to the Junior Felix factor
they are like most people. McCarver is one of only two catchers
to lead his league in triples (Carlton Fisk, who hit nine for the
Boston Red Sox in 1972, is the other), which he did at age 24. In
his 20 other seasons he averaged 2.2. Yogi Berra hit 10 triples
at the age of 23 and only 39 in his 18 other seasons. Mickey
Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Wally Schang, Bill Freehan, Manny
Sanguillen, Andy Etchebarren, John Bateman, John Roseboro--each
of these had one quite respectable triples season in his
tenderest years, then crouched down into workaday reality. Ernie
Lombardi, the most famously lumbering base runner of all time,
who stole eight bases in 17 years, and about whom it was said, "A
triple for an ordinary batter is a double for Lombardi," managed
in his first full season, 1932, to leg out nine triples--a third
of his career total.
Consider large first basemen called Moose. Walt Dropo hit eight
triples as a rookie and 14 over his other 12 seasons. Bill
Skowron hit nine triples in only 215 at bats during his first
year, an average of three in his other 13. Other large, unspeedy
sluggers who played first base and had similar triples records
include Vic Wertz, Dale Long and Harmon Killebrew.
It's as if every major league hitter wants to establish once,
before he grows up entirely, that he can breathe the heady air of
the game's most stimulating statistical category. Rich Rollins of
the Twins hit half of his 10-year total in 1964, when at age 26
he led the American League with 10. Here are just a few of the
one-time league leaders in triples: Gino Cimoli, Delino
DeShields, Mike Kreevich, Del Unser, Buddy Lewis, Jim Rivera,
Walt Wilmot, Buttercup Dickerson, Hoot Evers, Barney McCoskey,
Tom McCreery, Jeff Heath, Ray (Rabbit) Powell, Gene Richards,
Stan Spence, Luis Olmo, Hank Edwards, Wally Pipp, Jake Wood,
Mitch Webster, Mariano Duncan, Darren Lewis, David Dellucci and
The triple's magic wears off as a player matures. Johnny Damon,
the Red Sox' wide-ranging centerfielder, led two minor leagues in
triples as a youth and last year led the American League with 11.
At week's end he had six in 2003. Asked how hitting a triple
makes him feel now at the age of 29, he says, "Exhausted. It used
to be so easy."
David Halberstam, in his book Summer of '49, mentions that Tommy
Henrich said early in 1950, when the New York Yankees outfielder
was 37, "I think I can play the whole season as long as I don't
hit too many triples. They're just too hard on my knees."
5. The Triple Is Not Too Retro for Your Consideration
The alltime record for triples by one player in one season is an
incredible 36. It is one baseball record that will probably never
be broken. It was set by a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1912--O.K., O.K.,
but consider this: The Pirate in question was named Owen Wilson.
Name another record, in all of sports, that is held by a person
with the same name as someone who costars in action movies with
6. To See a Triple, You Have to Be There
Home runs are telegenic: The ball that leaves the yard fits the
box, visually, and a basic grasp of what a home run entails
requires no more reflection than, say, Fox News does. (Perhaps
there should be a home run channel, called HR!, though I don't
mean to imply that home runs ought to be lumped in with
everything that works on television, like people competitively
eating bowls of caterpillars or one spouse being sandbagged into
revealing to another that he or she has been carrying on with his
or her teenage niece or nephew, who shows up, heavily tattooed,
to declare that love is never wrong.) There is room in a segment
of Baseball Tonight for lots of homers. Or jacks, or taters, or
dingers. Home runs have always had catchy nicknames--who knows,
we may see a revival of "circuit clout." (Triples don't require
synonyms. Threebie? No thanks. Triple comes off the tongue
trippingly enough in its own right, with rip and ripple in it.)
And there is no TV screen big or splittable enough to show all
the things going on at once in a multifarious event like the
triple: a man with the requisite pop and speed shooting the ball
out there and the ball getting off into some kind of crazy limbo,
and the man who has the best arm on the field chasing the ball
down and firing it back with his cannon as the aspiring tripler
cuts the second base corner just right ("Baseball is not
statistics," wrote Jimmy Breslin, "it's DiMaggio rounding
In Fenway Park a few weeks ago, during a big game against the
Yankees, 6'4", 230-pound David Ortiz of the Red Sox slashed a
drive into the rightfield corner that came off the wall so
crazily that it hopped up off the ground and back over the head
of Raul Mondesi, the Yankees' rightfielder at the time,
who--clearly and understandably uncertain how to play the
ball--waved at it as he slid feet-first into the wall. On the
ESPN telecast we saw Ortiz's swing and his first two steps toward
first ... cut to Mondesi skidding into the wall and jumping back
up after the ball ("It's rolling around out there," said
play-by-play man Jon Miller with due enthusiasm) ... cut to a
runner scoring ... cut to the cutoff man receiving Mondesi's
throw ... cut to another runner scoring ... cut to Ortiz standing
on third grinning almost sheepishly with his first triple of the
Then the color man, Rick Sutcliffe, pointed out, "Lots of guys
his size don't hit many triples because they don't want to. They
don't want to have to run that far and that hard. But Ortiz will
gladly take it--he appreciates the opportunity to stay in the
game and hit against a lefthander."
There's a TV triple: several unavoidably disjointed flashes
followed, aptly enough, by insider commentary that almost
obliterates the achievement.
7. Triples Acquaint You with the Real Estate
Nooks and crannies are good for triples. Fenway is still a good
park for triples, which is one reason Boston's Nomar Garciaparra,
the opposite of a fat man walking--he is, in fact, so
energetically fidgety at the plate that he looks like a rawboned,
long-legged Little Leaguer who has to go to the bathroom--at
week's end had 13 triples, one behind the major league leader,
the Twins' Cristian Guzman. There's a big V-shaped recession in
Fenway's right centerfield stands where a ball that gets past the
centerfielder can roll and roll. And a visiting fielder who
misjudges the rebound off the Green Monster in left can see a
drive go over his head twice; Garciaparra got a big triple that
way in June when the Cardinals came to town. In the rightfield
corner, says Trot Nixon, who patrols that garden for the Red Sox,
"sometimes the ball takes on a life of its own." On its way to
the corner it can tick off a little protuberance near where the
ball girl sits, or it can come into the wall at the 302-foot
point and hug its way around the barrier as it rapidly deepens to
380. Below where the wall is padded there's a concrete bit off
which the ball can come back at the fielder like a rocket.
That sort of thing is to be expected in a park as quirky and
venerable as Fenway, but even many of the newer fields are
surprisingly varied in their conduciveness to triples. In San
Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, for instance, balls can get up under
the benches in the bullpen in the rightfield corner. And there's
that flagpole hill out in centerfield at Houston's Minute Maid
Park. On the other hand, when Yankee Stadium was remodeled in
1976, it changed from a great triples park possessing many odd
and fascinating depths to something blander, tighter--well, let's
not call it a bad face-lift, let's just say it wasn't good for
8. When a Triple Is Over, It Isn't Over
You hit a home run, there's a big explosion of noise like one
that ends a movie that nobody can think of any other way to
resolve, and you trot around the bases and disappear. You hit a
triple, and you're still a presence, basking in hurrahs or boos,
dusting off, taking a lead, jigging around 90 feet away from pay
Or you're rolling around in the dirt with the third baseman. In
the first inning of the deciding game of the 1977 American League
Championship Series, the Kansas City Royals' George Brett (sixth
among living triplers, with 137) drew first blood with a two-run
triple, slid hard into third and without missing a beat began
whaling away at the Yankees' fully reciprocating Graig Nettles,
all in one continuous motion, as if this were a big-game triple's
natural blowback. The Yankees won the game, though.
Shoeless Joe Jackson had a great triple-aftermath back in the
early days. His triples inspired poetry, for instance:
Jackson, Joe, was a dashing young beau,
And a slashing young beau was he:
He larruped to left, and he hammered to right,
Both of them good for three.
Jackson inspired another scribe to write, "His triple was a
pippin, and his two-bagger was a peach."
Jackson himself was illiterate. Once (there are other, ruder
versions of this story, but this is the most mellifluous) he was
being ragged by a fat lady in the seats near third base: "Hey,
Jackson! Can you spell Mississippi? Hey, Jackson! Can you spell
Mississippi?" Jackson smote a mighty blow, came steaming into
third, dusted himself off, and hollered, "Hey, fat lady. Can you
9. Triples Trivia? Yes!
Which set of twins hit the most triples, lifetime? Off the top of
your head you'd say Jose and Ozzie Canseco. But you'd be wrong.
Jose hit 14, Ozzie none. Better answer: Ray and Roy (Bummer)
Grimes, in the 1920s: Ray hit 25 triples for the Cubs, 12 in '22
alone. Roy (note nickname) had zero for the New York Giants. If,
however, you want a set of twins, each of whom contributed at
least one triple to the total, then the second pair you no doubt
thought of was right: Johnny (five triples) and Eddie (four)
O'Brien, the college basketball stars who were such versatile
disappointments--at the plate, in the infield and on the
mound--for the Pirates in the '50s. Runners-up: Mike and Marshall
Edwards, who hit four and three triples, respectively, between
'77 and '83.
There have been, perhaps blessedly, no big league triplets.
Except, of course, for Coaker Triplett, who tripled 14 times in
six years between 1938 and '45 for three National League teams.
Interestingly, Jimmy Ripple hit exactly the same number of
triples for four teams between 1936 and '43. Whether these two
ever both hit a triple in the same game, inspiring headlines such
as RIPPLE TRIPLE TRUMPS TRIPLETT'S, or what the odds are of that
happening, remains unknown. When it comes to non-multiple-birth
fraternal trios, the best three of the five Delahanty brothers,
Ed, Frank and Jim, amassed more triples (266) than the three
DiMaggios (212) or the three Alous (125), but you knew that.
Who hit the most triples (11) in a year during which he pulled
off an unassisted triple play? Since 1920 the answer to that
question has been Bill Wambsganss. But with two more triples this
year Furcal would change all that. And if Furcal ends up atop the
National League triples heap this year, he will become the first
person to claim an unassisted triple play and a triples
championship. Furcal, however, homered in his first two at bats
in another game this year--his first-ever two-homer game, going
back to his childhood in the Dominican Republic. This may also be
the year that Furcal outgrows triples.
10. Who? Wahoo, That's Who
The greatest triples hitter of all time, Sam Crawford of the
Tigers, who led the American League in triples six times and
wound up with 312 in 19 years, was one of the most popular
players of his day (1899-1917) and had one of the best nicknames
ever: Wahoo Sam. He was from Wahoo, Neb.
11. Triplers Commit Triple-Robbery
In many cases the best hitters of triples have been the
outfielders most noted for taking them away from people. Finley
and Ichiro Suzuki come to mind today. The late Jim Murray wrote,
"Willie Mays's glove is where triples go to die." The great catch
Mays made of Wertz's drive in the 1954 World Series, some 460
feet from the plate, presumably snuffed out a triple. (Wertz had
hit one earlier in the game.)
As maybe the fastest centerfielder ever, Willie Wilson probably
robbed or cut off as many triples as he hit, and he led the
American League in hitting them at the ages of 25, 27, 30, 32 and
33. Roberto Clemente, who hit three triples in one day in the
middle of the 1958 pennant race, had the arm, the range and the
flash in rightfield to make triples defense as exciting as
Many of today's leading triples-hitters are shortstops, but they
can help prevent triples in the role of cutoff man. Or ... well,
in the second game of the 1916 World Series, Boston's Chester
(Pinch) Thomas hit a long blast to left center that was ticketed
for three bases. Between second and third, however, Brooklyn
shortstop Ivy Olson tripped him. Instead of getting up and
running on toward third, Thomas elected to stay and fight. The
two were wrestling on the ground when the home plate umpire came
out, separated them and awarded Thomas third base. Well, it was
worth a try. And forget about the most exciting 12 seconds, that
may have been a 12-minute triple.
12. Triples Are Not a Result of Corporate Management Policy
TV is not the only box that has transformed baseball. There is
also the computer. The hotshots who run the Oakland A's,
according to Moneyball, don't seem to relish watching the game,
as such. They regard the players as fungible rather than fun.
They patch together lineups from chunks of data. Triples are not
Triples-related information tends to be anecdotal and
character-driven. For instance, one player who never hit a triple
was Ron Herbel, baseball's alltime worst hitter with at least 200
at bats. In nine years, 1963 through '71, he got six hits for a
lifetime average of .029. One of his two doubles was off the
leftfield wall in the Astrodome. As Herbel blew into second base,
flushed with success, he saw the third base coach signaling him
to stop. He didn't. "As I ran past the shortstop, Bob Aspromonte
was standing on third, holding the ball. I was out by 40 feet.
But I slid, and I slid hard. I could always slide. They had this
red infield in Houston, and I got dirt all over Aspro, and he
goes ass-end over a teakettle. He gets up and is just livid. I
got his uniform dirty. He hated that. He said, 'Ron, what the
hell are you doing?' I got up and said, 'I don't know. I've never
been this far.'"
Incidentally, one of the first things we learn in Moneyball is
that Billy Beane hit three triples in a high school game, still a
California schoolboy record. The outfielders kept moving back,
and he kept hitting the ball over their heads. The last time he
did it, the crowd actually laughed. But in six underachieving
seasons as a big league player, the enormously talented Billy
Beane achieved a handful of doubles and home runs, even a few--a
very few--bases on balls. He never hit a single big league
triple. Maybe he never got past the Junior Felix factor.
And do you know what the last thing that happens in Moneyball is?
In the Arizona instructional league we see minor leaguer Jeremy
Brown, the epitome of fat-man-walking, hit a deep drive to left,
and Brown sees the leftfielder getting out of position to play it
correctly off the wall, and he thinks, I'm gonna get a triple.
"It's a new thought for him," writes Michael Lewis. "He isn't
built for triples. He hasn't hit a triple in years. He thrills to
the new idea: Jeremy Brown, hitter of triples."
But then Brown slips and falls between first and second. He
retreats to first and sees his teammates in the dugout "falling
all over each other, laughing." His drive didn't go off the wall
but over it. It's not a triple after all, just an old home run.
COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: AP (7); AFP (1); CORBIS (6); CHUCK SOLOMON (2); DAMIAN STROHMEYER (1); REUTERS (8); TIMEPIX (2); TONY TRIOLO (1)
B/W PHOTO: CORBIS THREE FOR 3 Renowned for round-trippers, Ruth also roundly tripled, banging 16 in 1921 and this one in the '23 Series.
COLOR PHOTO: TONY TRIOLO HE GOT AROUND Clemente (tripling in the '71 Series) slammed a trio of three-baggers in a '58 game.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MONE/AP
B/W PHOTO: CORBIS THIRD ROUND In the '77 ALCS, Brett (second from right) belted a triple, then tried to belt Yankees counterpart Nettles.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER HOME BASE Garciaparra has taken full advantage of the crannies in Fenway and the caroms that lead to triples there.
Here are the leaders in triples since the start of the 2000
season, when Comerica Park, Minute Maid Park (formerly Enron
Field) and Pac Bell Park opened (statistics through
PLAYER TEAM(S) TRIPLES
Cristian Guzman Twins 54
Carlos Beltran Royals 32
Johnny Damon Royals-A's-Red Sox 31
Ray Durham White Sox-A's-Giants 29
Jimmy Rollins Phillies 29
Neifi Perez Rockies-Royals-Giants 28
Tony Womack Diamondbacks-Cubs 28
Kenny Lofton Indians-White Sox- 26
Luis Castillo Marlins 24
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
The triple is the least common box-score occurrence, except for
its defensive cousin the triple play, and the balk.
Clemente had the arm, the range and the flash to make triples
defense in rightfield as exciting as triples offense.
There is no TV screen big or splittable enough to show all the
things going on at once during a triple.
There is little incentive to stretch a double into a triple. It
makes more sense to stop at second and be driven in.
Sanders, says Grace, could actually outrun the baseball. He'd
goad guys into trying to throw him out at third.
Asked how hitting a triple makes him feel now at the age of 29,
Damon says, "Exhausted. It used to be so easy."