The Lost Art of the Triple

The most exciting play in baseball is the triple. Rarely is a triple a forgone conclusion. Usually it is a crazy dash around the bases, while the fans and teammates yell for the batter to run faster and to either stop at second base or to slide into third. A triple suddenly changes the complexion of an inning and of a game. The pitcher can be sailing along and with one pitch can go from relaxed and pitching from the wind up to having a distraction on third who makes you shorten your windup from the stretch. The triple is a game changer.

The way that baseball is played and how fields are laid out has reduced the triple to an rarity. The home run has replaced the triple as the means of pushing across multiple runners with one swing and changing the fortunes of a team. The triple has become a lost art. The game changes as time passes, different strategies and approaches are adopted. Pitchers no longer are expected to pitch complete games nearly ever time they take the mound. Instead pitching into the 7th inning is considered a good outing. Batters no longer content to hit singles and then rely on stolen bases or the hit and run to get them around the bases. Baseball changes and different aspects of the game change. Unfortunately the triple has become less of a weapon used by teams, and it has reduced the prevalence of the most exciting play in baseball.

Sam Crawford's record is almost untouchable.

Sam Crawford’s record is almost untouchable.

Understanding how baseball has changed and how the triple has become less and less utilized you simply need to look at how modern players stack up against players from baseball’s past. Sam Crawford holds the record for most career triples with 309. The remaining of the top 5 in career triples are Ty Cobb with 295, Honus Wagner with 252, Jake Beckley with 244, and Roger Connor with 233. The active leader in triples in Carl Crawford with 117 triples, this is good enough for 103rd all time. Crawford is at best on the back side of his prime, and at worst he is on the back side of his career as a whole. Rounding out the top 5 among the active leaders for career triples are Jose Reyes with 111 triples, he ranks 123rd all time. Jimmy Rollins has 107 triples which is good enough for 138th all time. Juan Pierre is fourth among active players with 94 triples, he is 189th all time. Rounding out the top 5 of active players with career triples is Ichiro Suzuki with 83, which has him with the 256th most career triples. None of these players have much of a chance to threaten the career record. Age and time will eventually catch up to all of them, thus protecting Sam Crawford and his record. It is easy to argue the career triples record is safer than nearly every baseball record, including Joe DiMaggio‘s 56 game hit streak.

The difficulty of the career record may be out of reach due to the changing of how baseball is played. However reaching the top 5 for most triples in a season is more attainable, although breaking the single season record maybe completely out of reach. Chief Wilson holds the single season triple record with 36 in 1912. David Orr is tied for second with 31 triples in 1886, which was tied by Heine Reitz in 1894. Perry Werden hit 29 triples in 1893. Rounding out the top 5 for most triples in a single season are Harry Davis in 1897 and Sam Thompson in 1894 with 28 triples. The heyday of the triple was during the dead ball era, and there have been only a few players who have had even a single season with a high number of triples. They have become more and more rare as time has passed. Since 1994 only four players have had a single single where they hit 20 or more triples: Curtis Granderson with 23 triples in 2007, Lance Johnson with 21 triples in 1996, Christian Guzman with 20 triples in 2000, and Jimmy Rollins with 20 triples in 2007.

Even Ichiro does not have the speed to challenge Carl Crawford for the active leader in triples.

Even Ichiro does not have the speed to challenge Carl Crawford for the active leader in triples.

Baseball fans should appreciate the players who can round the bases at top speed to go from batter to 90 feet away from scoring. The triple has become a rare event in baseball and it should be treasured when it does happen. The changing of the game has protected Sam Crawford’s and Chief Wilson’s records from being broken. While I personally love seeing triples, the evolution of baseball is good for the game as it continually reinvents itself. The premium placed on power in today’s game will mean the triple will become less common. Players are bigger and stronger, which usually means they are not nearly as fast. This reduction of speed means there will be plenty of doubles and home runs, but the triple and stolen base will be a little less common and when they are used they should excite fans and players even more.

The triple is becoming a lost art. While it is unfortunate that part of baseball’s history is becoming more and more rare, it is just part of the evolution of the game. The triple may be a thing of the past, it still has a place in the modern game. Playing small ball will never go out of style, and because of that the triple will remain an exciting part of baseball forever. The triple is not completely lost, it is just in the background and shows itself on occasion, and when it does it will ignite baseball fans everywhere.

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