Wednesday, April 10, 2013


OK, we warned you that this was coming, so if you're inclined to pull a "Hello, I must be going" kinda thing, your opportunity to do so should be taken now...

The big honking table that you see at your left (for a copy that might actually be readable, click on it...) captures two pieces of vital information for anyone interested in having a version of baseball that transcends the TTO travesty that we've been enduring in one form or another for the past half-century (amplified by the imprudent acolytes of "run scoring theory" who've pushed their brand of bull-in-a-china-shop science at us ever since Bill James sat on his wand).

It displays every player who has either:

--Had two or more games with two (or more) triples in a game during a single season, from 1916 to the present day;
--Had three triples in a game during that same time span.

Triples are the rarest of all offensive events wherein a batter makes contact with the baseball using his bat. As you all know, this wasn't always the case, but the game has evolved to such a state, and it's been that way for so long that few see this as something other than "just the way it is." It's more than that, of course, but prophets are also not without honor save in their own country, and one man's prophet is a crackpot to the mobocracy.

And so we have one of the great dilemmas of civilization and polity summed up in this scenario: there is often a disconnection between recognizing scarcity and preserving or reversing it, which often leads to either limbo or extinction. (The fact that scientists now have the capability to re-create extinct species adds an intriguingly macabre twist to the discussion: once we start doing that, we lay ourselves open to all sort of religious/philosophical objections--some of which, in their own strange way, apply to rule-tinkering in baseball.)

But let's only digress long enough to get us past the bottom of that big honking table. Based on the data we have handy from Forman et fil, we have 1635 instances where a player has hit two or more triples in a game. Over the course of 97 seasons, that would average out to about 17 per year.

Just for the sake of comparison, the number of times where a player has hit two or more doubles in a game is 35,489. That's about 22 times more often than is the case for two or more triples in a game. Back in 1920, when the number of 2+ triples games peaked (we'll deal with the nineteenth century some other time...), the ratio between these two events was more like 5 to 1 (261 2+ 2B games vs. 49 2+ 3B games). In 2012, that ratio has ballooned to nearly 80 to 1 (556 2+ 2B games vs. just seven--yes, 7--2+ 3B games).

That's mirrored in the chart at right, which shows the decline of 2+ 3B games as measured by the number of such games per team over the course of the data sample (1916 to 2012). Every once in a while there is a blip in the system--a player or two will come along and defy the extinction pattern, but--as the big honking table demonstrates in the big gaps between incidences of three-triple games. (It should also be noted that the identity of those players who hit three triples in a game used to include Hall of Famers who hit for power as well as speed; that stopped being the case nearly fifty years ago.)

We know that the triple will never become completely extinct, but its potential for blending speed and power has been permanently crippled by various factors that have brought us an increasingly two-dimensional game (and this has been in place for quite some time, in fact, as the chart shows: for the game to have the optimum balance in terms of speed vs. power in hitting, one would need to at least get this ratio back to 1:1, and optimally back to around 1.5:1).

And so we continue to proselytize, even while some of our friends can be seen edging their way nervously toward the door with a furtive expression on their faces, for a rule change that will, if adopted, certainly create chaos and mayhem on the playing field--but will produce about five times as many triples as is currently the case. It will happen without the big moguls having to restructure their stadia and de-optimizing their profit models. It will happen without disrupting any of the other trends that seem to be so wildly popular even as the game gets more two-dimensional.

Quixote: not a fan of those
who would bypass third base...
If you've been reading here already, you'll know what that "modest proposal" is. If not, you are invited to puzzle it out for yourselves before you go searching for it in the prior posts here at this little ol' island of hokum in a sea of fatuity. Getting more triples back into baseball doesn't solve the strikeout problem or the structural/aesthetic flaws that have been in place for some time but are now magnified by the emphasis on power--power hitting, power pitching: things that are clearly going to be with us in one form or another but are now unbalanced--but more triples, by hook or crook, is one way that we can live with the unshakable tendency for science to destroy anomalies rather than preserve them, thus permitting (and often even encouraging) genus to swamp species.

Jeremiah: not a bullfrog, but a
 man who knew how to make
woo with woe.
No one who lived through the offensive surge in the 1920s would have expected the triple to become such an endangered element; but improvements on defense, incremental increases in size and strength, and slavish uniformity in ballpark design, ushered in during the 60s and tilted further in the 90s have brought about a state of semi-extinction. And it has been done in a way that nothing other than the type of rule change we are advocating (simultaneously in the spirit of Don Quixote and the prophet Jeremiah...) can now possibly address the problem.

On a merely topographical level, the 20s provide us with the kind of event-driven interest that can only add to the enjoyment and pleasure involved in following the game on a daily basis. Consider that in 1920, there were two days--August 3rd and September 17th--where three players each hit two triples in a game. (This seems to have happened for the last time on August 9th, 1930.) On that same September 17th, two of the players who hit two triples did for the same team in the same game. The closest thing to that type of rarified excitement for us in the post-modern "chicks dig the long ball" age is when Carl Crawford had a couple of two-triple games within five days of each other in June 2004.

Now you are free to scoff at all this, but those who have never seen or who haven't bothered to envision the type of game where the triple had more significance shouldn't be so hasty to judge that the aesthetics of baseball is not suffering mightily from its absence. The names of the players who have the most 2+ 3B games in their careers (in the chart at left above) include a boatload of Hall of Famers, but the last one of those was George Brett--and he's likely to be the last one for all time, since the direction that the game has traveled since he retired is making it impossible for the type of hitter who makes the Hall of Fame to wind up on a list like this one. (While there are four active players on this list, none of them is likely to receive a plaque in Cooperstown.)

For goodness' sakes, kiddies, let's face facts: the game is getting two-dimensional, and something needs to be done about it. Hell, when there's an issue where we are actually in agreement with Rob Neyer, you know that this signals a planetary alignment of superhuman proportions...

Enjoy the baseball season, but keep this quixotic jeremaid in the tilted windmill region of your frontal lobe as the year progresses and try to imagine how much more than double the pleasure would be the case if we could at least double the number of triples in each and every game.