The Three-Base Hit Is Becoming a Rare Sight at MLB Games

Updated on July 4, 2019
GaryKauffman profile image

Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance sports writer.

I’ve attended a lot of Major League games over the past 40 years. I don’t have an accurate count but I've attended at least 50 and perhaps as many as 75 games. I have fond memories of dozens of home runs I saw during that time, some hit by Hall of Famers. But in all that time, I only remember seeing three triples. I’m sure I saw more than that, but only three are memorable.

One was hit by Derrel Thomas of the Dodgers in old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. I remember it only because when he came to the plate, I predicted to my friend that he would hit a triple into the rightfield corner and he did.

Another was by Graig Nettles of the Yankees, a left-handed dead-pull hitter. He swung late, tipped one off the end of his bat, and it rolled along the leftfield line. With all the outfielders playing him to pull, he was able to reach third before the leftfielder could retrieve the ball.

And the third one I remember was by Chris Chambliss in old Comiskey Park, a line drive single that Chet Lemon played into a triple. For unknown reasons, Lemon played excessively deep in a stadium that measured 440 to center. Had he played at regular depth, he’d have held Chambliss to a single or possibly even caught the ball. As it was, he ran in and dove for it, missed, and it skipped past him to the wall.

Chief Wilson set a record with 36 triples in 1912.
Chief Wilson set a record with 36 triples in 1912.

Few Reach Double Digits in Triples

I bring all of this up because triples are rare and are getting rarer. They often come as the result of a fluke hit or misplay unless a batter has great speed.

In 2019, at about the mid-point of the season, only seven players have hit as many as five triples. Aldaberto Mondesi of Kansas City leads with eight and teammate Whit Merrifield has seven. Charlie Blackmon leads the National League with seven. Eduardo Escobar, Kevin Kiermaier, Jorge Polanco, and Raimel Tapia each have five.

Last year, Ketel Marte of Arizona led the Majors with 12 triples. The year before that, it was Charlie Blackmon with 14. No American League player has hit more than 10 since Eddie Rosario had 15 in 2015.

In the five years before this season, only 21 players reached double digits in triples and only two—Rosario and Blackmon—topped 12.

1912 was Great for Triples Hitters

The single-season record for triples is 36 in 1912 by Chief Wilson, a lanky outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His total was quite an anomaly for him – his previous high in triples had been 13 and he never had more than 14 after that. Yet he is the only player to ever hit more than 30 in a season; in fact, the only one to hit more than 26 in a season.

Yet his total wasn’t a tremendous outlier in 1912. Seven other players hit at least 18, six of them at least 20, and Shoeless Joe Jackson had 26. Seven players had hit at least 18 the year before, and four more did so in 1913.

Triples Leaders in 1912

Player
Team
3B
Chief Wilson
Pit
36
Joe Jackson
Cle
26
Ty Cobb
Det
23
Home Run Baker
Phi A
21
Sam Crawford
Det
21
Red Murray
NYG
20
Honus Wagner
Pit
20
Larry Gardner
Bos A
18

Triples Among Individuals Decline

Since 1901, there have been 132 seasons where a player hit 18 or more triples. From 1901 to 1935, there were 106 seasons of 18 or more triples. Every year except 1918 and 1919 had at least one player reach 18, and most years there were multiple players attaining that number.

But since 1980 the have only been 10 seasons of 18-plus and none since 2008. Not only is no one threatening Chief Wilson’s record, no one is even threatening to get halfway there.

Triples Leaders Since 1990

Player
Team
Year
3B
Curtis Granderson
Det
2007
23
Lance Johnson
NYM
1996
21
Jimmy Rollins
Phi
2007
20
Cristian Guzman
Min
2000
20
Jose Reyes
NYM
2008
19
Carl Crawford
TB
2004
19

Total Team Triples Also in Decline

And, as fewer individuals hit triples, the team totals diminish as well. From 1901-1949 a whopping 641 teams hit at least 50 triples; 37 teams topped 100 and 59 more had at least 90.

But from 1950 to 1989, there was a precipitous drop. No team reached even 80 triples in a season. The highs were 79 by Kansas City in 1979 and 77 by KC in ’77. The 1970 Pirates and 1950 Yankees were the only other teams to reach 70 triples. In all, only 145 teams had 50 or more triples, and only 33 had 60-plus in those 40 years.

But even that looks like a huge number compared to the totals since then. From 1990 to 2018, only 26 teams reached 50 triples in a season, and only two got to 60 – 61 by Colorado and 60 by Detroit, both in 2001. Since 2010 only Colorado and San Francisco in 2012, San Fran and Arizona in 2016 and Arizona last year have reached 50 triples. The last AL team to 50 triples was Kansas City in 2009.

In fact, since 1990, 617 teams have not hit as many triples as Chief Wilson hit by himself in 1912, the nadir belonging to Toronto with a measly five – yes, five – triples in 2017.

Since 1990 the high in triples for the Yankees is 36, in 1999. Baltimore’s high is also 36, reached in 1992.

Team Triples Leaders by Era

Team
Year
3B
Top Teams 1901-1949
 
 
Pittsburgh
1912
129
Pittsburgh
1924
122
Cincinnati
1926
120
Pittsburgh
1930
119
Pittsburgh
1929
116
Boston AL
1903
113
Cincinnati
1924
111
Pittsburgh
1923
111
Baltimore
1901
111
New York AL
1930
110
Pittsburgh
1922
110
Pittsburgh
1903
110
 
 
 
Top Teams 1950-1989
 
 
Kansas City
1979
79
Kansas City
1977
77
Pittsburgh
1970
70
New York AL
1950
70
Washington
1954
69
Toronto
1984
68
Pittsburgh
1958
68
Houston
1984
67
Houston
1980
67
Los Angeles
1970
67
 
 
 
Top Teams 1990-2018
 
 
Colorado
2001
61
Detroit
2001
60
Colorado
1993
59
Los Angeles NL
2006
58
San Francisco
2012
57
Arizona
2016
56
San Francisco
2016
54
Colorado
2010
54
Colorado
2006
54
Detroit
2004
54
Pittsburgh
1992
54

Factors for Fewer Triples

The most obvious reason for the change is smaller ballparks. Looking at the people near the top in triples throughout the years are players who played in cavernous ballparks, like Yankee Stadium, Comiskey Park in Chicago, Briggs Field in Detroit, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. A ball hit in the gap there could mean a long run for the outfielders.

Yankee Stadium, for example, was 480 to center before they moved it in to 457 (461 in left center), where it stayed until the mid-‘70s. Lou Gehrig had nine seasons of double-digit triples, including 18 or more twice, and Joe DiMaggio topped double digits eight times. Earle Combs, the Yankees’ centerfielder before DiMaggio, had three seasons of 21 or more triples.

Some of the change also has to do with changes in hitting styles. Even with more players swinging for the fences in the 1930s, the prevailing hitting approach was still a slashing, line-drive style aiming for the lines and the outfield gaps. After that, home run swings became more popular.

Another factor, although probably minor, is an improvement in gloves for outfielders. The difference in a glove from 2019 and 1945 is quite significant, at least several inches more of webbing. While it may not have made a huge difference, snagging a ball in the webbing may have reduced someone’s totals from 18 triples to 16.

Wilson's Record is Safe

Unlike the growing home run and strikeout totals and the decreasing number of complete games and stolen bases, no one seems to be lamenting the disappearance of the triple. I’m not sure anyone is even noticing. Rarely does someone talk about a triple they saw at a game or even have a memory of one, unless it’s an odd one, like the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

I think it’s safe to say that Chief Wilson’s record is safe for a long time, perhaps forever. It may even be quite a while before we see someone reach halfway there again. Chicks may dig the long ball, but it seems no one even notices the three-base hit.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        2 months ago from North Carolina

        Never really thought about this, but definitely true! Thank you for sharing.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, howtheyplay.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://howtheyplay.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)