Of all the offensive records that are destined to be smashed in this year of hitting dangerously, perhaps the oldest is Earl Webb's record of 67 doubles, set in 1931 for the Boston Red Sox. At week's end Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez was threatening the 65-year-old mark with his 44 doubles, putting him on a pace for 75. "It would be nice to get in the record books for something," Martinez says with a smile.
Martinez is one of the best righthanded hitters of his era, entering this season with a lifetime average of .313, including batting titles in 1992 (.343) and '95 (.356). But because he has been hurt so often, he might never receive the respect he is due. He played in only 42 games in '93, due to an injured left hamstring, and missed the first month of '94 after getting hit on the right wrist in his first at bat of the season. Martinez gave the Mariners another scare last Saturday when, starting in the field for the first time this year, at third base, he collided with catcher John Marzano on a pop-up and had to leave the game—though as it turned out he was not seriously injured.
It seems as if every year some player makes a run at Roger Maris's home run record, but rarely does anyone challenge Webb. In the last 35 seasons only nine players have hit 50 or more doubles in a season: Hal McRae (54), John Olerud (54), Don Mattingly (53), Wade Boggs (51), Mark Grace (51), Frank Robinson (51), Pete Rose (51) and Albert Belle and Martinez, who each hit 52 last year.
Webb finished his seven-year career with 155 doubles, so nearly half came in his record-breaking season. "Until his name started coming up recently," Martinez says, "I'd never heard of him." Legend has it that late in 1931, Webb occasionally slowed down running out a potential triple, turning it into a double and thereby padding his total.
Webb was helped by playing at Fenway Park, which in 1931 didn't yet have the Green Monster but did have a sloping embankment in leftfield called Duffy's Cliff—named for Sox leftfielder Duffy Lewis—that made balls coming off the wall behind it especially hard to play. Martinez is helped by playing 81 games at the Kingdome, a good doubles park because it has hard, fast turf plus an easily reachable 23-foot-high wall in rightfield. "I'll hit fly balls to right that are outs in other ballparks but are off the wall at home," says Martinez.
Most great doubles hitters, including Martinez, have one thing in common: They use the whole field. In batting practice, unlike many hitters who try to see how far they can hit the ball, Martinez mostly hits the ball the other way. In games his doubles go from foul line to foul line. And they are all honest two-baggers. He doesn't run very well, so there are no leg hits in his total.
But Martinez, who led the major leagues in runs and was third in total bases through Sunday, can beat a team with the home run when he has to. "Most of the time I'm looking to hit the ball up the middle, and that's where the majority of my doubles come from," he says. "All I'm trying to do is stay on top of the ball and not get under it. Then I can drive it. But I have one stance I use when I'm looking for a pitch to hit for a home run to leftfield. I lower my hands to try to get the ball in the air." At week's end he had 22 homers.
Breaking Webb's record is not overly important to Martinez. "It's not like playing in a playoff game," he says. He certainly won't slow down on the bases, turning triples into doubles, as Webb supposedly did. "Maybe on the last day of the season, if the game's not on the line and I needed one more double to break the record, I'd stop," he says, before adding with a grin, "I don't get a lot of triples anyway, you know."
A New Big Fish
The only thing fans know about new Marlins manager John Boles is that he has bug eyes. "My wife called me after my first game as manager [on July 11] and said, 'Have you seen yourself on ESPN? I can't believe the way your eyes look,' " Boles said last week. "I had no idea I looked like Marty Feldman. So I told [Marlins coach] Rusty Kuntz to take the left eye and [coach] Joe Breeden to take the right eye. I told them, 'Forget the game—you guys are in charge of my eyes. Make sure I don't look like a space cadet.' "