Roy Blount Jr. is a Vanderbilt grad, but he's not too shaken up by the school's recent decision to dissolve its athletic department and rethink its approach to sports. "Going to Vandy did a lot of things for me, and one of the things it cured me of was the need to follow college football," he says. And then he pauses. "You know, I have to go to my 40th reunion next week. They're going to love that I said that."
Maybe he can get his classmates talking baseball, a subject Blount has pondered deeply, if intermittendy, for SI. This week he focuses on what he calls the most underappreciated of hardball achievements, the triple (page 74)—rarer than the home run, and, Blount argues, all the more sweet because of it. Blount knows firsthand how hard it is to hit a triple, because he's never done it—not as a backup third baseman at Decatur (Ga.) High, and not when he was playing softball in the Army in New York state or with the SI team when he was a staff writer from 1968 to '75. He has never even been thrown out trying to stretch a double. "I was always stretching just to get to first," Blount says.
His athletic shortcomings aside, the lore of the triple is the sort of topic Blount enjoys exploring. "I like the aspects of the game that people take for granted," he says. "Rather than who's likely to win the American League Central, I'd rather write about things that stretch back into history." While writing the triples piece at his home in Mill River, Mass., Blount had 21 baseball books spread on the floor near his desk.
Blount, who appears on the National Public Radio quiz show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! came across the perfect triples trivia question while researching the story: How does one get an infield triple? The answer: If a fielder throws his glove at a fair ball, the batter is awarded a triple. In 1947 the Red Sox' Jake Jones was awarded third base after St. Louis Browns pitcher Fred Sanford tossed his mitt at a hot grounder.
Sportswriting and radio are just two of the ways in which Blount earns a living. In his Self-Promotional Bio, in the Third Person, which appears on www.royblountjr.com, Blount states that "he has done more different things, for money, than any other humorist-novelist-journalist-dramatist-lyricist-lecturer-reviewer-performer-versifier-cmciverbalist-sportswriter-screenwriter-anthologist-columnist-philologist of sorts (with due emphasis on the inclusive 'of sorts')" than he can think of offhand. His output includes 17 books, the most recent of which is this year's Robert E. Lee, a biography in the Penguin Lives series. " Robert E. Lee never hit a triple either," Blount says. "That's why he never had a great nickname like Wahoo Sam Crawford."
Crawford is a Hall of Famer who played from 1899 to 1917 and holds the career record for triples, with 312. You could call him the Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron of the category, though most people have never heard of him. Which is Blount's point exactly.