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It's as if every major league hitter wants to establish once, before he grows up entirely, that he can breathe the heady air of the game's most stimulating statistical category. Rich Rollins of the Twins hit half of his 10-year total in 1964, when at age 26 he led the American League with 10. Here are just a few of the onetime league leaders in triples: Gino Cimoli, Delino DeShields, Mike Kreevich, Del Unser, Buddy Lewis, Jim Rivera, Walt Wilmot, Buttercup Dickerson, Hoot Evers, Barney McCoskey, Tom McCreery, Jeff Heath, Ray (Rabbit) Powell, Gene Richards, Stan Spence, Luis Olmo, Hank Edwards, Wally Pipp, Jake Wood, Mitch Webster, Mariano Duncan, Darren Lewis, David Dellucci and Neifi Perez.
The triple's magic wears off as a player matures. Johnny Damon, the Red Sox' wide-ranging centerfielder, led two minor leagues in triples as a youth and last year led the American League with 11. At week's end he had six in 2003. Asked how hitting a triple makes him feel now at the age of 29, he says, "Exhausted. It used to be so easy."
David Halberstam, in his book Summer of '49, mentions that Tommy Hen-rich said early in 1950, when the New York Yankees outfielder was 37, "I think I can play the whole season as long as I don't hit too many triples. They're just too hard on my knees."
5. The Triple Is Not Too Retro for Your Consideration
6. To See a Triple, You Have to Be There
Home runs are telegenic: The ball that leaves the yard fits the box, visually, and a basic grasp of what a home run entails requires no more reflection than, say, Fox News does. (Perhaps there should be a home run channel, called HR!, though I don't mean to imply that home runs ought to be lumped in with everything that works on television, like people competitively eating bowls of caterpillars or one spouse being sandbagged into revealing to another that he or she has been carrying on with his or her teenage niece or nephew, who shows up, heavily tattooed, to declare that love is never wrong.) There is room in a segment of Baseball Tonight for lots of homers. Or jacks, or taters, or dingers. Home runs have always had catchy nicknames—who knows, we may see a revival of "circuit clout." (Triples don't require synonyms. Threebie? No thanks. Triple comes off the tongue trippingly enough in its own right, with rip and ripple in it.)
And there is no TV screen big or split-table enough to show all the things going on at once in a multifarious event like the triple: a man with the requisite pop and speed shooting the ball out there and the ball getting off into some kind of crazy limbo, and the man who has the best arm on the field chasing the ball down and firing it back with his cannon as the aspiring tripler cuts the second base corner just right ("Baseball is not statistics," wrote Jimmy Breslin, "it's DiMaggio rounding second") and....
In Fenway Park a few weeks ago, during a big game against the Yankees, 6'4", 230-pound David Ortiz of the Red Sox slashed a drive into the rightfield corner that came off the wall so crazily that it hopped up off the ground and back over the head of Raul Mondesi, the Yankees' rightfielder at the time, who—clearly and understandably uncertain how to play the ball—waved at it as he slid feet-first into the wall. On the ESPN telecast we saw Ortiz's swing and his first two steps toward first...cut to Mondesi skidding into the wall and jumping back up after the ball ("It's rolling around out there," said play-by-play man Jon Miller with due enthusiasm)...cut to a runner scoring...cut to the cutoff man receiving Mondesi's throw...cut to another runner scoring...cut to Ortiz standing on third grinning almost sheepishly with his first triple of the season.
Then the color man, Rick Sutcliffe, pointed out, "Lots of guys his size don't hit many triples because they don't want to. They don't want to have to run that far and that hard. But Ortiz will gladly take it—he appreciates the opportunity to stay in the game and hit against a lefthander."
There's a TV triple: several unavoidably disjointed flashes followed, aptly enough, by insider commentary that almost obliterates the achievement.