TV is not the only box that has transformed baseball. There is also the computer. The hotshots who run the Oakland A's, according to Moneyball, don't seem to relish watching the game, as such. They regard the players as fungible rather than fun. They patch together lineups from chunks of data. Triples are not about data.
Triples-related information tends to be anecdotal and character-driven. For instance, one player who never hit a triple was Ron Herbel, baseball's alltime worst hitter with at least 200 at bats. In nine years, 1963 through '71, he got six hits for a lifetime average of .029. One of his two doubles was off the leftfield wall in the Astrodome. As Herbel blew into second base, flushed with success, he saw the third base coach signaling him to stop. He didn't. "As I ran past the shortstop, Bob Aspromonte was standing on third, holding the ball. I was out by 40 feet. But I slid, and I slid hard. I could always slide. They had this red infield in Houston, and I got dirt all over Aspro, and he goes ass-end over a teakettle. He gets up and is just livid. I got his uniform dirty. He hated that. He said, 'Ron, what the hell are you doing?' I got up and said, 'I don't know. I've never been this far.' "
Incidentally, one of the first things we learn in Moneyball is that Billy Beane hit three triples in a high school game, still a California schoolboy record. The outfielders kept moving back, and he kept hitting the ball over their heads. The last time he did it, the crowd actually laughed. But in six underachieving seasons as a big league player, the enormously talented Billy Beane achieved a handful of doubles and home runs, even a few—a very few—bases on balls. He never hit a single big league triple. Maybe he never got past the Junior Felix factor.
And do you know what the last thing that happens in Moneyball is? In the Arizona instructional league we see minor leaguer Jeremy Brown, the epitome of fat-man-walking, hit a deep drive to left, and Brown sees the leftfielder getting out of position to play it correctly off the wall, and he thinks, I'm gonna get a triple.
"It's a new thought for him," writes Michael Lewis. "He isn't built for triples. He hasn't hit a triple in years. He thrills to the new idea: Jeremy Brown, hitter of triples."
But then Brown slips and falls between first and second. He retreats to first and sees his teammates in the dugout "falling all over each other, laughing." His drive didn't go off the wall but over it. It's not a triple after all, just an old home run.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]