First off, a nod to readers Paul Drye and Stephen Roney, who both took me
up on my triple-dog-dare from last week. Referencing Dazzy Vance‘s
strikeouts and Babe Ruth‘s homers, I challenged readers to find
another instance in which one player so thoroughly dominated his league in
any significant category.
Both Drye and Roney rose to the challenge, pointing out the following
leaderboard in stolen bases for the NL in 1962, the year Maury Wills
broke Ty Cobb‘s single-season stolen base record:
Name Team SB
Maury Wills LA 104 Willie Davis LA 32 Vada Pinson CIN 26 Julian Javier STL 26 Tony Taylor PHI 20
Wills more than tripled the stolen-base total of the runner-up, and
quadrupled the total of the third-place finisher. Now that’s dominance.
Statistical Oddities: The Wes Covington Club
Ever consider the relationship among the three components of a player’s
extra-base hit line: his doubles, triples, and home runs? (I’m going
somewhere with this. Trust me.) As a statistic, the home run tells a story
of raw power, while the triple sends a message of blazing speed, at least
since the end of the dead-ball era. The double is a neutral party,
essentially a standard for the other two statistics.
The vast majority of hitters–7,906 of them with 400 or more at-bats since
the clean-ball era began in 1920–hit more doubles than either triples or
home runs. Of the 7,906, 5,198 hit more homers than triples, 2,285 hit more
triples than homers and 423 three-bagged and four-bagged equally well.
Only 1,302 hitters in the same set did not finish with more doubles than
either homers or triples. Of this group, 1,289 of them finished with more
homers than doubles. Call them the Mark McGwire behemoths; McGwire
came into 2000 with more than twice as many career homers (522) as doubles
(240), the highest ratio ever (minimum: 1000 AB).
Only 13 hitters have ever finished with more triples than doubles. Call
them the Lance Johnson whippets; Johnson was the last player to turn
the feat in 1994. (David Hulse and Luis Polonia are the only
other players to turn the trick since 1975.)
It stands to reason that the twain shall never meet. It takes power at the
expense of speed to rack up more homers than doubles, and that it takes
speed at the expense of power to rack up more triples than doubles. To
combine the two–to hit more triples and more homers than doubles–would
require a skill set that doesn’t exist, right?
Right. Sort of. One player in major league history has done so in a full
season, but it was a 19th-century player. What a season it was, though.
In 1899, Buck Freeman, a 27-year-old rookie outfielder for the
Washington Nationals (in their final season as a National League
franchise), almost lit the home-run spark around baseball 20 years before
Babe Ruth. Freeman hit just 19 doubles, but roped 25 triples and 25 home
runs, an absolutely phenomenal feat.
Not only was Freeman’s homer total the second-highest in history to that
point (the record holder, Ned Williamson, set his mark in a park
with a right-field fence only 240 feet from home plate), but his triple
total also ranked tenth in the record books! Freeman combined for 50 hits
of three bases or more, which smashed the old mark by a margin of 10 and
would remain the record until 1920, when Ruth would break the record with
his homers alone.
Unfortunately for Freeman, no one knew any of this at the time, because no
one kept any record books; no one even knew who held the single-season
homer record until the Babe’s assault in 1919 made the question a national
In the live-ball era, no player has accomplished the feat in a season of
more than 328 at-bats. Which brings us to Wes Covington:
Name Year Team AB D T HR
Wes Covington 1957 Milwaukee (NL) 328 4 8 21 Deion Sanders 1992 Atlanta 303 6 14 8 Jerry Lynch 1954 Pittsburgh 284 4 5 8 Fred Kendall 1972 San Diego 273 3 4 6 Andy Pafko 1955 Milwaukee (NL) 252 3 5 5
Covington’s season stands out even among the freaks. Covington and Freeman
are the only players in history to hit at least three fewer doubles than
either triples or homers. His power surge, freakish as it was, helped the
Milwaukee Braves win the World Series. Well, that and Hank Aaron.
And Eddie Mathews. And Warren Spahn.
While it’s tempting to forge a link between the presence of two Braves on
this list with a two-year span (a strange ballpark effect?), I suspect the
prime culprit is blind luck. Neon Deion did not consult the Wes
Covington manual when he made this list; Sanders, who had six triples by
April 18, had the highest ratio of triples to at-bats (minimum: 200 AB)
Why bring all this up now? Step right up and see Roger Cedeno and
his freakish stat line:
Name Year Team AB D T HR
Roger Cedeno 2000 Houston 249 2 4 6
Cedeno has hit a career-high six home runs in just 249 at-bats, which could
be blamed on Enron Field, except that he has as many homers on the road (3)
as at home. What’s truly freakish about Cedeno’s line is the absence of
doubles. Only nine times since 1900 has a player hit fewer than two doubles
in a season of at least 230 at-bats, the last being Rafael Belliard
in 1988, the year he had four triples and no other extra-base hits.
Does all of this really mean anything? Not really. Is it fun to play around
with? Sure. And there are dozens of freak stats like this one just waiting
to be discovered, which is just another reason why no sport gives the
ardent fan more to do during the off-season than baseball.
Rany Jazayerli can be reached at email@example.com.