Hitting three-baggers is something of a lost art, and is now largely limited to certain ballparks or when an outfielder misplays a ball off the wall not quite badly enough to be called an error. This was not always so.
In the Deadball Era before 1920, triples were the big power hit, simply because they were much more common (most years at least) than home runs. Aside from the dirty, battered baseballs in play, the slower, less athletic outfielders and the inferior fielder’s gloves of those days, many ballparks had very deep outfield fences, particularly to one or two of the three fields, than they do today, because of the urban lot shapes on which the fields were built and that fact that with home runs an extreme rarity, no one was really concerned with symmetric fields and keeping fences within reasonable home run distance. In fact, before Babe Ruth, most home runs were of the inside-the-park variety when a batter split the outfielders to the long field.
Time for some trivia: Who hit the most triples in a season after 1920? After 1946? Since 2000?
Who hit the most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s? In the 1970’s? 1980’s? 1990’s? 2000’s? 2010’s?
The answers will show you just how much triples have declined as part of the offensive game, with the slight exception that integration starting in 1947 brought more speed and speed/power players into the game.
Kiki Cuyler hit 26 triples in 1925. Hazen Shirley Cuyler (pronounced Ky-ler) was nicknamed “Kiki” (rhymes with “sky”) because he had a bad stutter. Nicknames weren’t nearly as kind back in the day. Unfortunately, Cuyler did not live long enough to see the Veterans’ Committee vote him into the Hall of Fame in 1968, which is pretty much the ultimate retort to a mean-spirited nickname.
Since 1946, Curtis Granderson‘s 23 in 2007 is the most, although a number of players have hit at least 20 in a season since 1946.
Most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s? Stan “The Man” Musial with 177, tied for 19th best all-time.
1970’s? Roberto Clemente 166 (tied 27th best all-time).
1980’s and 1990’s? Willie Wilson 147 (tied 56th best all-time).
2000’s? Steve Finley 124 (tied 90th all-time).
2010’s? Carl Crawford 123 (tied 94th all-time). Although Crawford’s career appears to be winding down, with his big-money free agent contract running through the 2017 season, the odds are fairly good he can collect two more triples to move past Finley.
For what it’s worth, Babe Ruth hit 136 triples in his career, good for a tie at 71st best all-time. While the Bambino’s lofty career total is largely a product of the times he played in, people forget that when Ruth was young and lean, he was very fast, kind of like a young Reggie Jackson, or some of the big fast guys of today’s game, like Mike Trout.
In the six seasons between 1918 and 1923, from ages 23 through 28, the Babe hit 69 triples, more than half his career total.