Long-lost triple is back in running at new park

John Steadman

April 01, 1992|By John Steadman

Triples, which provide the most exciting tableau in baseball, where the runner is engaged in a suspenseful around-the-bases race with the ball, have become almost extinct in Baltimore.

It's a sad lament, a situation analogous to the Baltimore oriole, the bird, not the player, which has all but disappeared. So goes the triple, too, as an offensive staple.

The triple in Baltimore is a rarity, a contention supported by irrefutable statistical data provided by Keith Boeck, a research analyst in the Orioles public relations department. The Orioles trail all of baseball in the number of triples they've produced, a fact attributed to playing in tightly-fenced Memorial Stadium and on natural grass.

Triples, most emphatically, and that's a promise, are on their way to making a dramatic comeback in the new stadium. Prepare for a bumper crop because of (1) the enlarged field in the new downtown park and (2) the billiard-table angles the fences bring into play.

For the spectator, the increase in triples will offer a welcome element of entertainment that was missing from baseball in Memorial Stadium for most of the 38 years it hosted the Orioles and the American League.

The seasonal high for triples, a club record, is held by Paul Blair. It was set in 1967. The number? A modest 12. And only three of Blair's came in Memorial Stadium. The defense conceded doubles down the line but took away much of the territory between the outfielders.

"I can understand why so few triples were accounted for in the old stadium," said Blair. "The outfielders would bunch. Now, because of the way the new park is built, there's more room for the ball to get between outfielders. I agree the game is going to XTC be opened up and the fans should like what they see."

Outfielders with speed, who can go get the ball, a Blair-type, will take on new value. The downtown park, with its spacious field and the capricious angles of the fences, which will create erratic rebounds, will certainly add to the number of triples.

There was nothing so unusual in Memorial Stadium as a triple. A review of the last 10 years proves fewer triples were recorded in Baltimore than in any of the 26 major-league parks. A mere 184. Dodger Stadium was next on the down side, giving up only 190.

At the opposite end of the major-league triple spectrum are two parks in Missouri, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where 550 were hit, and Royals Stadium in Kansas City, which recorded 539 during the same period. Large stadiums and artificial turf exist in both places, which add appreciably to the total.

Last year, the Orioles as a team hit only 29 triples at home, with Mike Devereaux the individual leader with 10.

A triple takes on spectacular overtones when a ball goes between outfielders and they are off and running in frantic pursuit. The infield cutoff men are setting up to take the throw and make the relay. Defensive players are moving, resembling animated pieces in a mobile puzzle that will soon come together.

On the offensive end of the play, the baserunner is in full stride. Meanwhile, the third baseman prepares to handle the oncoming throw and attempts to put a tag on the sliding runner. A home run over the fence, although carrying sudden impact, is, by comparison, a walk in the park. Literally.

The triple represents baseball's quintessence of excitement, combining speed, action, team play, a slide and possibly a tag. Then all eyes look to the umpire, who either spreads his hands or raises a thumb, to determine the outcome of a spectacular moment.

Baltimore's new park promises much of that.

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