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Are triples a thing of the past for the Orioles?

Trey Mancini and Tim Beckham might be the Orioles’ best bets to give the team a slight boost in three-baggers in 2018.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Reading Tyler Kepner’s story in the New York Times over the weekend about the lack of triples in today’s game got me thinking about how the Orioles fare with three-baggers.

Kepner’s focus is mainly on the Toronto Blue Jays given that they set an MLB-record last year for the fewest triples in one season with five. But the Orioles are certainly not far behind – or ahead as the case may be. Kepner points out that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Camden Yards and Angel Stadium featured fewer triples than Toronto’s Rogers Centre in 2017.

So, is this exciting play that some consider the most thrilling in the game a thing of the past for the Orioles? Well, just about, although, two relatively recent additions to the club – aptly-named Trey Mancini and Tim Beckham – may bump the triple total a bit in 2018.

They helped the Birds double their triple output last year compared to the 2016 team that managed only six three-baggers the entire year – the fewest in one season in Orioles’ history. In his 2017 rookie season, Mancini led the team with four triples and Beckham was second with two in just 230 plate appearances pacing the club to 12 total.

They both possess good gap power thanks to their slashing, swinging style that could lend itself to a few more triples than the Orioles have shown in their recent past. But league-wide, triples are on the decline. The 793 major-league triples hit last year represent a nine percent decrease compared to 2016 and a 16 percent drop since 2015.

But even if Mancini and Beckham triple their triple output, the 2018 Orioles won’t come close to totals achieved from teams of the past when the game was played much differently.

The 1954 Orioles, the team’s first season in Baltimore, featured the most triples in history with 49. That record was challenged 19 years later in 1973 when the Orioles hit 48, led by Al Bumbry’s 11, Rich Coggins’ nine, and seven by Bobby Grich. Seven Orioles on that speedy, exciting team hit at least three triples that year.

Called Heckle and Jeckle by manager Earl Weaver after two cartoon magpies that liked to cause havoc, Bumbry and Coggins batted one-two in the lineup that year and certainly antagonized opposing clubs with their lightening speed. That team also stole 146 bases – more that 4 1/2 times the 32 swiped by last year’s club.

How the times have changed.

Care to guess who holds the team record for triples since the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in ‘54? Not known for being fleet of foot, Brooks Robinson’s 23 years in the black and orange gives him the team lead with 68.

And it looks like Brooks’ record is safe for … well, ever – unless Brady Anderson comes out of retirement to play again. Although, he’d surely rather serve as the team’s general manager.

Here’s the rest of the Orioles’ top ten triples leaders, according to Baseball Reference. Note that the only current Oriole to make the cut is Adam Jones.

Anderson 64
Bumbry 52
Paul Blair 51
Cal Ripken Jr. 44
Brian Roberts 35
Luis Aparicio 34
Mark Belanger 33
Mike Devereaux 32
Jones/Bobby Grich 27

I miss triples. I love watching those scorching line drives skipping through the outfield gaps, bouncing their way to the fence while the outfielders chase down the ball as the batter picks up speed rounding second on his way to third to out-hustle the relay throw.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most dramatic events in baseball, but the triple has been almost totally eclipsed by the long-ball as the most frequently exciting offensive play in baseball. But it wasn’t always that way.

In 1903, the first year for the World Series, major league teams hit nearly 3 1/2 times as many triples than homers – 1161 to 335. This trend continued throughout the dead-ball era and well into the Babe Ruth years.

In 1919 Ruth shocked the world slugging a record 29 homers for the Red Sox, but that was hardly a league-wide phenomenon given that the entire Boston team hit just 33.

By the way, that year just five of the other 15 teams had more dingers than Ruth hit all by himself. Just another reason to scoff at anyone who dares to argue that the Babe wasn’t the best player of all-time. It’s not close, but that’s a story for another time.

It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1929, when the total number of major-league home runs surpassed triples (1349 to 1166) for the first time. But it didn’t hold this advantage for keeps though. In 1931, MLB batters hit one more triple than they went yard. But from 1932-on, triples have been second fiddle to the home run.

Given baseball’s current love affair with the home run – resulting in an MLB-record 6,105 round-trippers in 2017 – it’s doubtful that triples will make a strong comeback for the Orioles or another team any time soon.

Blair tops the Orioles’ single-season leader board with 12 triples in 1967. Mancini and Beckham would have far to go to challenge that, but it would be fun to watch them hit a few more.