By the Numbers: Webb's 82-year-old record requires a double-take

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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For some reason, as a young, numbers-obsessed baseball fan, I was always fascinated by doubles.

Sure, they aren't as glamorous as home runs. And they don't carry the traditional cachet of hits or batting average.

But doubles are cool. Players who hit a lot of doubles combine the ability to hit the ball hard with the ability to run. History's top 10 doubles hitters include home run kings like Hank Aaron, and singles hitters like Pete Rose; Deadball Era stars such as Honus Wagner, and modern players such as Craig Biggio.

The double bridges across styles and eras. Plus, a double is exciting. It doesn't have the prolonged thrill of a triple or the machismo of a home run, but a double is certainly more exciting than a single up the middle.

Which means that Tris Speaker must have been one of the most exciting players of all-time. Speaker, a center fielder from 1907-28, hit 792 doubles in his career — 46 more than any major-leaguer in history.

That's not the only reason Speaker was an exciting player. He was one of the best defensive center fielders in history; he hit 222 triples, ranking sixth all-time; and he batted .345 with 3,514 hits.

I think Speaker was the fourth-best all-around center fielder in major-league history, behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Mickey Mantle. And he clearly was better than Joe DiMaggio or Ken Griffey Jr.

In 1923, at the age of 35, Speaker batted .380 with 59 doubles, 11 triples, and 17 homers. Different era, sure. But Speaker would have been a great player at any time.

Yet I didn't come here to talk about Tris Speaker. I came here to talk about Manny Machado.

Machado is a 20-year-old third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, and through his team’s first 68 games this season, he has 30 doubles.

That gives Machado eight more doubles than any other player in the major leagues, and it puts him on pace to hit 71 doubles this season.

That would be noteworthy, considering that the record for doubles in a season is 67, by Earl Webb in 1931.

Webb was a good hitter over a seven-year career, but he never hit more than 30 doubles in any other season, making his record one of the most unlikely in baseball history.

And it's equally unlikely that the record has stood as long as it has. From 1926-37, five other players hit at least 60 doubles in a season, and five additional players had at least 55. Yet none of them hit more than 64.

After that, there was a doubles drought. Between 1937 and 1999, one player — George Kell in 1950 — hit as many as 55 doubles in a season.

Since then, seven players have hit as many as 55 doubles in a season. Todd Helton had 59 in 2000; Carlos Delgado had 57 that same season; Garret Anderson and Nomar Garciaparra hit 56 in 2002.

The factors that led to home run inflation also had an impact on doubles, and that has placed Webb's now-82-year-old record in danger.

Last season, Joey Votto had 30 doubles through the Reds' first 67 games, but injuries scuttled what could have been an historic season.

So, Earl Webb's legacy withstood Joey Votto last year, and it probably will withstand Manny Machado this year. But sooner or later somebody is going to hit 68 doubles in a season, and the chase is going to be fascinating.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531 or by email at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to http://blogs.columbian.com/greg-jayne