A Tale of Two Triples

(Author’s note: This is an article I wrote for a fantasy baseball blog back in 2012. I’m posting it as the Major League Baseball season opens in truncated fashion due to covid-19.)

During a night game on April 20th, the Oakland A’s Jemile Weeks hit a triple against the Cleveland Indians. I watched and rooted from the comfort of my couch. During spring training Weeks found some power in his stroke – nothing phenomenal, but more than last year. It looks like it’s carried over into the regular season. His triple against Cleveland nearly left the yard. But it didn’t. The ball doesn’t carry well in Oakland at night.

The author pitching at the age of twelve
Bringing the Heat in 1970

The great thing about the whole deal was that Weeks didn’t stand there and admire his hit as it headed for the base of the outfield fence. He exploded out of the batter’s box and was going full tilt all the way. He didn’t stand there and admire what was less than a home run and then begin to turn it on when it was clear that the ball wasn’t going out of the yard. He didn’t manage to choke a triple down to a double by prematurely going into a home run trot. We’ve all seen that happen more times than we care to remember. No, he hustled. And this young man can run. It was a delight to watch that triple. It reaffirmed Roy Blount Jr.’s conviction, nicely expressed in an article he wrote for SI about 10 years ago, that the triple is the most exciting 12 seconds in baseball. And Blount got it right. It’s a thrill to watch a player blow around the bases (even Benji Molina’s triple to complete his one career cycle), to watch an outfielder scramble for the ball, turn and hit the cutoff man, and to either cheer or groan when the cutoff man’s throw gets to third just a split second too late. It’s instant high drama, and Weeks delivered nicely the other night. I hope to watch him hit buckets of them each year for the next 15 years.

The other reason I love to watch a triple is it brings back so vividly the first major league triple I saw live. The year was 1970, and the teams playing were the Orioles and Yankees – a night game at Yankee Stadium, the original House that Ruth Built. The stadium was showing its age. It would get a facelift a few years down the road, but in 1970 it was decidedly old. We had box seats down the first base line about 15 rows from the field and about halfway between first base and the short right field porch over which Ruth, Maris, and Mantle, when he was batting left-handed, hit so many home runs.

The Orioles were at the peak of their power. They went on to win the Series that year, beating the Reds in 5, and the names of the men who played on that team are among the biggest in the game. The Yankees were a good team for the first time since 1964. They managed to finish 1970 a distant second to the Orioles in the East, 15 games out. Yankee fans had been suffering since 1965, but in 1970 the team’s respectable showing gave many hope. One source of that hope was their rookie catcher, Thurmon Munson.

That night future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer started for the Orioles against the Yankees’ Mel Stottlemyre. Palmer was a star pitcher on a star-studded team with three 20-game winners. Stottlemyre was a good pitcher on an improving team with one 20-game winner, and it wasn’t Stottlemyre. The Orioles roughed him up for 8 runs before he was pulled, and the final score was 8 – 4. Jimmy Lyttle hit a ninth-inning home run for the Yankees that made the score look closer than the game actually was. Palmer and the Orioles were firmly in command.

The date of the game was September 3, 1970, and that fact, coupled with who hit it, makes the first live major league triple I saw so memorable. I know what you’re thinking. Something along the lines of, “Seriously? You expect us to believe you remember the exact date of a baseball game you went to 42 years ago?” Yep. And here’s why I remember it – Vince Lombardi died that day. We heard it on the car radio on the way to the game. It seemed kind of sudden, like he’d only been sick for a while. But there it was. A legend had passed. I probably wouldn’t have given it another thought that night, except right before the game started, the entire, cavernous, old stadium went silent and dark except for a spotlight on the center field flag. The place briefly paid solemn tribute to one of the greatest figures in American sports ever to set foot on the field at Yankee Stadium. Even as a teenager I felt it. All of the greats who’d come through that field, great individuals and teams, greats we identify with that old stadium, some very much alive at the time, they were all there in that moment of tribute. Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris; Joe Louis, Rocky Graziano, and Sugar Ray Robinson; Army, Notre Dame and Knute Rockne; Johnny Unitas, Sam Huff and Jim Brown, and a host of others whose exploits thrilled us, confounded us, and defined us. I’ll never forget it.

And I’ll never forget the triple that Thurman Munson hit. I can still see his pinstripes and number 15 turning the corner at second. He was built, as you’d expect, like a rock, like one of Fordham’s seven blocks of granite, but he was motoring big time. As he was digging around the bases, as we all stood clapping and cheering, my Dad, who was by no means a student of the game, turned to my brother and me with a huge smile and exclaimed over the roar of the crowd, “Man, look at that guy go!”

And whenever I see a guy hit a major league triple I’m transported back to that moment, that night, those profound connections, and I hear the roar of the crowd at Yankee Stadium, and I hear my Dad saying over it all, “Man, look at that guy go!”

I love this game.