October 1, 2014

Doubles, Two-Baggers, Halfway Home

November 15, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The 2011 season will mark the 80th anniversary of one of Major League Baseball’s longest standing records and least likely individuals to accomplish the feat.

Earl Webb, of the Boston Red Sox, established the single-season doubles record with 67, in 1931.  How did a player with only 155 doubles over a seven-year career manage to set such a lofty figure?  He was a left-handed batter with below-average running speed but astonishingly, hit 43.2% of his career total in one season.  Baseball is filled with unlikely scenarios and record holders but this is one for the books.  It is definitely one of the great anomalies in the history of the game.

William Earl Webb was born on September 17, 1897 in the small coal-mining community of White County, Tennessee.  He began his professional baseball career in 1921, as a right-handed pitcher, for the Clarksdale Cubs of the Mississippi State League.  After toiling in the minors for four seasons, he was converted to a left-handed hitting outfielder before making his MLB debut on August 13, 1925 for the New York Giants.

During the next four years, Webb shuffled between four organizations via trades, the waiver wire, and the Rule 5 draft.  His career appeared at a crossroads before settling in the Boston Red Sox lineup in 1930, batting .323, with 30 doubles in 127 games.  This modest batting display could not be identified as a harbinger of records to follow.

Webb played his home games during his record-setting 1931 season at Fenway Park.  However, the friendly dimensions of the famous ‘Green Monster’ did not aid his historic total since it was not constructed until 1934.  However, the right centerfield portion of the ballpark was tailored for extra-base hits, especially the robust 468 feet centerfield fence and the deep niche of 493 feet in the power alley.  Webb took full advantage of the spacious confines and produced 39 doubles at home.

A torrid first-half start propelled Webb to a record-setting pace.  His 36 doubles through 77 games, positioned himself to break George Burns’ mark of 64, set the previous season in 1930.  Webb remained consistent throughout the remainder of the campaign.  On September 17th, during the second game of a double-header, he lashed the historic two-bagger off of Cleveland Indians pitcher, Pete Appleton, on his 34th birthday.

“The reason he hits so many doubles is that he hits a long, hard ball, and he’s too darned slow on the bases to get to third.” — Manager, Shano Collins

Prior to the 1931 season, Webb amassed 55 doubles in 924 at-bats or every 16.8 times to the plate.  During his record-setting campaign, he inexplicably collected a double every 8.8 at-bats.  Meanwhile, he averaged a double every 19.6 at-bats (33 doubles in 648 AB) during the final two seasons of his short career.  It mirrors the 1912 season, as John “Chief” Wilson established the long-standing triples record.  He legged out a mind-boggling 36 triples, nearly one-third of his career total.

Only six players in MLB history have hit at least 60 doubles in a season.  Since 1936, no player has accomplished this feat.  In 2000, Todd Helton, collected 59 doubles for the Colorado Rockies at cavernous Coors Field in Denver.  This is the highest total any player has attained in recent history.

Webb finished his playing career following the 1933 season with a lifetime .306 batting average over 650 games.  With each passing year, his astounding total of 67 doubles in 1931, remains as one of the most difficult records to break set by a player that almost nobody could identify.

Comments

2 Responses to “Doubles, Two-Baggers, Halfway Home”
  1. John Treadwell says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Mike Ford says:

    Earl Webb was and is my grandfather. Aside from being able to hit a baseball he taught me how to fish, hunt, shoot marbles and enjoy the out of doors. His wife, Blanche, was my grandmother and she was an astounding woman. I called him Daddywebb and I called her Granny. Since they had five daughters and no sons when I came along I pretty much lived with them until his death in 1965. It was a dream for me to have them as grandparents and when I look back on my childhood I’m marvel at how fortunate I was to have them.

    I enjoyed your article..
    Mike

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