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Let Us Now Praise the Triple

If you're like me, you're watching the College World Series, wishing the Diamond Dogs were in Omaha, and wondering who taught Matt Purke how to wear a baseball cap.

Of course, Georgia's 2010 campaign was the worst baseball season in school history, so the Classic City Canines came nowhere near earning a trip to Rosenblatt Stadium, but that doesn't mean the Athenians were awful at absolutely everything. For instance, the Red and Black finished tied for third in the conference with fourteen triples in 53 games. (League-leading LSU tallied 24 in 63 outings, while the SEC's second-place finisher, Florida, notched fifteen in 62 contests. Georgia is tied with Auburn, who used 64 games to get to fourteen three-baggers.)

Admittedly, I'm reaching to find something positive to say about a Bulldog baseball club that had a horrible year, but there are worse things to be good at than hitting triples. Baseball arguably is the most "retro" of major sports---few games have changed as little on the field in the last century as the national pastime---and there are few things more deserving of the "throwback" label than the triple.

In 1901, the Cincinnati Reds' Sam Crawford hit sixteen home runs and sixteen triples; he led the league in round-trippers yet finished only fifth on the senior circuit in three-baggers. Crawford retired in 1917 with a record 312 career triples, making him one of many standout players in his day to conclude his stay in the majors with more three-base hits than dingers. Frank "Home Run" Baker, Ty Cobb, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, George Sisler, Tris Speaker, and Honus Wagner also all retired with more career triples than homers.

Be that as it may, though, a triple is just an anachronistic holdover from the dead-ball era, right? Well, maybe not. Sometimes, in sports, less is more. I recall a game a few years back in which the Atlanta Braves were trailing late by a score somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-0. Ryan Klesko led off one of the last innings with a solo shot. Atlanta went on to lose 6-1. A triple might have started a rally; a home run with nobody on altered the margin but was strictly of statistical, rather than actual, significance.

Consider this: Zach Cone, who captured the triple crown for the Diamond Dogs this year, was one of the few bright spots for Georgia in 2010. Cone carded a team-leading seven triples for the Red and Black this season. That propensity to hit the ball hard helped him compile a .627 slugging percentage and drive in 53 runs . . . 21 more than the next-best batter in the Bulldog lineup, and more than one-fourth of the Georgia team total. Cone's 133 total bases in 2010 exceeded by more than 30 the second-place Red and Black batter's tally.

For what it's worth, the team that currently leads all NCAA Division I squads in triples is Arizona State with 37. The No. 1 overall seed in this year's College World Series field is . . . Arizona State.

Go 'Dawgs!