One measure of the exceptional baseball skills of Stan Musial is the number of triples he hit.
This year, Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes reached 103 career triples by his 29th birthday June 11. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Reyes’ total is the most by a big-league player by that age since Musial compiled 108 triples by his 29th birthday on Nov. 21, 1949.
Today, most baseball fans associate a prolific triples hitter with a speedster such as Reyes or Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford. Musial was a slugger (475 home runs, 1,951 RBI) who also had the bat control, hitting eye and speed to collect a high number of doubles (725) and triples (177).
Musial is the Cardinals’ career leader in triples. He led the National League in triples four times _ 20 in 1943, 20 in 1946, 18 in 1948 and 13 in 1949 _ before he turned 29. (He shared the NL lead with teammate Enos Slaughter in 1949.) Musial also was the NL co-leader in triples (with 12) in 1951, becoming the first player to lead the league in that category five times.
(Tigers outfielder Sam Crawford led the American League in triples five times. Crawford, who played for the Reds and Tigers from 1899-1917, is the big-league career leader in triples, with 309. Musial ranks 19th all-time.)
In the first three seasons Musial led the NL in triples, he also was the batting champion and winner of the Most Valuable Player Award in each of those years (1943, ’46 and ’48).
When Musial received his first MVP Award, he told The Sporting News he got a bigger thrill from leading the league in triples.
“I guess it’s because I get a chance to run when I hit for three,” Musial said. “Sure, a home run is good for one more base, but I like that contest with the running outfielder and I get a big thrill out of sliding safely to third base.”
No player in the history of big-league baseball hit more triples and as many home runs as Musial. Among the outstanding hitters with fewer career triples than Musial are Lou Gehrig (163), Willie Mays (140), Babe Ruth (136), Joe DiMaggio (131), Jimmie Foxx (125), Hank Aaron (98), Barry Bonds (77), Mickey Mantle (72), Mel Ott (72), Frank Robinson (72), Ted Williams (71), Reggie Jackson (49), Willie McCovey (46) and Ken Griffey Jr. (38).
“To hit a home run, all you need is some strength and quick wrists,” Aaron told Baseball Digest in 1999. “To be able to hit a triple, you need speed, power to the gaps and you need to be a smart baserunner.”
Throughout his big-league career (1941-63), Musial most often was compared with his AL counterpart, Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams. In October 1946, the only time Musial and Williams competed against one another in a World Series, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher rated Musial the best.
“Musial is a two-to-one better hitter,” Durocher told The Sporting News. “You can pitch to Williams, crowd him and keep the ball on the handle. Williams can hit to only one field. Musial can hit to all fields and you can’t fool him. Williams has only one advantage. He has more power _ and power worries you. You are afraid to make one mistake. But I’ll take Musial any day _ and what is more, I’m not comparing dispositions.”
From 1942-60, no one hit more triples than Musial. Only three times since 2000 has a league-leader in triples hit as many as 20: Christian Guzman of the Twins (20 in 2000), Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies (20 in 2007) and Curtis Granderson of the Tigers (23 in 2007).
Many of the players considered the best in the game today have low triples totals. For example, Alex Rodriguez has 29 triples in 19 years. Albert Pujols has 15 triples in 12 years.
“Today’s players are only going to do what makes them more money,” Tony Muser, a former big-league first baseman who managed the Royals, said to Baseball Digest 13 years ago. “The agent tells his player what management is looking for and what his player is noted for. Most times it’s not hitting triples … I don’t know of too many arbitration cases that have been won because the guy could hit triples.”
Previously: Crawford gains appreciation for Musial feat