On Weird Records

Tris Speaker, Double Plays (Outfield)

Today, to the extent we think about outfield double plays at all, we think of a sprinting outfielder catching a sinking line drive and throwing to the infield to double off a wayward baserunner. Even the best outfielders don’t rack up more than a handful of those per year. The circumstances are so rare, and baserunners are so well-coached, that they’re pretty unlikely.

Back when Tris Speaker played, it was an entirely different story.

Speaker racked up double plays like no other because his speed allowed him to play an incredibly shallow center field. He’d stand right behind the second base bag, effectively becoming a fifth infielder, and field ground balls hit up the middle. At least one time in his career, he was actually the pivot man in a “routine” double play, leading to a very odd 6-8-3 twin killing.  Several other times, he’d make a catch in shallow center and take the ball to second himself for an unassisted double play. For years, his signature play was to come up behind second on a bunt and beat the runner to the bag.

Overall, Speaker was credited with 143 double plays. His contemporary Ty Cobb is second with 105, and even that represents a substantial lead over third-place Max Carey (87). You have to go all the way down to seventeenth place to find anyone who played after World War II, and that’s Willie Mays with 60. Yes, even Willie wasn’t good enough for long enough to make it halfway to Speaker’s record.

Your active leader, by the way, is Mark Kotsay with 34.

Speaker may get more press for his all-time doubles record (792), but his outfield double plays mark is even more untouchable.

Pete Rose, Reached on Interference

There are many ways to reach first base, and catcher’s interference (along with fielder’s obstruction) is probably the most obscure of all. Under the rules, the batter is awarded first if the catcher physically interferes with his swing, most commonly by extending his glove too far forward so that it touches the bat during the swing. It’s an exceedingly rare infraction, occurring only a handful of times per year.

Interference is a largely random thing, so we’d expect the all-time leader to be a guy who came to the plate a lot. That’s Rose, all right, who played in more MLB games and accumulated more plate appearances than anyone else in history. What might surprise you, though, is the sheer size of his lead. He reached base on interference a whopping 28 times in his career. Second place is shared by Julian Javier (Stan’s somewhat less famous father) and Dale Berra (Yogi’s much less famous son) with 18 apiece.

Actually, Dale Berra might be the biggest surprise on this list. He racked up those 18 interference calls in just 2853 plate appearances. Project his total over Pete Rose’s career, and he reaches on interference a whopping 100 times. Perhaps Dad taught him a thing or two about getting free bases off the catcher.

Still, Charlie Hustle takes the top spot by sheer longevity. To the extent that that speaks to anything, it speaks to his willingness to seize every last advantage.

(A note: We only have reliable data on interference going back to the early 1960s. While this is officially an all-time record, it’s really a last-50-years record.)


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