Stan Musial Hit The Heck Out Of Some Triples

Hitting triples is pretty hard. At the height of triple-icity, they only comprised six percent of all the hits in the majors in any given season, and that was back in the first Dead Ball era. Today that figure hovers around two percent. Back in Stan Musial’s day it wasn’t a great deal higher — 3.3 percent during the seasons of his career (1941-1963, with 1945 excepted). And yet, Musial, a power hitter, hit the heck out of some triples.

As I mentioned, hitting triples is no small feat. One of the reasons they are mentioned as one of — if not the most — exciting play in baseball is because they rarely happen. Only 110 players have ever crossed the 100 triple plateau, and 74 of them played the entirety of their career before the color barrier was broken. Just three of those players — Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins — are active. And there’s a decent chance that we won’t see anyone cross that threshold any time soon. None of the next 10 players on the active triples leaderboard are under the age of 30. Next up is Dexter Fowler, who has compiled 53 triples by his age-27 season. But Fowler has only tripled three times this season, a sharp drop from the 10-plus triples he had accrued during each of the past four seasons.

Looking at the 110 players who have totaled 100 or more triples, we can see just how rare of a bird Musial really was. Musial was merely an average baserunner in his time. His 4.4 speed score was slightly above average for his time period, and would be exactly average today. Among those with 100 triples though, he was decidedly below average. If you consider a 5.5 Spd to be above average, as it is listed in the FanGraphs’ glossary, then 84 of the 110 players with at least 100 triples posted an above-average speed score. As a group, they averaged a 6.2 Spd. There were just 10 players in the group with a Spd lower than 5.0:

Player Spd 3B From To
Joe Cronin 4.9 118 1926 1945
Joe Medwick 4.8 113 1932 1948
Mickey Vernon 4.8 120 1939 1960
Sam West 4.7 101 1927 1942
Luke Appling 4.7 102 1930 1950
Pete Rose 4.7 135 1963 1986
Doc Cramer 4.4 109 1929 1948
Stan Musial 4.4 177 1941 1963
Nellie Fox 4.3 112 1947 1965
Charlie Grimm 4.1 108 1916 1936

One thing sticks out right away — with the exception of Rose, these guys all played a very long time ago. Back then, ballpark dimensions were a little more girthy, and one might surmise that it would have been easier for a non-elite runner to wallop triples with aplomb. And in fact, the dimensions of Sportsman’s Park/Busch Stadium I were fairly liberal. For Musial’s career (or most of it, anyway), the dimensions were as follows:

Left field: 351.1’
Left-center: 379’
Deepest corner just left of dead center: 426’
Center field: 422’
Deepest corner just right of dead center: 422’
Right-center: 354’
Right field: 309.5’

Not outrageous, but that left-center field certainly sounds Death Valley-ish on paper, and center was deeper than many parks are today. We don’t have detailed park factors for that era, but the Cardinals’ basic park factor never dipped below 100 during Musial’s time there. Sometimes, particularly towards the end of his career, it was one of the best offensive ballparks in the game. Sometimes it was merely neutral. But it was never a bad offensive ballpark. And with a wall that was 11-feet high all the way around, perhaps it was pretty conducive to triples. Except that as a left-handed hitter, Musial was perhaps not as well suited to take advantage of its dimensions as were other hitters.

Looking at Musial’s splits, we find that they were essentially even — he hit 90 triples at home and 87 on the road. He hit a larger percentage of doubles and homers at home, and singles on the road, but his triples broke right down the middle. It’s safe to say that in terms of triples at least, he didn’t derive any sort of special benefit from his home ballpark.

Going back to our triples list though, we can see that Musial was a pretty decent baserunner despite his lack of speed. We know that wSB numbers before the 1950’s are a little touch and go, so you have to take them with a grain of salt, but compared to his brethren in the ‘40’s, he was pretty good — his 6.6 wSB ranked 27th out of 304 qualified players. It was during this time that Musial hit most of his triples:

1940-1944, 1946-1949: 108 triples
1950-1963: 69 triples

In the ‘40’s, Musial tallied seven straight double-digit triples seasons, including two 20-triple campaigns. For the decade, he led baseball by a wide margin. His teammate, Enos Slaughter placed second with 84 triples. This once again gives rise to the notion that maybe the Cards’ home park was a big helper, but Musial hit more than half of them on the road — 50 at home, 58 on the road. He led the majors in individual seasons three times as well, and tied to lead the National League on two other occasions, though one of those times was in 1951. Nevertheless, he did most of his damage as a younger man. That was true of his career in general — it’s not like he started trading triples for doubles or homers — his production dropped off pretty sharply in his last five years. He managed to turn in one final .300/.400/.500 season in his age-41 season, but in those last five years he hit .283/.369/.466 — good, but nowhere near the legendary numbers he had posted earlier in his career.

Legendary is assuredly what Musial was in not only the game of baseball but also in life. He was one of the game’s premier sluggers, and that is why it is a bit surprising to find that he ranks in the top 20 in triples all-time. In fact, he is one of only five players in the 400 homer/100 triple club that I just made up:

Player HR 3B From To
Stan Musial 475 177 1941 1963
Lou Gehrig 493 163 1923 1939
Willie Mays 660 140 1951 1973
Babe Ruth 714 136 1914 1935
Jimmie Foxx 534 125 1925 1945

It strikes me as pretty incredible that Musial hit more triples in his career than did Mays. Mays was a much faster player and better baserunner in general — he stole more than four times as many bases as did Musial — yet in a relatively equal number of plate appearances (12,493 for Mays, 12,717 for Musial) Musial hit 37 more triples. In fact, Musial was a historical outlier in this respect as well. For his career, he hit 99 more triples than he stole bases, which is second all-time to one Joe DiMaggio, who we find in this homers/triples group if we lower the threshold to 300 homers:

Player HR 3B From To
Stan Musial 475 177 1941 1963
Rogers Hornsby 301 169 1915 1937
Lou Gehrig 493 163 1923 1939
Al Simmons 307 149 1924 1944
Willie Mays 660 140 1951 1973
George Brett 317 137 1973 1993
Babe Ruth 714 136 1914 1935
Joe DiMaggio 361 131 1936 1951
Jimmie Foxx 534 125 1925 1945
Steve Finley 304 124 1989 2007

The group doubles, but it is still select. And Musial still has the most triples in the group. Also, if you prefer a rate statistic, Musial was one of just 11 players to have a career .200 ISO or better as well as 100 or more career triples:

Player ISO 3B From To
Stan Musial 0.224 177 1941 1963
Rogers Hornsby 0.218 169 1915 1937
Lou Gehrig 0.292 163 1923 1939
Al Simmons 0.201 149 1924 1944
Willie Mays 0.256 140 1951 1973
Babe Ruth 0.348 136 1914 1935
Joe DiMaggio 0.254 131 1936 1951
Earl Averill 0.216 128 1929 1941
Jimmie Foxx 0.284 125 1925 1945
Babe Herman 0.207 110 1926 1945
Jeff Heath 0.216 102 1936 1949

It’s essentially the same list. We swap out Brett and Finley for Averill, Heath and Herman. But you know, I figured I’d do it for the sake of completeness. And for the children, of course.

Hitting a baseball isn’t exactly easy, and hitting triples is even harder. But Stan Musial made a career of making difficult things look very simple. I had previously never associated him with being a triples hitter, but he was actually one of the best triples hitters of all-time. He places well on just about every triples leaderboard, and he also was one of a very select group of sluggers to total a lot of triples. He was so prolific that he was even able to sustain the skill somewhat in his later years. His 62 triples from age 30 on are more than four times the number of triples that Albert Pujols has hit in his entire career. Musial was the total package.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


34 Responses to “Stan Musial Hit The Heck Out Of Some Triples”

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  1. olethros says:

    I wonder about those speed scores – one of his nicknames was the “Donora Greyhound.”

    He was also apparently a pretty good pitcher before an arm injury forced him to the outfield.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I think he could run pretty well, and Pete Rose did, too, but they both had exceptionally long careers that outlasted their footspeed and dragged down their speed scores.

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  2. Nick C says:

    Awesome stuff. Just another example of how Stan the Man was a rare individual.

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  3. Anon says:

    For the decade, he led baseball by a wide margin. His teammate, Enos Slaughter placed second with 84 triples.

    Slaughter missed three years for WW2 (’43-’45).

    The Cardinals teams of the ’40s were amazing. One of the best dynasties in baseball history (maybe the best non-Yankees).

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    • bjj6569 says:

      Stan GP 40-49= 1072, PA=4747
      Slaughter GP 40-49=1005, PA=4335

      Slaughter missed 43,44,45 Stan missed 45
      Slaughter played in 253 games in 40 and 41 Musial played in 12.

      Slaughter missed 3 seasons Musial 1 but Slaughter played essentially 2 more seasons at the beginning of the 40-49 decade

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  4. TheoK says:

    Steve Finley had a weird career.

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    • Jaack says:

      Played for 7 of the 10 teams in western divisions, including the entire NL West. What a slut.

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    • Baltar says:

      He certainly did. Some of those triples were in AT&T about 10 years ago when he played for the Giants. I think he was 41, and he had a very good year.

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    • AA says:

      Steve Finley takes a beating on defensive metrics on Fangraphs, though he had a decent reputation. He is a Hall of Very Good player.

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  5. Ian says:

    I wonder if there were a lot of weak armed CFers back then.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      It would be hard to separate out arm strength from other factors (athleticism of baserunners, park effects, etc.), but there isn’t any particular evidence that there were. In fact I would claim that the evidence is the opposite. Assist totals for the top CFs have trended (slightly) downward since Musial’s day. More relevant to your speculation, if you look at the tenth best assist total for a CF, rather than the top, you find that there has been a very slight increase since Stan’s day — but it’s very slight, and the tenth-best defensive CF today is 10th out of 30, and therefore above average in his time, while the tenth-best one for almost all of Stan’s career was average or below, since there were only 16 teams.

      Nothing is proven, since we can’t de-convolve all the other effects, but certainly the evidence for weak-armed CFs back then is not obvious.

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  6. Tracker Maker says:

    Austin Jackson = triples

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  7. Basil Ganglia says:

    Just a thought – with no supporting data. As noted, in the Musial era and earlier, many ballparks were much bigger. That would seem to increase the value of batters who have a high line drive percentage and are average or better speed. The contrast would be with slower players who hit more long and towering flyballs.

    As ball parks have shrunk can we discern a difference in the types of hitters who are most successful?

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  8. deafdumbandblindkid says:

    i’ve never thought of musial as a burner, exactly, but i’ve always thought of him as a terrific athlete, including good foot speed. and, of course, there’s the Donora Greyhound nickname…

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  9. James d. says:

    Great article, and good to note how long ago the heyday of the triple was.

    To look at it another way, there are 50 players who have hit 150 triples. Zero of them started their careers in the last 50 years.

    The closest is Willie Wilson with 147, and the cherry-picking in that timeline is Roberto Clemente, who started in ’55 and had 166 when he died.

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  10. Franco says:

    He was pretty amazing, but my favorite Musial stats…

    475 Career HRs
    696 Career Strike outs.

    Mind Boggling that his SO to HR ratio is that close to 1:1

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    • Franco says:

      In 1948, 39 HRs vs 34 Ks. That might be more impressive than Votto’s Pop Up stats.

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    • Mel says:

      Joe D:

      361 career home runs (in 13 seasons)
      369 K’s

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      • Billy says:

        Joe D and Musial… we don’t make baseball players the way we used to. Players today will gladly trade 3-5 K’s in 4 games for 1 Home run every 4 games. Back then they wouldn’t gladly strikeout for any reason at all. Ever. No questions asked. You don’t do it. At all.

        I wish I was alive back then for baseball purposes, we just don’t have anyone remotely near Williams, Musial, Dimaggio, Mantle etc, etc to get behind these days and KNOW that when they are done, we’ve seen something incredibly special and rare. Now we glorify a guy who has 1 amazing season that isn’t even up to snuff with a guy like Musial’s 10th best season.

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        • Lanidrac says:

          Albert Pujols: 492 HRs, 834 K, 93 K in his rookie year and never more than 76 in a season since then. Not up there with Musial and DiMaggio but incredible for a modern day player.

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        • AA says:

          Barry Bonds K/HR ratio is also pretty amazing for the modern era.

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        • Zak says:

          A lot of Barry Bonds stats are pretty amazing for any era…

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  11. deacondrake says:

    With power numbers lower in general, those Cardinal teams benefited from a combo of hitter-friendly home park and aggressive base coaching. It would be interesting to find out how many times Musial (and to an extent Slaughter) wre thrown out trying to extend doubles to triples and how that compared to league of then and now.

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  12. Flim Flam says:

    Would be curious who his 3B coach was at the time. Maybe he was just really good at knowing what he could stretch into a triple. Maybe most players stopped at second when they could of made it to third.

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  13. Jon L. says:

    Below the chart that includes players with 300 homers, you say “The group doubles,” but from the chart it’s only clear that they triple and homer.

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  14. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Stan played CF off and on in his career, so it’s likely he had some speed.
    What a hitter, top 10 in baseball history for sure.

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  15. Dan says:

    Almost every triple I see nowadays is a triple despite the fact that the batter was watching the ball and jogging at least half the way to first base.

    I’m not one to harangue on and on about how players used to hustle more than they do now – I have no idea, maybe they did, but it seems odd that no one mentions the possibility that Musial might have been looking to stretch gappers and corner hits into triples at every possible opportunity.

    I very, very often see doubles that I think could have been triples (especially one-out doubles) if only the batter had been looking for it out of the box. I think a triple might be seen a little more as a freak play now, like something that happens when the ball bounces off the wall weirdly or when an outfielder makes a bad play. I don’t really have any evidence for this, but it could be true.

    I guess it was mentioned that triples used to be more common, and the difference between “around two” percent of hits now and 3.3 percent of hits in Musial’s day is referred to as small. Is it? Musial obviously hit the ball hard, which means a lot of shots into the gaps and balls hit off the wall, etc. If you have a hustling player with power who looks for the extra base every time, it makes sense that he would hit a ton of triples. More triples could be hit today with a different approach.

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  16. Bryan says:

    Not only was he a triples machine, he also hammered out 725 doubles – more doubles than strikeouts in each of his first 13 seasons except for 1. He also had more TRIPLES than strikeouts one year, which is astonishing.

    He has the highest slugging % of ALL members of the 3,000 hit club. The Man could simply hit, and must have been an absolute privilege to watch.

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  17. lex logan says:

    One thing that surprised me was that Musial retired as the all-time leader in total bases. IIRC, he never led the league in HR’s. He still ranks second only to Aaron in total bases, and third all-time in extra base hits.

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  18. salvo says:

    And with a wall that was 11-feet high all the way around, perhaps it was pretty conducive to triples.

    That 11-ft-high RF wall was topped by a 33-foot-tall screen that ran from the foul pole 150 feet toward center field. Imagine how many HR Musial lost–and he did hit 475—as his shots caromed off the screen back into the field of play. But that did contribute to his huge totals of doubles and triples.

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  19. salvo says:

    I think Musial can be considered the “modern” triple king…

    No post-WWII player has more triples, and in fact, no player who even played a game after WWII—even if their prime was in the 1920s-30s—has more triples.

    You have to go back to a career that began in 1925—Paul Waner—before you find a player who hit more triples. Waner hit an astounding 156 triples in his first 10 seasons en route to a final total of 191.

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  20. The Cardinals of the 40’s were often referred to as the “St Louis Swifties,” mostly due to Slaughter, Musial and Terry Moore. His home park gave him triples to left-center and center and took them away in right. There was a huge screen in RF that gave him doubles at the expense of HRs and probably some outs.

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  21. Derek says:

    Maybe also worth pointing out that Stan was a great hitter- he probably had the ability to hit where he wanted. He could find a weakness in the OF defense, and exploit it. Either way, it had struck me as incredible that he hit so many triples.

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