That’s the number to keep in mind as this baseball season rolls along.
Most of the clubs passed the 54-game mark over the weekend, completing the first third of their seasons.
The Braves reached the mark Saturday night in Denver. With their second extra-inning win in a row — and fourth straight overall — they finally evened their record at 27-27.
In what by all accounts amounted to a drab and mediocre beginning of their title defense, one amazing statistic leapt out: through 54 games: new first baseman Matt Olson led the major leagues in doubles, with 23. He’s on pace to hit 69 this season.
Don’t think this isn’t big.
The MLB record for doubles in a season is 67. One of the longest-standing records in a sport that prides itself in compiling statistics for every conceivable act and omission, the single-season doubles record has stood since 1931.
The record hold is Earl Webb, forever known as “The Earl of Doublin'.”
Webb broke the record of 64 set by George Burns [not the comedian, but the Indians’ first baseman] in 1926. In the heavy-hitting ‘30s, Joe Medwick [64 in ‘36], Hank Greenberg [63 in ’34], Paul Waner [62 in ’32] and Charlie Gehringer [60 in ’36] all reached the 60-double plateau.
No one has reached it since
Also noteworthy: except for Webb and Burns, the two record-holders, every member of the 60-doubles club resides in the baseball hall of fame.
Only a few players in recent years have even gotten close to 60, let alone threaten the record. Todd Helton belted 59 in 2000 while playing half his games in Denver’s thin air. In 2019, Nick Castellanos drilled 58 [37 for the Tigers, 21 for the White Sox].
Carlos Delgado ripped 57 for the Jays in 2000, and 2002 proved a big year for doubles, as Garret Anderson of the Angels and Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox both hit 56. Jose Ramirez of the 2017 Indians and Brian Roberts [2009 Orioles] also hit 56.
So there you have it. No one has gotten within nine doubles of breaking Webb’s mark over the past 22 seasons.
Does Olson have a chance? At first blush, you’d say no way. His season high for doubles is only 35, set last year. He also hit 33 in 2018 and 26 in 2019.
Rafael Devers of the Red Sox has hit 22 doubles through 54 games, a 66-double pace. Devers might be a more likely candidate, having hit 37 last year and 54 in 2019. And he plays half his games in Fenway Park, a doubles haven.
But big doubles seasons seem to pop up randomly. Helton’s the exception. He followed up his 59 in 2000 with 54 in 2001. Over his 17-year career, all with the Rockies, he averaged 43 doubles a season, but topped 49 in just those two years.
Of those who’ve hit 50 since 2000, only Garciaparra [twice] and Roberts [thrice] reached the mark in multiple seasons.
But no one produced a big doubles season as randomly as Webb. Born Sept. 17, 1897 in White County, Tenn., Webb’s only goal was to be a “coal digger” like his daddy. After Webb began playing ball, he earned extra money on Sundays as a “country pitcher.”
After his daddy advised that he could make more money in baseball than the coal mines, he signed with the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern Association in 1921.
It soon became apparent that Webb was a better hitter than pitcher. He finally made it to the big leagues in 1925, getting four plate appearances with John McGraw’s Giants. It took two years for him to return. Playing for Joe McCarthy’s Cubs in 1927, Webb hit .301 with 18 doubles and 14 homers. His first major league homer came in his first major league at-bat, off future hall of famer Grover Cleveland Alexander.
That offseason, the Cubs acquired future hall of famer Kiki Cuyler, reducing Webb to a reserve role. He played in the Pacific Coast league in 1929 but caught on with the Red Sox in 1930. He wound up leading the club with a .323 average, 16 homers, 66 runs batted in, and 30 doubles.
That set the stage for 1931. Along with those 67 doubles, Webb hit .333 with 14 homers, 96 runs and 103 RBIs.
And that was pretty much it. An atrocious fielder, Webb was traded to Detroit in June 1932. On the season, he hit .287 with 28 doubles and 8 homers, 72 runs and 78 RBIs. He’d play in only 64 games in 1933, hitting .288 with 5 doubles for the Tigers and White Sox. He’d never play in the majors again, leaving his 67-double season as one of the sport’s greatest anomalies.
Webb retired to Jenkins, Ky., where he worked as a foreman for the Consolidated Coal Company. He died of a coronary thrombosis on May 23, 1965.
He was 67.