Memories & Dreams: Sam Crawford/Plaque Check

By Marty Appel

In 1913, Yahoo Sam Crawford of Detroit hit his 245th career triple, breaking the lifetime mark held by Jake Beckley. Ever since that day, he has held the career record. That was 98 years ago, and there is no sign that that record – which wound up being 309 – is going to fall anytime soon. (Later research brought the total down from 312, as it says on his plaque).

By coincidence, Boston’s Carl Crawford (no relation) is the active leader, entering 2011 with 105. Yahoo Sam needn’t worry.

The game of course, has changed dramatically, and Sam hit all of those in the deadball era, when triples were more common than home runs. Sam’s triples were not just based on running speed, but also power. He managed to hit 97 homers over a 19-year career, including a league leading 16 in 1901, while playing his third of four seasons for Cincinnati, before he moved to the American League.

Ah, but triples, that was his thing. How about 17 consecutive seasons of 10 or more? How about six times leading the league or tying for the league lead. How about four seasons of more than 20?

He only led the league in doubles once, meaning that was just not his stat – and he preferred taking that extra base when he had it in his sights. There was nothing extraordinary about his doubles figures – 38 was his peak. Some players were content with doubles; Sam thought triple whenever he could.

Crawford was born in Yahoo, Nebraska in 1880 and was in the big leagues by the time he was 19. He got to Detroit in 1903, and was a member of their three A.L. championship teams in 1907-09. Ty Cobb came along in 1905 and quickly overshadowed Crawford and everyone else in the game, but the two formed one of the elite outfields of early 20th century baseball, no matter who happened to be the third outfielder on a given day. (Nevertheless, Crawford called Honus Wagner, not Cobb, the greatest player he ever saw).

When Crawford joined Detroit, they played their games in Bennett Park, whose dimensions – 308 to left, 390 to center, and 324 to right – offered hope for out of the park home runs hit down the lines. When they moved to Navin Field in 1912, it got harder, not easier. 345-467-370. Those who swung for the fences soon found themselves back on the farm.

Crawford was a remarkably durable performer, missing very few games over his career. He also stole 367 bases, with a high of 42 at age 32, when most were starting to slow down.

Crawford’s last season was 1917, and forty years later, he was selected by the Veteran’s Committee for the Hall of Fame. Author Lawrence Ritter caught up with him in the early ‘60s for an interview that became one of the most talked about in the classic, “The Glory of Their Times.”

Yahoo Sam died in 1968 in Hollywood, California. Unless the game changes dramatically, he will always be, the triples king.