The remarkable Manny Machado had 36 doubles through Wednesday, putting him on a pace for 74, which would break the record for doubles set by the Earl Webb in 1931. That's the easy part of the story. The hard part is explaining how the doubles record is still intact, and how several players have made a run at it, only to suddenly stop hitting doubles.
Perhaps this mini-mystery begins with Webb. In 1930, at age 32, he hit 30 doubles, a career high. The following year, he hit 67, breaking the record of 64 set in 1926 by George Burns, the only player in history, to that point, to hit as many as 60 doubles in a season. Webb hit only 28 doubles the next season, and he finished his seven-year career with 155.
Since Webb's 67, only four players have hit 60 doubles in a season: Paul Waner had 62 in 1932, Hank Greenberg had 63 in 1934, Charlie Gehringer had 60 in 1936 and Joe Medwick had 64 in 1936. But the really odd part of this story has taken place over the last 15 seasons when six players -- Todd Helton and Carlos Delgado in 2000, Garret Anderson in 2002, Craig Biggio in 1999, Nomar Garciaparra in 2002 and Brian Roberts in 2009 -- recorded 56 or more doubles in a season, but not only did none of them break Webb's record, none of those six got to 60 doubles. And in five of the six cases, their doubles rate, for some reason, slowed dramatically in September, keeping Webb's record safe.
The closest was Helton. He hit 18 doubles in August 2000, giving him 53 entering September. But he hit only one double through Sept. 15, giving him virtually no shot at Webb's record. And he finished September/October with only six doubles; he had none in his final seven games, covering 22 at-bats. He finished with 59, preventing him from joining Medwick and Greenberg as the first player in 64 years to hit 60 doubles in a season.
Thirteen years later after his 59-double season, Helton smiled and said without a scent of pretense, "I knew I needed one double for 60, but I kept hitting home runs." Indeed. Over those last seven games, he hit four home runs, no doubles. "Maybe on one of those homers," he said with a laugh, "I should have stopped at third so I could finish with 60 doubles."
Thirteen years later, Helton said he doesn't feel like he missed out of a chance to make history.
"I didn't even know what the record was," Helton said. "I didn't know who Earl Webb was, when I got over 50 doubles; I just wanted to get to 60.
When I got to 59, our trainer came to me one day and said, 'One more double, let's get this over.' But, I didn't. There is no explanation. You don't go up there trying hit a double. That's just how the game goes."
That same year, Delgado entered September with 49 doubles and hit eight the rest of the way to finish with 57, but had only three in his last 12 games. The previous year, Biggio had 52 doubles entering September, but hit only four the rest of the way, including one in his last 11 games to finish with 56 doubles (and no triples! That set the record for the most doubles in a season without a triple). In 2002, Garret Anderson entered September with 49 doubles, but hit only seven in September/October, and had no doubles in his final eight games.
In 2002, Garciaparra had 46 doubles entering September, but unlike the others, he hit 10 doubles the rest of the way to finish with 56. And in 2009, Brian Roberts had 48 doubles entering September; he hit eight in September/October, but had one double in his last 11 games.
And now one of Roberts' teammates, Machado, not only has a shot at 60, but a shot at Webb.
"I'm surprised that record hasn't been broken," Helton said. "So, tell me about Machado."
Machado hits line drives all over the field, which helps to add to his doubles total. He has power, so he can hit the ball deep into the gaps for doubles, but his power isn't so great that wherever he gets a ball in the air, it goes out of the ballpark. He has played every inning of every game, which helps, and he doesn't walk a lot, which helps. He runs fairly well, which helps, but he doesn't run so well that every time he turns second, he's thinking about going to third. Everything he does suggests that the record 67 doubles is in reach.
"How old is he?" Helton asked.
"He's so young, he might be oblivious to what's going on," Helton said. "He might do it."
We've said that about others the last 15 years, and they all stopped short, for some reason. Maybe Machado will be the one that doesn't.