Thursday night, I made a point of watching the Orioles and Blue Jays because of Kevin Gausman. But of course, Baseball's got a way of surprising us, and so this game turned into The McLouth & Manny Show.
His first time up, Manny Machado doubled. His second time up, Manny Machado doubled. That made 20 for the season, and so I joked:
Manny Machado just hit his 20th double. Watch out, Earl Webb.— robneyer (@robneyer) May 23, 2013
A few minutes later this popped up, and I don't think he was joking:
That's 20 doubles for Manny Machado, who could be the guy who finally runs down Earl Webb, after 82 years. baseball-reference.com/leaders/2B_sea…— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 23, 2013
His third time up, Manny Machado doubled. Yeah. Seriously. He's got 21, and at this rate he'll finish the season with 72 doubles. If you hit that link in Buster's tweet, you'll see that Earl Webb's got the all-time record, with 67 doubles in 1931. That's why they call him The Earl of Doublin'.
Eighty-two years is a long time, and Webb's record seems terribly unlikely. He did not play in an era particularly conducive to doublin', and there have since been many, many fantastic hitters with a penchant for doubles. Especially in the 1990s, when I got worked up about the record a number of times.
In 1993 and 1994, John Olerud and Chuch Knoblauch had 37 doubles at the All-Star Break. Olerud finished with 54; Knoblauch, thanks to The Strike, finished with only 45.
In 1996 we got really excited -- by we, I mean those of us who were living in Seattle and going to lots of Mariners games -- when Edgar Martinez had 29 doubles at the end of May, and 42 doubles at the All-Star break. He was really going to do it!
He didn't do it. He really didn't do it, somehow managing to hit only 10 doubles the rest of the way.
That sort of turned me into a skeptic, and so I didn't get excited in 1999 when Craig Biggio hit his 38th double before the All-Star Game. He finished with 56.
Do you remember that part where I said that Earl Webb didn't play in a particularly doubles-conducive era? I was wrong about that. There are a dozen player-seasons in major-league history that include more than 56 doubles, and 10 of them came between 1923 and 1936. Bizarrely, both exceptions came in 2000, when Todd Helton hit 59 doubles and Carlos Delgado hit 57. You're probably thinking Coors Field! ... but Helton actually hit more doubles on the road (31) than at home (28) that season. He would hit 54 more two-baggers the next season, but never reached 50 in one season again.
Records are inherently fluky. Really fluky. Hitting 21 doubles well before the end of May is fluky. Multiply that flukiness by three, and you'll get an idea of the odds facing Manny Machado. All of which would be true if Machado were an established doubles machine. But he's not really an established anything; he's 20. All that Machado's really established is that he's immensely talented. The rest is yet to come.