People once said Shoeless Joe Jackson and Willie Mays had gloves known as "The Place Where Triples Go To Die." In the 21st century, Comerica Park could be considered "The Place Where Triples Go To Thrive."
The site of this year's All-Star Game should prove particularly interesting for those competing in the Home Run Derby Monday. Comerica Park is a triple trove, not a homer haven.
Comerica's outfield is among the most spacious in the major leagues. It is 345 feet down the left field line, 370 feet to left-center, a monstrous 420 feet to center field, 365 feet to right-center, and 330 feet down the right field line.
When Comerica Park was first opened prior to the 2000 season, team president John McHale told the Detroit media that team management wanted to make the ballpark pitcher-friendly, in contrast to the team's previous residence, Tiger Stadium.
The park's original dimensions featured greater depths to the power alleys, 380 feet to right-center, and 398 feet to left-center field, which initially led to a lot of frustration from hitters trying to hit home runs. In 2000, there were 44 triples at Comerica, but the explosion came in 2001 when hitters had a better grasp of the ballpark and hit 74 triples. Moving in the fences in 2003 reduced the number a little bit. There have been 29 triples at Comerica so far in 2005, on pace to match the 59 hit last season. The combined tally since 2004 is the most of any ballpark in the majors. That can be attributed to Comerica's size.
As four-time Gold Glove winner, Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said: "You've got to have a lot of range to play in that place."
It is a facility that is probably more appropriate for a "Triples Derby" than a homer-hitting contest. Major League Baseball spiced up its Home Run Derby this year, by adding the international element, but the idea of adding another type of competition seems far-fetched.
"A triples derby?" said Angels utilityman Chone Figgins when the idea was brought up to him last month. "How would you do that?"
Such a contest could wow crowds with speed, much like the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest excites fans with athleticism, but seems unlikely. No ballplayer is going to want to run the risk of pulling or tearing a hamstring during an exhibition, but imagine the excitement if the fear of injury did not come into play.
Each league could pick a team, comprised of five players, with each getting as many batting practice pitches as it likes, until it places one ball into an alley or corner. A team of local high school or college players could try to chase the ball down. If they throw the would-be triples hitter out, they'll have a story to last a lifetime. If the hitter gets his triple, his team gets a point. There could even be judging to grade each triple on effort, creativity and style. It would certainly be interesting to watch.
Who would participate? Figgins (who hit 17 triples in 2004) would be a no-brainer, and he suggested Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre (on pace for his third 10-plus triples season), Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (two multi-triple games this season) and teammate Steve Finley (baseball's active triples leader).
"He really busts it out of the batters box," Figgins said, explaining Finley's success, one that has led to 112 triples in his career. "If you know out of the box which stadium you're in, what type of outfield you're dealing with, whether the ball is going to kick off the wall, what kind of arm the outfielder has [you'll know if you'll get a triple]."
Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge nominated teammate Nook Logan, Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford and Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter, and declined to include himself, saying "Those guys are too fast for me."
A longtime major-league scout handicapped the matchup, choosing Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Astros outfielder Willy Taveras, White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, Crawford and Logan as favorites, with his sleeper choices being Hunter, who isn't known for hitting triples, and Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon.
"That ballpark would be conducive to [Damon]," the scout said. "He and Ichiro are at full speed after their first few steps out of the box. Hunter too, though he's slow out of the box because he has a big swing."
Inge might not be the go-to guy for home run hitting advice, but he's the ideal resource for triples hitting in his home ballpark, as he has nine over the last season-and-a-half, and twice has been thrown out trying to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park-home run. He offered these tips, which you could see put into play during the All-Star Game itself or maybe in a future triples-hitting competition.
"What I picture are hitting line drives, back towards the pitcher," said Inge, who has nine triples at Comerica in the last season-and-a-half. "If I do that, I end up hitting line drives to the gaps. It's such a huge outfield here that if I put the ball in the gap, the first thing I think is 'triple.' In fact, any time I hit a ball here, I'm thinking triple. There are catty corners where the ball can take a weird hop and bounce around.
"If you think 'double' here, you're underachieving."
Mark Simon is a researcher for "Baseball Tonight" and can be contacted at Mark.A.Simon@espn.com.