Earl Webb holds the record for most doubles in a major league season with 67, proof positive that two-base hits don’t generate the buzz of four-base hits.
Don’t even pretend you’ve heard of Webb, a.k.a. the Earl of Doublin’.
The Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman reached the 50 mark Sunday with two doubles against the Boston Red Sox, his second a product of his patented inside-out left-handed swing, smacking the ball to the opposite field off the Green Monster, trotting into second base and throwing his arms up while swinging his hips.
(FYI: Freeman originated the Dodgers dance move after seeing Usher perform at the team’s Blue Diamond Gala event in June. It’s only employed after doubles, meaning Freeman’s opportunities to shake like a car lot tube dude lead the team.)
Freeman is on pace to hit 63 doubles. If the topic was home runs, his clip would surpass Aaron Judge’s 62 of last season and be short only of totals by PED-fueled Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
But instead we must cite Webb, like Freeman a left-handed hitter who specialized in going oppo. He played for the Red Sox in 1931, the year he hit the record 67 of his career total of 155 doubles, so the 37-foot-high Green Monster in left field was riddled with them.
“It’s amazing, it’s not easy,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Freeman. “You don’t just pencil the back of the baseball card. It takes a lot of work and his work, preparation, his mind-set. He’s relentless and, yeah, I know the record is 67, something like that.”
Webb was a peculiar fellow, getting only three at-bats in the majors until he was 29 because he preferred working in the Tennessee coal mines to playing baseball. He was 33 in 1931 and out of baseball two year later.
Apparently there weren’t many Webb gems. He had the hardest hands of any right fielder in the game.
“He looked the worst of all the bad right fielders who have been tried out at Fenway Park,” one reporter wrote. “Webb dropped them, misjudged them, and almost had his head knocked off by fly balls. He was hooted by the fans, and it seemed as if he might not last a month with the Red Sox.”
Then he started hitting doubles like no other and all was forgiven for one season.
Freeman, 33, is a career-long doubles specialist, on his way to a fourth National League-leading total in the last six years. His career total of 464 is second to Miguel Cabrera’s 622 among active players.
Should Freeman average, say, 40 doubles over the next five years, he’d be inside the top 10 all-time, shoulder to shoulder with luminaries George Brett (665) Craig Biggio (668), Albert Pujols (686). No Earl Webbs are they.
Freeman attributes his doubles-producing line-drive swing to daily batting practice sessions as a teen with his father, Fred, doing the pitching.
Freeman told The Times’ Jack Harris that his dad would throw him three buckets of balls. Freeman would try hitting the entire first bucket to left field and the second up the middle. The third bucket he was free to use the entire diamond, but as Fred told Harris, “He usually just ended up hitting them to left field anyway.”
Said Freeman: “Little did we know we were creating my base swing, which is obviously left-center. The only thing we were gonna work on is, making sure I hit the ball the other way.”
Freeman has home run power as well. He’s hit 315 in his career, including 23 this season to go with a .341 batting average and league-leading totals of 175 hits, a .417 on-base percentage and 298 total bases.
Don’t look now but Freeman is closing in on season-long NL batting average leader Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins. Arraez, who flirted with .400 for a couple months, is at .350.
“We’re still in August, so we can’t talk about that yet,” Freeman said. “The last few days I’ve been hitting the ball hard finally, finding a lot more better, consistent swings during the games.”
Doubles, though, are his specialty. After breaking Shawn Green‘s Los Angeles Dodgers record of 49 set in 2003, Freeman’s next target is the franchise single-season mark of 52, set in 1929.
The record holder is as obscure as Webb: Brooklyn Robins rookie outfielder Johnny Frederick, whose doubles totals mirrored the contemporaneous stock market crash of the Great Depression, falling to 44, 34, 28, 22 and 20 the next five years. He was out of baseball by 1934.
Players with more than 600 career doubles
Tris Speaker 792
Pete Rose 746
Stan Musial 725
Ty Cobb 724
Albert Pujols 696
Craig Biggio 668
George Brett 665
Nap Lajoie 657
Carl Yastrzemski 646
Honus Wagner 643
Adrian Beltre 636
David Ortiz 632
Hank Aaron 624
Miguel Cabrera 622
Paul Molitor 605
Paul Waner 605
Cal Ripken Jr. 603
Barry Bonds 601
Times staff writer Jack Harris contributed to this story.