By Phil Rognier
“An important number in baseball, especially at first base”
Historically, the number three has always been a significant number or grouping. The Christian Trinity, Neptune’s trident, the three Magi (wise men) with their three gifts, the three Muskateers, the number of dimensions, earth being the third planet from the sun, and, of course, the Stooges are all examples of three. Less significant but omnipresent, three is the number of porridge-stealing bears, it is the key number in Pi, Faces of Eve, blind mice, primary colors, how bad luck usually arrives, men in a tub, people in “a crowd”, legs on a tripod, wheels on a tricycle, “coins in a fountain”, one of the doors ion “Let’s Make a Deal”, points for a Field Goal in football and long distance shot in basketball, common members in a small ban or singing groups, the number of Thompson Twins, et al. Three is seemingly everywhere!
In the great game of baseball, the number three (3) has a predominant presence as well. Three designates the number of strikes it takes to make an out, the number of outs to fulfill an inning, the number of bases (home is a plate), the number of defensive outfielders, and even the number of fingers of Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai Brown! Most importantly, however, is that three (3) is the numerical symbol for the first baseman. When scoring, the number 3 is used to signify the first baseman’s involvement in a defensive play: i.e. 6-3 (short to first), L-3 (lineout to first), 3U (first unassisted), 3-6-3 (first to short to first double play), 9-3-2 (right field to first to catcher relay), at al. The first baseman is THREE! (Of course, E-3 is an error and equally as important).
Many first basemen have made their mark in the Major Leagues. In the inceiving years the first baseman had to be a stalwart fielder as well as an outstanding hitter. The prototype was Lou Gehrig (New York Yankees) who was a stalwart defensive player as well as a .340 hitter with big time power. George Sisler (St. Louis Browns) was equally as good on both accounts and hit over .400 one year (he held te4h season record for hits for 84 years until Ichiro broke it in 2004). Others in the first half of the 1900’s with star talent were: Jackie Robinson (began his career at 1B),Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, Hal Trotsky, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hal Chase, “Buck” Leonard (Negro League), Frank Chance (Tinkers to Evers to Chance(, and Dan Brouthers. Cap Anson was not only the prototypical first baseman of the 1800’s but also a player-manager.
Beginning in the 1950’s or so, the role and stereotype of the first baseman began to evolve into a different style player. Although defense was still important, it took a back seat to a “larger” player who could hit with power. Although Stan Musial, Mickey Vernon, and others were still All-Stars, the majority of first basemen were “Home Run” sluggers. Ted Kluszewski (a behometh for his era), Gil Hodges, Willy McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Mize, Jim Gentile, and “Moose” Skowron became the prototypes although many were still very good defensive players. In the mid to late sixties, teams began putting hitters, who were no longer as defensively proficient in their normal positions, on first base. Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Willie Stargell, Henry Aaron, Rod Carew, Frank Howard, Ernie Banks, and even Pete Rose were moved to the 3 position to keep their bats in the lineup (after 1976 many became DHs in the American League). The same occurred in Japan with the greatest of all the Japanese players, Sadaharu Oh!
In the last couple of years, depending upon the league, there has been a more evenly balanced approach by most teams. The fist base position has been occupied by high-average hitters, power hitters, defensive “golden glovers”, as well as a home for aging stars. Mark McGwire, Albert P ???? and Frank Thomas exemplify the “power 3’s”, Don Mattingly and Todd Helton the hitter-defensive combo, John Olerud, J.J. Snow, and Keith Hernandez the defensive dynamos, and Eddie Murray, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, etal the aging hitters who need to be in the lineup. With the latter group, they all became designated hitters opening first base for other “elder” statesmen of the game.
Reading over the roster of first basemen who have played in the Major Leagues clearly reveals many of the icons of the game and Hall of Famers. Other great players to include: Willie Mays, Nap Lajoie, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Hack Wilson, Carl Yastzremski, Yogi Berra, and Carlton Fisk played first at times either to extend their careers or keep their bas in the lineup. Ironically, many of the great first basemen (3’s) hit in the 3 position in the batting order!
OTHER THREE (3) FACTOIDS
- Babe Ruth wore the number 3 as a Yankee, which was eventually retired.
- Three-time MVP’s: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella.
- .300 is the standard average of a good hitter. .333 is a higher standard.
- 3 is the number of the DiMaggio brothers who played Major League baseball: Joe, Vince, Dom
- The Triple Crown designates a player who led their league in the three important hitting categories: batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Two men, Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby did it twice; no one has done it 3 times.
- Most famous three (3) home runs: Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to defeat the Dodgers in the 1951 NL play-off series. Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff vs Yanks in ’61. Babe Ruth’s “called shot”…??
- 3: The number of home runs hit by Babe Ruth in a single World Series game (twice) and Reggie Jackson (on 3 pitches).
- Three outs on a single defensive play is a triple play. Although rare, it has occurred more than an unassisted triple play: a play when one defensive player accounts for all three outs! This has been done only 12 times in ML history (most recent by R. Furcal in 2003). One of those was in The World Series.
- The biggest and most important E-3: Bill Buckner (Boston) in the 1986 World Series which led to the Mets’ victory and extension of “the curse”.
- Three brothers all in the same outfield (for the same team) at the same time” The Alous-Jesus, Felipe, and Matty for the S.F. Giants.
- 3: The number of shutouts pitched by Christy Mathewson in a single World Series.
12. Johnny Mize had five (5) 3 home run games in his career.
- 3 feet tall: The approximate height of midget Eddie Gaedel (#1/8) who played in a ML game as part of a Bill Veeck marketing promotion.
- 3: The number of Dodgers ending up on third, at the same time, on Babe Herman’s “doubling into a double play”.
- 3-2 pitch: Crunch time!
- 3 bagger: The triple – the hardest single hit to get to complete the “cycle”.
“So if 3 is so important, does that make the right fielder (9) three times more so?”