The Third Man

September 28, 2003

Roy Blount Jr. is a Vanderbilt grad, but he's not too shaken up
by the school's recent decision to dissolve its athletic
department and rethink its approach to sports. "Going to Vandy
did a lot of things for me, and one of the things it cured me of
was the need to follow college football," he says. And then he
pauses. "You know, I have to go to my 40th reunion next week.
They're going to love that I said that."

Maybe he can get his classmates talking baseball, a subject
Blount has pondered deeply, if intermittently, for SI. This week
he focuses on what he calls the most underappreciated of hardball
achievements, the triple (page 74)--rarer than the home run, and,
Blount argues, all the more sweet because of it. Blount knows
firsthand how hard it is to hit a triple, because he's never done
it--not as a backup third baseman at Decatur (Ga.) High, and not
when he was playing softball in the Army in New York state or
with the SI team when he was a staff writer from 1968 to '75. He
has never even been thrown out trying to stretch a double. "I was
always stretching just to get to first," Blount says.

His athletic shortcomings aside, the lore of the triple is the
sort of topic Blount enjoys exploring. "I like the aspects of the
game that people take for granted," he says. "Rather than who's
likely to win the American League Central, I'd rather write about
things that stretch back into history." While writing the triples
piece at his home in Mill River, Mass., Blount had 21 baseball
books spread on the floor near his desk.

Blount, who appears on the National Public Radio quiz show Wait
Wait... Don't Tell Me! came across the perfect triples trivia
question while researching the story: How does one get an infield
triple? The answer: If a fielder throws his glove at a fair ball,
the batter is awarded a triple. In 1947 the Red Sox' Jake Jones
was awarded third base after St. Louis Browns pitcher Fred
Sanford tossed his mitt at a hot grounder.

Sportswriting and radio are just two of the ways in which Blount
earns a living. In his Self-Promotional Bio, in the Third Person,
which appears on www.royblountjr.com, Blount states that "he has
done more different things, for money, than any other
humorist-novelist-journalist-dramatist-lyricist-lecturer-reviewer-
performer-versifier-cruciverbalist-sportswriter-screenwriter-antho
logist-columnist-philologist of sorts (with due emphasis on the
inclusive 'of sorts')" than he can think of offhand. His output
includes 17 books, the most recent of which is this year's Robert
E. Lee, a biography in the Penguin Lives series. "Robert E. Lee
never hit a triple either," Blount says. "That's why he never had
a great nickname like Wahoo Sam Crawford."

Crawford is a Hall of Famer who played from 1899 to 1917 and
holds the career record for triples, with 312. You could call him
the Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron of the category, though most people
have never heard of him. Which is Blount's point exactly.

B/W PHOTO: VALERIE SHAFF EXTRA BASES Writing about triples is no stretch for Blount.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)