These days, it seems that Manny Machado would rather earn bragging rights by beating a teammate in ping-pong inside the Orioles clubhouse than discuss his possible place in baseball history. He'd rather coax manager Buck Showalter, 35 years his elder, into getting more apps on his iPhone than affirm his chase of an 82-year-old record.
But when the unofficial second half of the season kicks off for the Orioles in Texas on Friday night, Machado will resume his pursuit of one of baseball's longest-standing single-season marks.
Machado has the best opportunity of any player in more than a decade to break Earl Webb's doubles record of 67, which was set in 1931 for the Boston Red Sox. Machado's 39 doubles are the most at the All-Star break since the Seattle Mariners' Edgar Martinez hit 42 in 1996, and they put him on pace for 66.
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And it's only a subplot that Machado just turned 21 this month.
"Well, he sure is setting the standards high for himself," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said with a smirk.
Machado's chase of Webb's mark will be one of the top storylines of the second half as the Orioles aim for another postseason berth, but it won't be the main focus for the club's precocious third baseman.
"It's something I'm not going to think about," said Machado, who has played more games at the break (96) than all recent challengers to the record . "It's not my goal. My goal is to make the playoffs. To be honest, a record is a record. It's something that's set in stone. Don't get me wrong, it's a great accomplishment and I'm honored to even be in the race. But my main goal is to make the playoffs. I want to win a World Series with this team. ...
"I'm going to be thinking about winning, and a part of that is knowing you're going to get your singles, your homers and your doubles. For me it's been doubles. Hopefully I keep hitting them and we keep winning at the same time."
Still, it's difficult not to get caught up in the chase. Last week, Showalter joked that he was on the verge of asking the official scorer at Camden Yards to take away a base on Machado's triple against the Texas Rangers on July 10. Showalter said he reviewed the play and believed Texas center fielder Engel Beltre bobbled the ball in the outfield, so it should have been ruled a double with an error.
"I was thinking about going to the official scorer and for the first time in history try to make something a double instead of a triple," Showalter said. "We looked at it. I didn't turn it in. [MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe] Torre would have killed me."
Seeing Machado leg out a triple without hesitation tells Showalter all he needs to know, that his young third baseman isn't going to sacrifice the chance to win for an individual accolade.
"Whether he gets it or doesn't get this record, it's not going to affect what he does," Showalter said. "A lot of guys might have stopped at second base, but he realized that it was good for him to be on third base with one out, so he kept going."
A record tough to rationalize
Machado's chances of breaking Webb's mark will rely on several factors out of his control. Doubles aren't only a product player's ability to place balls down the lines and into the gaps, but other factors such as stadium dimensions.
John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, believes playing at Camden Yards will help Machado's chase.
"Manny Machado is a great young player whose pursuit of Webb's mark may be aided by the short power alleys at Camden Yards," Thorn said. "The park tends to turn potential triples into doubles. Webb's mark is a great baseball outlier, like Owen Wilson's 36 triples in 1912. I don't think that mark will ever be topped, but then again, I once thought the same of Webb's."
Since 1993, five other players have gone into the All-Star break with 37 or more doubles. Of that group, the Houston Astros' Craig Biggio came the closest to Webb's record with 56 doubles in 1999. Martinez's bid in 1996 was derailed by a rib injury that forced him to miss 22 games.
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts hit a franchise record 56 doubles in 2009 and was steady throughout the season, but he never really challenged Webb's mark. In 2000, the Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton used a post-break surge to hit 59 doubles, the most since 1936, but he hit just six doubles in the season's final month.
There was a sudden boon in doubles totals during Webb's era. Five of the six highest single-season doubles totals were posted between 1931 and 1936. A year after Webb set the record, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Paul Waner set a new National League mark with 62 doubles.
"I don't know why there would be [an era] for doubles," said Bill Nowlin, the vice president for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). "I could see it for home runs. You have all kinds of explanations you can look at for statistics — when the race barrier dropped, which is also the same time teams started playing night games. A lot of things started changing in the middle-40s, but I don't know how any of that would have changes hitting doubles. … There are things that are just outliers, things that just happen. It's just that nobody has gotten to 67. Probably someone will some day."