Bill Wambsganss (top left, in white) completes his unassisted triple play in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.  This marks the only time any triple play has been executed in the postseason.
Bill Wambsganss (top left, in white) completes his unassisted triple play in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series. This marks the only time any triple play has been executed in the postseason.

In baseball, an unassisted triple play occurs when a defensive player makes all three outs by himself in one continuous play, without his teammates making any assists. Neal Ball was the first to achieve this in Major League Baseball (MLB) under modern rules, doing so on July 19, 1909.[1] For this rare play to be possible there must be no outs in the inning and at least two runners on base, normally with the runners going on the pitch (e.g., double steal or hit-and-run). An unassisted triple play usually consists of a hard line drive hit directly at an infielder for the first out, with that same fielder then able to double off one of the base runners and tag a second for the second and third outs.[2]

In MLB, a total of fifteen players have fielded an unassisted triple play,[3] making this feat rarer than a perfect game.[4] Of these fifteen players, eight were shortstops, five were second basemen and two were first basemen. The Cleveland Indians are the only franchise to have three players achieve the feat while on their roster: Neal Ball, Bill Wambsganss and Asdrúbal Cabrera. The shortest time between two unassisted triple plays occurred in May 1927, when Johnny Neun executed the feat less than 24 hours after Jimmy Cooney.[5] Conversely, it took more than 41 seasons after Neun's play before Ron Hansen performed the feat on July 30, 1968, marking the longest span between unassisted triple plays.[5] The most recent player to make an unassisted triple play is Eric Bruntlett, accomplishing the feat on August 23, 2009.[6] Only Neun and Bruntlett executed unassisted triple plays that ended the game.[3]

Background

Bill Wambsganss (far left) standing alongside the victims of his unassisted triple play (from center left to far right) – Pete Kilduff, Clarence Mitchell and Otto Miller.
Bill Wambsganss (far left) standing alongside the victims of his unassisted triple play (from center left to far right)Pete Kilduff, Clarence Mitchell and Otto Miller.

Most unassisted triple plays in MLB have taken this form: an infielder catches a line drive (one out), steps on a base to double off a runner (two outs), and then tags another runner on the runner's way to the next base (three outs). In general, the "next base" is usually the same base that the infielder stepped on to record the second out, and the last runner is tagged before he can return to the previous base. Infrequently, the order of the last two putouts is reversed.

It is nearly impossible for an unassisted triple play to occur unless the fielder is positioned between the two runners. For this reason, all but two of these plays have been accomplished by middle infielders (second basemen and shortstops). The other two were completed by first basemen, who were able to reach second base before the returning baserunner. For example, after collecting the first two outs, Tigers' first baseman Johnny Neun ignored his shortstop's shouts to throw the ball, and instead ran to second base to get the final out himself.[7] The only unassisted triple play that did not take one of these forms occurred in the 19th century, under rules that are no longer in effect (see below).

It is plausible that a third baseman could complete an unassisted triple play with runners at second and third or with bases loaded, but this has never happened in MLB. Players in other positions (pitcher, catcher, outfielders) completing an unassisted triple play would require unusual confusion or mistakes by the baserunners, or an atypical defensive alignment (for example, repositioning an outfielder as a fifth infielder).

The unassisted triple play, the perfect game, hitting four home runs in one game and five extra-base hits in a game are thus comparable in terms of rarity, but the perfect game and the home run and extra-base hit records require an extraordinary effort along with a fair amount of luck. By contrast, the unassisted triple play is essentially always a matter of luck: a combination of the right circumstances with the relatively simple effort of catching the ball and running in the right direction with it. Troy Tulowitzki said of his feat, "It fell right in my lap",[8] and as WGN-TV sports anchor Dan Roan commented, "That's the way these plays always happen."

Instances

19th century

The Boston Globe account of Hines' triple play
The Boston Globe account of Hines' triple play

Modern era (in MLB)

Player Pos. Date Team Opponent League Inning Play Ref.
Neal Ball SS 19 Jul 1909 Cleveland Naps Boston Red Sox AL 2nd Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [11]
Bill Wambsganss 2B 10 Oct 1920 Cleveland Indians Brooklyn Robins WS[a] 5th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [12]
George Burns 1B 14 Sep 1923 Boston Red Sox Cleveland Indians AL 2nd Line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd. [13]
Ernie Padgett SS 6 Oct 1923 Boston Braves Philadelphia Phillies NL 4th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [14]
Glenn Wright SS 7 May 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals NL 9th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [15][16]
Jimmy Cooney SS 30 May 1927 Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates NL 4th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [17]
Johnny Neun 1B 31 May 1927 Detroit Tigers Cleveland Indians AL 9th Line drive, tagged runner, and returning runner to 2nd.[b] [18][19]
Ron Hansen SS 30 Jul 1968 Washington Senators Cleveland Indians AL 1st Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [20][21]
Mickey Morandini 2B 20 Sep 1992 Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates NL 6th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [22]
John Valentin SS 8 Jul 1994 Boston Red Sox Seattle Mariners AL 6th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [23]
Randy Velarde 2B 29 May 2000 Oakland Athletics New York Yankees AL 6th Line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd. [24]
Rafael Furcal SS 10 Aug 2003 Atlanta Braves St. Louis Cardinals NL 5th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [25][26]
Troy Tulowitzki SS 29 Apr 2007 Colorado Rockies Atlanta Braves NL 7th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [27][28]
Asdrúbal Cabreradouble-dagger 2B 12 May 2008 Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays AL 5th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [29][30]
Eric Bruntlett 2B 23 Aug 2009 Philadelphia Phillies New York Mets NL 9th Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.[b] [6][31][32]

double-dagger Player is active.

Notes

  1. ^ Occurred in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.
  2. ^ a b This unassisted triple play ended the game.

See also

References

General
  • "Unassisted Triple Plays". Baseball-Almanac.com. Baseball Almanac. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  • "Unassisted Triple Plays". MLB.com. Major League Baseball. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
Specific
  1. ^ "Sports Trivia 07–19". The Dearborn County Register. July 18, 2009. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  2. ^ Adams, Cecil (September 21, 1984). "How is an unassisted triple play accomplished in baseball?". The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Ginsburg, Steve (August 23, 2009). "Bruntlett turns game-ending unassisted triple play". Reuters. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  4. ^ DiComo, Anthony (December 30, 2009). "Mets bear the Brunt of unassisted triple play". MLB.com. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Hansen 8th In Unassisted Triple Plays". The Pittsburgh Press. United Press International. July 29, 1968. p. 60. Retrieved July 24, 2012. Ron Hansen looked surprise when informed it had been 41 years...since an unassisted triple play had been made in the majors.
  6. ^ a b Zolecki, Todd (August 23, 2009). "Bruntlett joins rare company". MLB.com. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  7. ^ Bak, Richard (16 Oct 2011). "Remembering Johnny Neun's Unassisted Triple Play". Detroit Athletic Co. Retrieved 22 Oct 2016.
  8. ^ "Braves vs. Rockies - Game Recap - April 29, 2007". ESPN.com. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
  9. ^ "Ball Games: The Bostons Again Defeated at Providence". The Boston Globe. May 9, 1878. p. 1. Retrieved April 18, 2021 – via newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Play-By-Play Descriptions of Baseball's Triple Plays (1876–1879)". Society for American Baseball Research. April 6, 2011. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Holway, John B. (February 1993). "First and Only World Series Triple Play Recalled". Baseball Digest. Evanston, Illinois, USA: Century Publishing. 52 (2): 76. ISSN 0005-609X. Retrieved July 18, 2012.
  12. ^ "October 10, 1920 World Series Game 5, Brooklyn Robins at Cleveland Indians Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. October 10, 1920. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  13. ^ "September 14, 1923 Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. September 14, 1923. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  14. ^ "October 6, 1923 Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Braves Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. October 6, 1923. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  15. ^ "May 7, 1925 St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. May 7, 1925. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  16. ^ Boxscore, retrosheet.org.
  17. ^ "May 30, 1927 Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates (First Game) Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. May 30, 1927. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  18. ^ "May 31, 1927 Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. May 31, 1927. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  19. ^ Idea Logical Company, Inc. Archived 2012-10-19 at the Wayback Machine, baseballlibrary.com.
  20. ^ "July 30, 1968 Washington Senators at Cleveland Indians Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. July 30, 1968. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  21. ^ "Former Orioles shortstop Ron Hansen talks about his unassisted triple play". YouTube. April 7, 2016. Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  22. ^ "September 20, 1992 Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. September 20, 1992. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  23. ^ "July 8, 1994 Seattle Mariners at Boston Red Sox Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. July 8, 1994. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  24. ^ "May 29, 2000 Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. May 29, 2000. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  25. ^ "August 10, 2003 Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. August 10, 2003. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  26. ^ Bowman, Mark (August 10, 2003). "Furcal turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. ^ "April 29, 2007 Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. April 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  28. ^ Perkins, Owen (April 29, 2007). "Tulowitzki turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
  29. ^ "May 12, 2008 Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. May 12, 2008. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
  30. ^ Castrovince, Anthony (May 12, 2008). "Cabrera turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com. Retrieved July 18, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ "August 23, 2009 Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. August 23, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
  32. ^ "Bruntlett's triple play".