Unassisted triple play

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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 putouts 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. 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. Two of these players (both active) had played for only one major league team, until one of them, Asdrubal Cabrera, was traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Washington Nationals in 2014.[5][6] The Cleveland Indians are the only franchise to have three players achieve the feat while on their roster: 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.[7] 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.[7] The last player to make an unassisted triple play is Eric Bruntlett, accomplishing the feat on August 23, 2009.[8] Only Neun and Bruntlett executed unassisted triple plays that ended the game.[3]

Background[edit]

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 have taken this form: an infielder catches a line drive (one out), steps on a base to double off a runner (two outs), and tags another runner on the runner's way to the next base (three outs) (almost universally, the "next base" is the same base on which the infielder stepped to record the second out.) Less frequently, the order of the last two putouts is switched.

It is nearly impossible for an unassisted triple play to occur unless the fielder is positioned between the two runners. For this reason, most of these plays have been accomplished by middle infielders (second basemen and shortstops). Just two were completed by first basemen; in both cases, they 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.[9] 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.)

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," and as WGN-TV sports anchor Dan Roan commented, "That's the way these plays always happen."

Players who have turned an unassisted triple play[edit]

Key
Player Name of the player
Position The player's fielding position during the unassisted triple play
Date Date of the unassisted triple play
Team The player's team at the time of the game
Opposing team The team against whom the player turned the unassisted triple play
Inning The inning in which the unassisted triple play occurred
Play The order in which the unassisted triple play was turned
double-dagger Player is active
AL American League
NL National League

19th century[edit]

  • Paul Hines, May 8, 1878, Providence Grays (vs. Boston Red Caps) (disputed)
    • With runners on second and third, center fielder Hines caught a line drive from Jack Burdock that the runners thought was uncatchable. When he caught it, both runners had already passed third (according to the Boston Globe account of the game, printed on the 9th). Hines stepped on third, which by the rules of the day meant both runners were out. To make sure, he threw the ball to Charlie Sweasy at second base. It is still debated whether this was truly an unassisted triple play. Modern rules would have required either the ball to be conveyed to second base to put out the runner who had been on that base and had not tagged up, or that runner to be tagged. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, the runner coming from second, Ezra Sutton, had not yet touched third base, which would mean that even by 19th-century rules the play was not complete until Hines threw to second, and thus the play was not unassisted.[10] Ernest J. Lanigan's Baseball Cyclopedia, 1922, which covers professional baseball back to 1876, states on p. 157 that Neal Ball in 1909 was "the first major leaguer to make an unassisted triple play." The Sporting News Baseball Record Book, which covers records back to 1876, likewise does not list Hines' play in the section on unassisted triple plays.

Modern era[edit]

Player Position Date Team Opposing team League Inning Play Ref
Ball, NealNeal Ball Shortstop July 19, 1909 Cleveland Naps Boston Red Sox AL 2nd Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [11]
Wambsganss, BillBill Wambsganss Second baseman October 10, 1920 Cleveland Indians Brooklyn Robins WS[a] 5th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [12]
Burns, GeorgeGeorge Burns First baseman September 14, 1923 Boston Red Sox Cleveland Indians AL 2nd Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd. [13]
Padgett, ErnieErnie Padgett Shortstop October 6, 1923 Boston Braves Philadelphia Phillies NL 4th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [14]
Wright, GlennGlenn Wright Shortstop May 7, 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals NL 9th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [15][16]
Cooney, JimmyJimmy Cooney Shortstop May 30, 1927 Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates NL 4th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [17]
Neun, JohnnyJohnny Neun First baseman May 31, 1927 Detroit Tigers Cleveland Indians AL 9th Caught line drive, tagged runner, beat returning runner to 2nd.[b] [18][19]
Hansen, RonRon Hansen Shortstop July 30, 1968 Washington Senators Cleveland Indians AL 1st Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [20]
Morandini, MickeyMickey Morandini Second baseman September 20, 1992 Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates NL 6th Jumped to catch line drive, landed on 2nd, tagged runner. [21]
Valentin, JohnJohn Valentin Shortstop July 8, 1994 Boston Red Sox Seattle Mariners AL 6th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [22]
Velarde, RandyRandy Velarde Second baseman May 29, 2000 Oakland Athletics New York Yankees AL 6th Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd. [23]
Furcal, RafaelRafael Furcaldouble-dagger Shortstop August 10, 2003 Atlanta Braves St. Louis Cardinals NL 5th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [24][25]
Tulowitzki, TroyTroy Tulowitzkidouble-dagger Shortstop April 29, 2007 Colorado Rockies Atlanta Braves NL 7th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [26][27]
Cabrera, AsdrúbalAsdrúbal Cabreradouble-dagger Second baseman May 12, 2008 Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays AL 5th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. [28][29]
Bruntlett, EricEric Bruntlett Second baseman August 23, 2009 Philadelphia Phillies New York Mets NL 9th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.[b] [8][30]

double-dagger Player is active.

Unfielded triple play[edit]

Political columnist and baseball enthusiast George Will, in a baseball quiz in Newsweek for April 6, 2009, p. 60, posed one hypothetical way that a triple play could occur with no fielder touching the ball. With runners on first and second and no outs, the batter hits an infield fly, and is automatically out: One out. The runner from first passes the runner from second and is called out for that rule's infraction. Two outs. Just after that, the falling ball hits the runner from second, who is called out for interference: Three outs.

Whenever a batter or runner is out without a fielder touching the ball, rules book section 10.09 provides for automatic putouts to be assigned by the official scorer. In this case, the first out would be credited to whoever the official scorer believes would have had the best chance of catching the infield fly. The second and third outs would be credited to the fielder(s) closest to the points the runners were, when their respective outs occurred. Under the scenario described above, the same fielder (the shortstop, for example) could be credited with all three putouts, thus attaining an unassisted triple play without having touched the ball (or a base or a runner).

Notes[edit]

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

References[edit]

General
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 (MLB Advanced Media). Retrieved August 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Troy Tulowitzki Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Asdrubal Cabrera Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 16, 2012. 
  7. ^ 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." 
  8. ^ a b Zolecki, Todd (August 23, 2009). "Bruntlett joins rare company". MLB.com (MLB Advanced Media). Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Ballplayers – Johnny Neun". BaseballLibrary.com. The Idea Logical Company, Inc. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Play-By-Play Descriptions of Baseball's Triple Plays (1876–1879)". Society for American Baseball Research. April 6, 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  11. ^ Holway, John B. (February 1993). "First and Only World Series Triple Play Recalled". Baseball Digest (Evanston, IL, 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. Sports Reference. 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. Sports Reference. 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. Sports Reference. 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. Sports Reference. 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. Sports Reference. 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. Sports Reference. May 31, 1927. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  19. ^ Idea Logical Company, Inc., baseballlibrary.com.
  20. ^ "July 30, 1968 Washington Senators at Cleveland Indians Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. July 30, 1968. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  21. ^ "September 20, 1992 Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. September 20, 1992. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  22. ^ "July 8, 1994 Seattle Mariners at Boston Red Sox Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. July 8, 1994. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  23. ^ "May 29, 2000 Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. May 29, 2000. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  24. ^ "August 10, 2003 Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. August 10, 2003. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  25. ^ Bowman, Mark (August 10, 2003). "Furcal turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com (MLB Advanced Media). Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  26. ^ "April 29, 2007 Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. April 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  27. ^ Perkins, Owen (April 29, 2007). "Tulowitzki turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com (MLB Advanced Media). Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  28. ^ "May 12, 2008 Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. May 12, 2008. Retrieved July 9, 2012. 
  29. ^ Castrovince, Anthony (May 12, 2008). "Cabrera turns unassisted triple play". MLB.com (MLB Advanced Media). Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  30. ^ "August 23, 2009 Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference. August 23, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2012. 

External links[edit]