Unassisted triple play

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In baseball, an unassisted triple play occurs when a defensive player makes three putouts by himself in one continuous play. It is one of the rarest individual feats in baseball, even more so than a perfect game. "Ordinary" (assisted) triple plays are fairly rare in their own right.

The circumstances must be just right in order for an unassisted triple play even to be possible. There must be no outs in the inning. There must be at least two runners on base (usually only two) and they must be running with the pitch, as in a hit and run. All but one unassisted triple play have taken this form: the defender catches a line drive (one out), steps on a base to double off one runner (two outs), and tags another runner on his way to the next base (three outs). Sometimes the order of the last two is switched. Because the fielder usually has to be between the two runners, most of these plays have been accomplished by second basemen and shortstops, but two were completed by first basemen who were able to reach second base before the returning baserunner, and one by a third baseman.

The feat has only occurred 12 times in modern Major League Baseball history and once in the 19th century. (In comparison, there have been 19 perfect games since 1900, and two in the 19th century).

The unassisted triple play and the perfect game are comparable in terms of rarity, but a perfect game requires an extraordinary effort along with a fair amount of luck. An unassisted triple play is essentially always a matter of luck: the right circumstances, combined with the relatively simple effort of merely catching the ball and running the right direction with it. Regardless, to baseball purists, there is a certain "neatness" to the fact that in the long history of the World Series, the only triple play was of the unassisted variety, and the only no-hitter was of the perfect variety.

MLB unassisted triple plays

19th century

  • Paul Hines (baseball player), May 8, 1878, Providence Grays (vs. Boston)
    • With runners on second and third, Hines caught a line drive from Jack Burdock that the runners thought was uncatchable. When he caught it, the runners had already both passed third. 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 era

  • Johnny Neun, May 31, 1927, Detroit Tigers (vs. Cleveland)
    • Remarkably, just the next day, in the ninth inning, first baseman Neun caught Homer Summa's line drive, tagged Charlie Jamieson between first and second and stepped on second base before Glenn Myatt could return. Neun had heard about Cooney's feat the day before and vowed to someday duplicate it himself. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself, he held the ball and ran all the way to second base rather than throw there to record the third out.
  • Ron Hansen, July 30, 1968, Washington Senators (vs. Cleveland)
    • After a 41-year drought, shortstop Hansen, in the first inning, caught Joe Azcue's line drive, stepped on second to double off Dave Nelson, and tagged Russ Snyder approaching from first.
  • John Valentin, July 8, 1994, Boston Red Sox (vs. Seattle)
    • In the sixth inning, shortstop Valentin caught Marc Newfield's line drive, stepped on second base to retire Mike Blowers, and tagged Keith Mitchell coming from first.
    • Valentin and George Burns are the only players in Major League Baseball history to have turned an unassisted triple play and hit for the cycle.

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