Unassisted triple play
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 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
- 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.
- Neal Ball, July 19, 1909, Cleveland Indians (vs. Boston)
- Bill Wambsganss, October 10, 1920, Cleveland Indians (vs. Brooklyn)
- In the fifth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, second baseman Wambsganss caught Willie Mitchell's line drive, stepped on second to retire ete Kilduff, and tagged Otto Miller coming from first base. Earlier in this same game, the very first grand slam home run in Series play was hit by Elmer Smith.
- George Burns, September 14, 1923, Boston Red Sox (vs. Cleveland)
- Ernie Padgett, October 6, 1923, Boston Braves (vs. Philadelphia)
- Glenn Wright, May 7, 1925, Pittsburgh Pirates (vs. St. Louis)
- Jimmy Cooney, May 30, 1927, Chicago Cubs (vs. Pittsburgh)
- 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.
- Mickey Morandini, September 20, 1992, Philadelphia Phillies (vs. Pittsburgh)
- 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.
- Randy Velarde, May 29, 2000, Oakland Athletics (vs. New York)
- Rafael Furcal, August 10, 2003, Atlanta Braves (vs. St. Louis)
- Cecil Adams, How is an unassisted triple play accomplished in baseball? The Straight Dope, September 21, 1984.