By Alfredo Alvarez
Miami, Fl –An unassisted triple play is a play that only one player makes without the help of another teammate. It is what we can consider “The Unicorn of Baseball.”
It is without a doubt the most difficult play in baseball. A normal triple play, in which several players take part, is already quite rare and very few happen, but an unassisted becomes a rarity. That’s what the statistics show.
Keep in mind that statistically in the United States, they have been able to score and save each of these plays, but in other countries where baseball has been played, especially in the 19th century, it is difficult to know, since a box score was not kept.
Here is a list of some of the most notable unassisted triple plays in different countries that play baseball:
With a league that is considered the best on the planet since 1876, only 15 unassisted triple plays have been made. For a long time it was thought that the first one, in the 19th century, had occurred on May 8, 1878 against the Boston Braves, and the player was Paul Hines, centerfield for Providence. With runners on second and third, the center fielder Hines caught a line from Jack Burdock, with which the men on bases thought it was impossible to catch and ran. Hines then accelerated and stepped on third, which according to the rules of the time, meant that the two runners were out. To make sure, he passed the ball to Charlie Sweasy, the second baseman. Finally it was determined that this play was not unassisted, since the second baseman Sweasy intervened. According to the “Society for American Baseball Research,” the runner who came from second base, Ezra Sutton, had not yet touched the third base, which would mean that even for the rules of the nineteenth century the play was not complete until Hines passed the ball to second.
In the year 1902, first base Harry O’Hagen, of the Rochester Broncos in the International League, executed the first triple play without assistance in organized baseball against the Jersey City Giants. The play was a bunt by Johnnie Butler that ended in the hands of O’Hagen, who ran to first base to double off Mack Dooley. George Shoch, who had been in second, never realized that the ball was caught on the fly and ran to third. O’Hagan then ran to second base and stepped in to finish the inning.
Neal Ball, shortstop of the Cleveland Indians, on July 19, 1909, against the Boston Red Sox, made the first record in the Major Leagues. This happened in Cleveland’s League Park, Heinie Wagner of Boston, singled to open the second inning against Cleveland starter Cy Young. Jake Stahl moved Wagner to second base with a base hit bunt. In a hit and run play, the next batter, Amby McConnell, connected a line drive to the center of the field. Ball jumped out and caught it, doubling off Wagner at second base, and then touched Stahl between first and second to score the third out.
The last triple play without assistance in the big leagues, happened on August 23, 2009, in a match between Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. With the Mets hitter, Jeff Francoeur on the plate, the two runners that were on bases decided to double steal and in a 2-2 count, Francoeur, connected a line to the shortstop Eric Bruntlett. This touched second base and then tagged out Daniel Murphy in third.
In the case of Cuba, on December 2, 1918, the teams of Habana and Almendares, played in the bottom of the eighth inning, the bases were loaded and the hitter was Oscar Rodriguez, who hit a short line to center field Baldomero «Merito» Acosta, and he made a magnificent run and captured the shoelace ball, but being aware of the situation, he did not waste any time, and with the impulse that he brought, he kept running until the second pad. There he forced the runner «Strike» González who was going to third and then tagged out José Fernández who had been running from first. This was the only unassisted triple play achieved in the history of Cuban professional baseball.
80 years later, on November 12, 1998, Villa Clara’s third baseman, Rafael Orlando Acebey, would star in another triple play without assistance at the Sandino stadium in Villa Clara against Industriales. Also with the bases loaded and in the beginning of the eighth inning, the second baseman of the Industriales, Juan Padilla, hit a grounder to the third base, which caught Acebey, stepping on third, putting out Antonio Scull who ran from second base and then chased Lazaro Vargas, who had left third and ran to the plate and which he also tag out. But Padilla, instead of running to first, decided to stop and argue with the home plate referee, claiming it was a foul. Acebey got in his face, tagged him, and that is how the only unassisted triple play in the history of the Cuban National Baseball Series happened. Amateur baseball began to be played in the island after 1961 when the professionalism ceased to exist.
In the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, the only unassisted triple play was at the hands of one of the most legendary players in that country: David Concepción. The play happened on December 14, 1987, in a game between his team, Tigres de Aragua, against the Cardinals of Lara, held at the Antonio Herrera Gutiérrez stadium in Barquisimeto. The play was a bunt attempt with runners on first and second, by another major leaguer from Venezuela: Luis Sojo. Conception caught the ball without touching the grass and then ran to tag the runner who had left first base, then at full speed, went to step on the second pad where the runner tried to return after running to third. These are some of the most important unassisted triple play plays in different baseball leagues in the world. Evidently there must be more in other countries that are not mentioned here. Whether because there is not much historical information or because the data was not collected in a box score. What we do know is that this kind of play is a one in a lifetime event. And if you have been able to witness it before your own eyes, consider yourself lucky and blessed. Like those who has seen a miracle or those who say they have seen extraterrestrials beings or maybe a unicorn.
Sources of support: https://www.baseball-reference.com/ https://www.wikipedia.org/ http://sabr.org/
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