In baseball, an unassisted triple play occurs when a defensive player makes all three putouts by himself in one continuous play, without any teammates touching the ball (assist). In Major League Baseball, it is the rarest of individual feats, occurring less frequently than even a perfect game and hitting four home runs in one game (although these are equal if a disputed unassisted triple play is included). During a span of over 65 seasons (June 1927 to September 1992), there was only one unassisted triple play in the major leagues, made in July 1968. Even "ordinary" (assisted) triple plays are fairly rare, occurring a few times per year.
Specific conditions must be met for the play even to be possible, and these normally indicate impending trouble for the pitcher. There must be no outs in the inning and at least two runners on base (usually only two) who are running with the pitch, as in a hit and run. Finally, the batter must make excellent contact with the pitch, resulting in a line drive hit directly at an infielder, usually either the shortstop or second baseman.
All unassisted triple plays except one have taken this form: the 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). 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 middle infielders (second basemen and shortstops), but two were completed by first basemen who were able to reach second base before the returning baserunner. The only unassisted triple play that did not take this form occurred in the 19th century under rules that are no longer in play.
The feat has only occurred 14 times in modern major league history, plus once in the 19th century (that one being disputed). By comparison, there have been 17 perfect games since 1870, including two in the 19th century; on 15 occasions a player has hit four home runs in a game, including twice in the 19th century. Six of the unassisted triple plays occurred in the 1920s, the sixth coming a day after the fifth. Since 1991 there have been six.
The unassisted triple play, the perfect game, and hitting four homers in one game are thus comparable in terms of rarity, but the perfect game and the home run record require an extraordinary effort along with a fair amount of luck. By contrast, the unassisted triple play is essentially always a matter of luck: the right circumstances, combined with the relatively simple effort of catching the ball and running 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." 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 Don Larsen's perfect game.
|Neal Ball||Cleveland Naps||SS||July 19,||2nd||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Bill Wambsganss||Cleveland Indians||2B||October 10,||5th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner. Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.|
|George Burns||Boston Red Sox||1B||September 14,||2nd||Caught line drive, tagged runner off 1st, touched 2nd.|
|Ernie Padgett||Boston Braves||SS||October 6,||4th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Glenn Wright||Pittsburgh Pirates||SS||May 7,||9th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Jimmy Cooney||Chicago Cubs||SS||May 30,||4th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Johnny Neun||Detroit Tigers||1B||May 31,||9th||Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd.|
|Ron Hansen||Washington Senators||SS||July 30,||1st||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Mickey Morandini||Philadelphia Phillies||2B||September 20,||6th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|John Valentin||Boston Red Sox||SS||July 8,||6th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Randy Velarde||Oakland Athletics||2B||May 29,||6th||Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd.|
|Rafael Furcal||Atlanta Braves||SS||August 10,||5th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Troy Tulowitzki||Colorado Rockies||SS||April 29,||7th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|
|Asdrúbal Cabrera||Cleveland Indians||2B||May 12,||5th||Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.|