Many consider the rarest play in baseball to be an unassisted triple. Some might call it the ultimate defensive gem and others might just say it’s the perfect storm where all elements necessary just fall into a player’s lap.
So, what is an unassisted triple play? An unassisted triple play is when a defensive player makes all three outs by himself in one continuous play, with no teammates participating in the play. If the defensive player throws the ball to another fielder to get an out it is considered an assisted triple play because more than one defensive player was involved or assisted with one or more outs.
The most common unassisted triple play is when there is a runner on first and second base with no outs. The play starts with a line drive straight to a fielder while both runners are advancing. The fielder catches the line drive for the first out, steps on second base for the second force out and tags the advancing runner from first.
The last unassisted triple play was August 23, 2009, by second baseman Eric Bruntlett for the Philadelphia Phillies versus the New York Mets.
Elements Need for an Unassisted Triple Play
- Must be zero outs
- Must have at least two runners on base
- Not necessary but has never happened any other way in MLB history:
- A hard line drive to the fielder
- Runners advancing quickly on the pitch e.g., double or hit-and-run
Unassisted Triple Play in Major League baseball History
Fifteen players have fielded an unassisted triple play Here are the 15 unassisted triple plays in MLB history.
- 8 Shortstops
- Neal Ball: July 19,1909, Cleveland Naps, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Ernie Padgett: October 6, 1923, Boston Braves, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Glenn Wright: May 7, 1925, Pittsburgh Pirates, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Jimmy Cooney: May 30, 1927, Chicago Cubs, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Ron Hansen: July 30, 1968, Washington Senators, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- John Valentin: July 8, 1994, Boston Red Sox, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Rafael Furcal: August 10, 2003, Atlanta Braves, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Troy Tulowitzki: April 29, 2007, Colorado Rockies, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- 5 Second Baseman
- Bill Wambsganss: October 10, 1920, Cleveland Indians, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Mickey Morandini: September 20, 1992, Philadelphia Phillies, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Randy Velarde: May 29, 2000, Oakland Athletics, Line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd.
- Asdrúbal Cabrera: May 12, 2008, Cleveland Indians, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- Eric Bruntlett: August 23, 2009, Philadelphia Phillies, Line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
- 2 First Baseman
- George Burns: September 14, 1923, Boston Red Sox, Line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd
- Johnny Neun: May 31, 1927, Detroit Tigers, Line drive, tagged runner, and returning runner to 2nd
- Only three out of the 15 unassisted triple plays did not go line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner (3 plays in bold above.
- An unassisted triple play that started with a grounder has never happened. Assisted triple plays have happened this.
- All 15 unassisted triple plays started with a line drive out.
- The unassisted triple play is a legacy that will follow each and every player who has ever accomplished this feat.
- Only three defensive positions have recorded unassisted triple plays: Shortstop, Second Base, First Base.
- Bill Wambsganns unassisted triple play was the only one in postseason history or World Series. It happened during Game 5 of the 1920 World Series between the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) and the Brooklyn Robins (now Dodgers).
- Hall of Famer Cy Young was on the mound when Neal Ball recorded his unassisted Triple Play.
- Eric Bruntlett and Johnny Neun are the only players to end an MLB game on an unassisted triple play.
- Ernie Padgett is the only player to do it in the final game of the regular season and also a double header that day.
- Thirty one years is the longest gap between unassisted triple plays.
- Unassisted Triple Plays by Decade:
- 1900s: 1
- 1910s: 0
- 1920s: 6
- 1930s to 1950s: 0
- 1960s: 1
- 1970s to 1980s: 0
- 1990s: 2
- 2000s: 5
- 2010s: 0
- 2020s: 0
Here Are Some More Rare Plays in a Baseball Game
- 20 Strikeout Game
- Immaculate Inning (9)
- Hitting for the Cycle (Single, Double, Triple, Home Run)
- Stealing Second, Third and home in one appearance
- 4-Home Run Game
- Shortstop Doesn’t Touch Ball for entire game
- Immaculate Inning (needing only nine pitches to strike out the side)