I have a question.
What’s with all the unassisted triple plays these days?
When I was a kid, literally for YEARS we all knew that there were only 8 unassisted triple plays in more 150 years of baseball history, and that that number was unlikely to change much any time soon, because they were so rare. But since the last time the Dodgers won a World Series (with which I mark the end of my innocent childhood) the total number of unassisted triple plays has nearly doubled from 8 to 14.
Of course, this may just be a fluke, as the play is still extremely rare.
From 1876, which is as far back as we have reliable records, until 1909, there were no unassisted triple plays. Zero.
After Neil Ball turned the first one ever in 1909, there was another 11 years of silence. But then suddenly in the 1920s, like flappers, the jitterbug, and government corruption, the triple play’s popularity skyrocketed, and it seemed like everyone was doing it. Indeed, in just 7 years from the end of 1920, when Bill Wambsganss turned his famous unassisted triple in game 5 of the World Series, until 1927, major league ball players turned SIX unassisted triple plays.
They then proceeded to show just how amazing this actually was by turning only a single unassisted triple play in the next SIXTY-FIVE years.
We finally did get two in the 1990s – Mickey Morandini in 1992 to break a 34-year lull, and John Valentin just two years later in 1994.
But now we enter the 2000s, and the unassisted triple play is suddenly all the rage again. In this decade alone there have already been four of them turned, including Asdrubal Cabrerra’s last night.
Of course, in all likelihood, this is probably a fluke, but still, I can’t help but wonder if there might be structural differences in the game today which account for the uptick.
Is it because guys take more walks and thus “clog up the basepaths”, making it more likely? Is it because line drive percentages are higher? Is it because back in the day there were more Ichiro-like slap hitters, who would deliberately go for a ground ball or a fly ball in those situations, rather than just letting rip with a line drive toward second base? Is it just that there are so many more expansion teams now, so that there are just so many more innings played and thus so many more chances to hit into one?
Come to think of it, if we consider the eras in which the most triple plays happened, those two eras roughly correspond to the most offense-oriented eras in baseball history – the “lively ball” era of the 1920s, and the current era I like to call the “juiced ball” era. So maybe that is your answer right there.
In any case, it’s a ridiculously amazing play – still rarer than a perfect game.