Can There Be a Baseball Triple Play Without the Defense Touching the Ball?
Never say never, as Yogi might have said. In theory, it is possible for a triple play to occur without a defensive player touching the ball. In practice, it has never happened. Triple plays are an unusual event, but not particularly rare. There have, however, been some twists on the "normal" triple play that are rare. So a triple play that occurs without a defensive player touching the ball may happen some day -- but don't hold your breath waiting for it.
There have been more than 660 triple plays recorded in the history of the major leagues as of 2011, a handful per season. Unassisted triple plays are much more rare. And a triple play that occurs without the ball touching the bat of a hitter is a once in a blue moon -- or Haley's Comet -- event.
Unassisted Triple Play
An unassisted triple play, when one fielder records all three outs during one at-bat, has only occurred 15 times in major league history through 2010. Most involve a second baseman or shortstop. For example: With runners on first and second base, the fielder catches a line drive, touches second to force out a runner who has left the bag, and then tags out the runner coming from first. Probably the most unusual unassisted triple play happened in 1927. First baseman Johnny Neun, one of two men at that position credited with an unassisted triple play, caught a line drive, tagged the runner who had left first and then forced out the runner at second before he returned to the bag. As a capper, the play ended the game.
No Bat Touching the Ball
One of the great rarities in baseball, a triple play without the batter touching the ball, occurred in 2006 in a game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays. With runners on first and third, Mariner Raul Ibanez was called out on strikes. The runner on first tried to steal and was cut down by catcher Dioner Navarro. Then the runner on third broke for home and was gunned down at the plate by shortstop Ben Zobrist. It was the first 2-6-2 triple play in history.
No Ball Touching a Fielder
In theory, according to Hardball Times, this type of triple play could occur if you have runners on first and second base with no one out. A batter pops one up on the infield. The infield fly rule is called, so the batter is automatically out. So far, so normal. Then the bizarre stuff begins. The runner on first, who doesn't see the ball, blasts pass the runner on second and is called out for overtaking a runner in front of him. Two outs. Then the falling pop-up lands on the head or shoulders of the runner at second, who is out because he is hit by a batted ball. Three outs. Chances of this happening in real life? Astronomical, and we're not referring to the Houston Astros. But never say never.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.