Baseball Basics: The Unassisted Triple Play


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Colorado Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki turned an unassisted triple play back in 2007. Image via Wikipedia

“What is the hardest play in baseball?”

“The unassisted triple play.”

Does this question ring a bell at all? Maybe from a Holiday Inn Express commercial that played a million times throughout the regular season.

The ad wizards behind that one should be ecstatic because I have been asked to explain the unassisted triple play more times than I can count, because of that commercial. And ironically, it has been mostly girl friends and very mild baseball fans that have been so curious about the what, how and why of the unassisted triple play.

So, what is the definition of an unassisted triple play?

An unassisted triple play is when a defensive player gets all three outs on his own, within the same play. No other defensive player can touch the baseball or contribute in any way.

What happens in a “typical” unassisted triple play?

In a “typical” unassisted triple play there would be runners on first and second, and categorically there can be no outs in the inning.

The two base runners’ call for a hit and run, which entails both taking off the moment the ball leaves the pitchers hand. Basically it is like getting a head start.

Then the batter hits a line drive right at the shortstop, or second baseman that happens to be positioned close to second base. The SS or 2B catches the ball on the fly (out #1), then proceeds to touch second base (out #2) and then tags the runner who came from first (out #3).

Why are shortstops and second basemen purposely used in the example?

The shortstop and second baseman positions combined for 13 of the recorded 15 unassisted triple plays in baseball history. This obviously makes sense, as it is guilty by location, as a player’s chances go way up because of where they are positioned.

Why is the unassisted triple play the hardest play in baseball?

I would not say it is the hardest play, but it is by far the most infrequent.

To date, only 15 MLB players in the history of the game (including the postseason) can put the unassisted triple play as an accomplishment on their résumé. This makes the unassisted triple play the toughest single defensive achievement to conquer in the game.

Fans have a better shot at witnessing a perfect game, or seeing a hitter go deep four times in the one game than it is to ever see an unassisted triple play.

Watch the last unassisted triple play to date, turned by Philadelphia Phillies 2B Eric Bruntlett on August 23, 2009 vs. New York Mets. It was only the second time ever that an MLB game ended with an unassisted triple play. 

          Courtesy of of  on Aug 23, 2009