July 3, 1939 – Three Triples by Ben Chapman
The Indians were in Michigan with Bob Feller on the mound facing Detroit’s Archie McKain. In the bottom of the first, Chapman walked, but was ultimately left stranded at third.
With the score still tied 0-0, Chapman led off the top of the fourth with a triple. Hal Trosky grounded out to McKain, but the speedy Chapman was able to score.
Feller was cruising through the Tiger’s lineup, and the score was still 1-0 when Chapman came up with two outs in the top of the 6th. He tripled again, but was stranded on third by a Hal Trosky groundout.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers tied it up with a solo homer by Hall of Famer and former Indian Earl Averill–who played two years in Detroit in the twilight of his career.
Skeeter Webb led off the Indians half of the eighth with a fly out to center. Bob Feller got on base with a single and was moved over by a Rollie Helmsley hit. Bruce Campbell rocked a three-run home run to make it a 4-1 game. Chapman followed with his third triple of the day. Trosky grounded out to first, and Chapman was held at third. He was stranded again when Jeff Heath was called out on strikes.
Roy Cullenbine pinch hit for Archie McKain in the bottom of the eighth and led off the Inning with a home run, cutting the Indians lead to 4-2. Feller closed out the game for a final stat line of 2 runs on 5 hits, 4 walks, and two strikeouts.
Since 1920, 29 players have hit three triples in a game. The feat was somewhat more common before World War I when massive outfields were common–roughly once or twice a year In some early cases, spectators were seated in the outfield when the grandstands were over-full. The ground rules dictated that balls hit into spectator areas were awarded three bases.
Five Indians have had a three-triple game, but only Campbell’s occurred in what most would consider the modern era of hitting. The others were Elmer Flick in Game 68 of 1902, Bill Bradley on Game 82 of 1903, Nap Lajoie in Game 66 of 1904, and Shoeless Joe Jackson in Game 65 of 1912. Although many of the massive outfields were still around in 1939, Campbell’s three triples were not heavily assisted by odd dimensions. Briggs Field (later known as Tiger Stadium) would be recognizable to today’s hitters.
If you have heard of Ben Chapman before, it is likely as part of Jackie Robinson’s story. As manager of the Phillies in 1947, he heaped racist vitriol on Robinson from the dugout and encouraged his players to do the same. This was not a one-off performance. In 1934, nearly 15,000 New Yorkers signed a petition requesting Yankees fire Chapman because of his anti-Semitic remarks.
Despite that dark history, this game must be acknowledged as one of the preeminent feats of hitting and baserunning in Indians history.
The latest player to hit three triples in a game was Denard Span for the Twins against the Tigers on June 29, 2010. For comparison, there had been eighty 3+ home run games between Al Bumbry’s three-triple game in 1973 and Span’s 2010 effort.