July 19, 1909 – Neal Ball Makes First-Ever Unassisted Triple Play
Cy Young was pitching for the Indians at League Park against Charlie Chech and the Red Sox in the first game of a Monday double-header.
The play-by-play of the game has been lost to history, but plenty of newspaper accounts preserve the box score and much has been written about the events that make this game notable, even 110 years later.
With the Naps up 1-0 in the top of the second, Boston’s Heinie Wagner singled to lead off. Jake Stahl moved Wagner over to second base with a bunt single. The hit-and-run was initiated with Amby McConnell at the plate. McConnel, lined the 3-2 pitch up the middle and Wagner was on his way to third on contact.
Neal Ball leaped to spear the line drive was it passed directly over second base. The ball stuck in his glove, and he landed on second, forcing out Wagner who was most of the way to third. Stahl attempted to reverse course, but Ball ran him down between first and second to record the third out.
The play happened so quickly, that initially there was confusion. Cy Young asked Ball why he was headed to the dugout. “That’s three outs,” he deadpanned. Once fans at League Park realized what they had seen, they showered the field with their hats in celebration.
Ball himself later recounted the play, “I didn’t think there was a chance of getting it but I was on the move toward second and I gave it a try anyhow. It was dead over the bag by then so I jumped and the darned thing hit my glove and stuck. The rest was easy. Wagner was way around third base somewhere and when I came down on the bag he was out. I just stood there with my hands out and Stahl ran into them. He was halfway down when the ball was hit and couldn’t stop. That’s all there was to it. I can still remember how surprised I was when the ball hit in my glove.”
It so often seems that at player that makes a spectacular defensive play follows it up with offensive heroics. Whether this is due to adrenaline, a run of good luck, or additional swagger, it was certainly true for Neal Ball. With the crowd still cheering the triple play, he hit Chech’s first pitch of the third inning deep into League Park’s spacious outfield. He rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
The Naps would go on to win the game 6-1.
There have been only 15 unassisted triple plays in Major League History. The Indians are the only team to have recorded three. In addition to Ball’s triple play, Bill Wambganss recorded the only unassisted triple play in World Series history in the 1920 Series against Brooklyn and Asdrubal Cabrera put out three Blue Jays in Game 38 of the 2008 season.
Neal Ball remains the only player in MLB history to record an unassisted triple play and a home run in the same inning–a feat that is unlikely to ever be matched.