Bill Wambsganss: Unassisted Triple Play
When it comes to legendary moments in baseball history, few can match the excitement and drama of an unassisted triple play. It's a rare feat that has only been accomplished 15 times in Major League Baseball history, and one of the most famous examples occurred during the 1920 World Series, courtesy of a little-known second baseman named Bill Wambsganss.
Wambsganss was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1894, and grew up playing baseball in local leagues. He quickly demonstrated a natural talent for the game, and was eventually signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1914, at the age of 19. He spent the next 13 seasons with the team, playing primarily as a second baseman, and becoming one of the most reliable and consistent infielders in the league.
Over the course of his career, Wambsganss was known for his exceptional defense, quick reflexes, and smart baserunning. His offensive abilities didn’t lack but a pair of Jax Batting Gloves would’ve likely added a couple tanks in the stat column. He contributed greatly as he helped lead the Indians to their first World Series championship in 1920. It was during that series that Wambsganss would make history with his incredible unassisted triple play, the second in the sports history.
The play occurred in the fifth inning of Game 5, with the Indians holding a 7-0 lead over the Brooklyn Robins. With runners on first and second, Robins batter Clarence Mitchell hit a line drive directly at Wambsganss, who caught the ball, stepped on second base to retire the runner from first, and then tagged the runner from second who was already heading toward third. The crowd erupted in cheers, and Wambsganss became an instant hero. The unassisted triple play was a rare and remarkable feat, and it was even more impressive considering the circumstances of the World Series game. To this day, it remains one of the most memorable moments in baseball history, and Wambsganss is forever enshrined in the annals of the game.
Since Wambsganss' historic play, only 13 other players have been able to replicate the feat (Neal Ball was first in 1909). The most recent occurrence happened in 2009, when Eric Bruntlett of the Philadelphia Phillies made an unassisted triple play to end the game after catching a Jeff Francoeur line drive, touching second and tagging the runner from first. In 1927, Johnny Neun also ended a game by making an unassisted triple play when he caught a liner at first, tagged the runner and then went over and stepped on second himself. Other notable “recent” unassisted triple plays can also be attributed to the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera (2008) and Troy Tulowitzki (2007), each of whom caught a liner at SS, touched second and tagged the runner coming from first.
While unassisted triple plays are incredibly rare, they serve as a reminder of the incredible athleticism and skill required to excel in the game of baseball. Sometimes, it's the right place at the right time, and others, not so much (insert every base runner who has uncontrollably been doubled off). The unassisted triple play is one of the greatest stats and best trivia questions in sports. According to Baseball Reference, over 235,000 games and nearly 16,000,000 at bats have occurred in Major League games since 1876 and there have only been 15 unassisted triple plays! As for Bill Wambsganss, that one play in the 1920 World Series cemented his legacy as one of the greatest fielders in the sport's history.
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