Though relatively unheralded in baseball lore, the unassisted triple play (UTP) is a far more rare occurrence than the perfect game. There have been 23-perfect games in the history of professional baseball – and as anyone who was paying attention to the 2010 baseball season, we know Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers was hosed of a perfect game on an umpires’ untimely gaff. There have actually been several more games that could in theory be perfect games, but by a 1991 rules redefinition they were written out of the records books. A 12-inning perfect game was wiped out by a 13th inning meltdown in 1959, for instance, as was a 1995 perfect game being thrown by Pedro Martinez only to have the lead off hitter in the 10th inning bring it down.
However there have only been 15-unassisted triple plays in baseball history. Consider this: for the number of possible opportunities for this to occur – generally 17 or 18 times a game multiplied by the 2430 MLB games a year – and you begin to see how truly rare a feat this is. In theory, there would be 4860 opportunities (number of games multiplied by the two pitchers on either side) to throw a perfect game every year, but there would be somewhere in the vicinity of 43,000 innings a year for there to be an unassisted triple play to be executed.
The first unassisted triple play recorded in the history books was having been executed on May 8, 1878 by Paul Hines, but there is some controversy as to whether or not Hines could have executed the “unassisted” portion of the “unassisted triple play” by virtue of where the runners were on the basepaths and how the play is actually described, but under modern rules it would not have been credited as such, and is not included in the list of UTP’s.
And as rare an event as the unassisted triple play is, not unlike the statistical glitch that was the 2010 baseball season for perfect games, they seem to come in clumps. 6 of the first 7 unassisted triple plays occurred in the 1920’s – 2 each in 1923 and 1927 – and the last 5 have occurred in the last decade – there was some 41-years between that last on in 1927 and the next one in 1968 and 24-years before the next one after that. The two 1927 unassisted triple played actually occurred on consecutive days, by two Boston players – one each for the Red Sox and the cross town Braves.
Of the 15-UTP’s, two have happened for the Boston Red Sox and two have happened for thePhiladelphia Phillies – not surprisingly since these are two of the oldest teams in professional baseball. What is somewhat surprising is that two other ancient teams – the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest team in baseball, and the New York Yankees – have never had one executed on their behalf, while one of the newest teams in baseball, the Colorado Rockies, have and only one has happened in the World Series. Most surprising to me is that the World Series UTP did not involve the Yankees, the most prolific representative in the World Series.