The Most Famous Unassisted Triple Play in History

An Impressionist View of Bill Wambsgans and the three men he retired on one immortalizing World Series play.

An Impressionist View of Bill Wambsganss and the three men he retired on one immortalizing World Series play.

Bill Wambsgans: The Synonym for Unassisted Triple Play.

Bill Wambsganss: The Synonym for Unassisted Triple Play.

Any name beyond 1920 Cleveland Indians 2nd baseman Bill Wambsganss doesn’t count here. From the moment we first read of him in the baseball books that circulated for kids in the days beyond World War II, the name Bill Wambsganss rose to the level of deep respect in our nation of sandlot baseballists. My first impression was drawn to the fact that his name so fit the deed. A guy who is capable of pulling off one of baseball’s most unusual plays, and in a World Series, no less, ought to have an equally rare name.

What is a “Wambsganss”? He’s a fellow who makes unassisted triple plays – in the World Series, for Chris sakes!

Nobody had done it in the World Series until Bill did it 1920 – and no other player has done it since then on baseball’s biggest stage. Like Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game for the New York Yankees in the last World Series played against the Brooklyn version of the Dodgers, Bill Wambsganss pulled off the only unassisted triple play in World Series history as a 2nd baseman for the Cleveland Indians in 1920 against the Brooklyn Robins.

Let’s recount how it happened:

“In game five of the 1920 World Series played at League Park, Wambsganss caught a fifth-inning line drive batted by Clarence Mitchell, stepped on second base to retire Pete Kilduff, and tagged Otto Miller coming from first base, to complete the first, and to date, only unassisted triple play in World Series history.” – Wikipedia.

Re-Cap (L>R) Pete Kilduff was Out #2 on a tag of the bad at 2nd;; Clarence Mitchell was Out #1 on a line drive; and Otto Miller was Out #3 on a body tag as he attempted to get back to 1st.

Re-Cap (L>R) Pete Kilduff was Out #2 on a tag of the bag at 2nd;; Clarence Mitchell was Out #1 on a line drive up the middle; and Otto Miller was Out #3 on a body tag as he attempted to get back to 1st.

The Cleveland Indians won the best five games of nine 1920 World Series, 5 games to 2, over the Brooklyn Robins. Games Five’s famous Wambsganss play also included the first Grand Slam HR when Elmer Smith hit one off Burleigh Grimes of Brooklyn in the 1st inning.

After the season, Cleveland fans presented Bill Wambsganss with a special medal for his unusual triple play on the field. Sadly, he lost the medal on a train ride in spring training the following year, fostering the imaginations of some that it’s probably in an old Mason Jar on a shelf in some ancient flea market in Georgia by now.

Bill Wambsganss retired after the 1926 season from a 13-season career that saw him bat .259 as a major leaguer, but, because of one play in the World Series, he will never be forgotten.

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to “The Most Famous Unassisted Triple Play in History”

  1. Mark W. Says:

    Yep, the World Series is a big stage. That’s why everyone remembers Bill Mazeroski, and some of us even remember Brian Doyle, Al Gionfriddo, and Chad Curtis. And even though 1920 is way before my time (the year my father, who is still keeping my mother on her toes) was born, it’s because they established firsts in the 1920 series that I grew up knowing about Bill Wambsganss and Elmer Smith. Bill, do you know who hit the first pinch-hit homerun in a World Series game – without looking it up?

  2. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Mark ~ Write it up as an article and send it to me by e-mail attachment. I’d like to feature you as a guest columnist and this would be a great place for you to start what I hope will be many contributions to The Pecan Park Eagle. Our readership deserves your eloquence. ~ Regards, Bill

  3. Patrick Callahan Says:

    Bill: –> it would be interesting to see a record fo other unassisted triple plays in the majors. My Father Harry Callahan was living in Chicago during his early single years and used to go to either the Cubs or the Sox parks and often told me of his witnessing an unassisted triple play similar to the one described here only by a third baseman; same general scenario; line drive stepped on bag and tagged runner. At least that’s the way I remember the story.
    Keep up the great work . . . .
    PAC

  4. Doug S. Says:

    I was umpiring a youth league game (I think 13-14 year olds but might have 13-15 years old) in LaVernia, TX in 1990 or 91 and got to call a Pitcher unassisted Triple Play. A line drive up the middle that that Pitcher stretched up to catch and his momentum took him off the back side off the mound. The hit and run or double steal was on and thus he simply tagged the runner coming from first a few steps to the first base side of second base before stepping on second base before the runner got back to the base to complete the odd Triple Play.

  5. Mark W. Says:

    That has to be a rare triple play!

    Bill, it’s a trivia question – hardly worthy of an article. It’s a two-word answer: Yogi Berra, 1947 World Series. Hard to believe it took longer for a WS pinch homer than it took for a WS unassisted triple play. Has there even ever been any other triple play in WS history?

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