5

Unassisted double plays are uncommon, but they happen. First or third baseman catches a low line drive and tags the runner who led off and/or took off thinking there was no way you'd make that catch. Second baseman catches a one-hopper between first and second near the baseline, tags the base runner leaving first and beats the batter. Shortstop does the same with the second and first-base runners.

An unassisted triple play, however, seems impossible without a huge blunder on the part of multiple runners or the umpire, especially with the IFR. The only way I can think of that it would realistically happen without a major runner blunder is for the shortstop, positioned close to the baseline and near second, to catch a screaming one-hopper, tag the runner leaving second, tag second base forcing out the first-base runner, and then it's a footrace to first and the batter has a head start. The batter would have to be trotting to first for some reason (injured, older slugger).

The only other scenario I can think of is similar, but involves a pop fly and a sleeping umpire. Batter pops the ball high and right to second base, umpire doesn't signal IFR but batter's sure he's out. Shortstop or 2B muffs the catch, picks the ball up, tags the second-base runner, tags second base, and races the batter to first.

Wikipedia's possible scenario has the second baseman or shortstop standing between the second-base runner and second base itself, and the second-base runner would take pains to prevent that, because if the catcher saw that he'd signal the pitcher for an easy 2B pickoff. It also requires the first-base runner to not see the catch before committing to take second base. Either way, Wikipedia's scenario requires multiple baserunner mistakes on top of a perfectly-placed hit and baseman.

Are there any other scenarios likely enough to be plausible in MLB?

5

The easiest to imagine scenario is actually not uncommon.

  • Runners on first and second no one out.
  • Hit and run is called for by the offense.
  • Sharp liner to the second baseman on the bag he is moving to cover
  • Second baseman catches the ball, steps on the bag and tags the runner coming into the bag

The question now is A. has this happened, and B. what was the scenario if it did.

Let's take a look.

15 times since 1909 that's quite a few. All but one of them are almost exactly the scenario I describe. Second baseman or shortstop catches a liner, steps on the bag and tags the runner (or tags the runner and steps on the bag).

The only oddball in the bunch is a first baseman who caught a liner, stepped on first and then beat the runner coming back to second.

Just to add to this. This article contains a video of the two most recent triple plays. In each of them there is a hit and run called (the baserunners leave as soon as the ball is thrown) a liner is hit directly to the second baseman. he then steps on second base and tags out the runner coming from first.

  • So in a "hit and run" play strategy by the offense, the base runner would commit to the run even if he saw the catch made? – KeithS Aug 16 '13 at 18:56
  • @KeithS they are running with the pitch in this scenario. They are far far from the bag when the ball is hit. – wax eagle Aug 16 '13 at 18:59
  • Sounds stupid to me to make that call in this situation; two men on base, nobody out (but probably two strikes if not a full count), and several possible DP plays by the defense, and you're telling your guys to sprint from the bag and the batter to swing at anything he gets? Sounds like a recipe for disaster; the batter can strike out and then it's catcher's choice, or the batter can line to an infielder and it's fielder's choice for the DP. And, it's the only way to go down in history as the team that made an opposing player #16. – KeithS Aug 26 '13 at 17:37
  • ... But, I'm not an MLB GM, so what do I know. – KeithS Aug 26 '13 at 17:40
  • @KeithS There are some factors here that make this a good thing. Generally you'll have fast runners on (this becomes an undoing) who can potentially break up a double play, you get the defense moving out of position (both less prepared to field the ball and in suboptimal actual physical position). A low liner hit right at a fielder is relatively rare, so, while this has happened several times, it's not exactly a common play. And the call can be a good "make something happen" type play if the ball does find a hole. – wax eagle Aug 26 '13 at 18:03

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