The wildest triple play ever? Probably!

Talk about a heads-up play

September 7th, 2022
Tom Forget /

A version of this story originally ran in December 2020.

Triple plays are always unexpected. One second the offense is threatening with a rally and the next the inning is over. Fielders look at each other quizzically as they leave the field, as if to ask, "Did that really just happen?" and, "How many outs are there?"

But while there have been 731 triple plays turned in history -- each bizarre little nuggets of their own -- nothing compares to the triple play that ended a Boston vs. Cleveland tilt on Sept. 7, 1935 (87 years ago Wednesday). Not only was this a walk-off triple play, but it started with a liner straight off third baseman Odell Hale's head.

Hale -- who once hit 50 doubles in a season and was nicknamed "Bad News" for his prowess at the plate -- was manning the hot corner that day. He was considered a fine fielder, too, with the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph giving him plaudits for his performance after moving over from the keystone. But on this day, it wasn't his glove but his head that helped out Cleveland.

Cleveland held a 5-1 lead over the Red Sox heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, but the Red Sox got a rally going. They scratched two runs across and had loaded the bases with no one out. Joe Cronin then stepped to the plate and smashed a line drive down to third base.

Cronin hit the ball too hard for Hale to get his glove up. Surely Cronin thought he had a base hit -- maybe extra bases -- and would be credited with a few RBIs. Instead, "Bad News" had some good news for the Indians.

The ball bounced off his head and, following the kind of bizarre physics that can only happen on a ballfield, popped up in the air emphatically enough that shortstop Bill Knickerbocker could race over and snag it before it dropped. Knickerbocker threw to Roy Hughes to double up the runner at second, and then Hughes threw to Hal Trosky to seal the game. That's right: It was a 5-6-4-3 walk-off triple play.

While there is sadly no video from the game, the infographic that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch may almost be better than watching the real thing:

Sadly, if Hale ever commented on the play, it's lost to history. Right after the triple play, the teams had to play the second game of a doubleheader (it's as if the baseball gods knew there was a pun there), and Hale picked up two hits in another Cleveland victory.