Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

Brooks Robinson — Master of the Triple Play

Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles’ great and Hall of Fame inductee was nicknamed “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for his fielding prowess, winning 16 consecutive gold glove awards.  Obviously, any statistical analysis of players involved in the most triple plays would have to include Brooksie…right?  For sure.  Brooks’ fielding was involved in 3 Triple Plays during his illustrious career. 

However, that is not what makes him so unique vis-a-vis Triple Plays.  You see Brooks Robinson, during his playing days, grounded into 4 triple plays; more than any other player in major league history.  And, as you will see below, this is a record that is not likely to ever be broken!

Picture from the Arthur K. Miller art gallery

If you could create a blueprint for a player likely to hit into the most triple plays, Brooks would fit the bill.  First off, he played for a long time, without many injuries.  Second, Brooks was a right handed pull hitter with a foot-in-the-bucket type swing. Third, he had very mediocre foot speed (belying his quickness around 3rd base). Lastly, he played for powerhouse lineups which probably gave him alot of TP opportunities with multiple men on base.  Still, none of these potential “advantages” acount for this truly statistical anomaly.

According to SABR, there have been less than 700 triple plays recorded since the 1870s.  The frequency of TPs has gone down from about 3 per 10,000 innings at the turn of the century to about 1 per 10,000 innings for the last several decades.  Let’s put that into perspective.  If a ball player played 20 seasons, they would be involved in approximately 3,000 games or about 25,000 innings.  That means, on average, a 20-year player would witness about 3 triple plays during their career.  Not necessarily participate in the fielding or batting on the specific triple play; merely witness.  Brooks grounded into 4 TPs by himself. 

Another way to compare this feat is to look  at the other players who have hit into TPs.  Historically, there have been only 3 players who hit into 3 TPs during their career, none of them played after 1930 and curiously, all played, at one time or the other, for Washington (?)

Since no current player has hit into more than a single Triple Play, we are sure Mr. Robinson will have this dubious record for quite some time.

Hear Brooks talk about his MVP performance in the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.


Q.  Has anyone hit into a Triple Play and a grand slam in one game?

Scott Hatteberg, of the Red Sox, lined into a triple play on 8/6/2001 vs. the Texas Rangers in the 4th inning. He made amends with his bat in the 6th inning by hitting a Grand Slam Home Run.

Q. Can you have a Triple Play without a player fielding a ball?

Syndicated columnist George Will, in a 2009 Newsweek article,  posed one hypothetical way that a triple play could occur with no fielder touching the ball. With runners on first and second and no outs, the batter hits an infield fly, and is automatically out: One out. The runner from first passes the runner from second and is called out for that rule’s infraction. Two outs. Just after that, the falling ball hits the runner from second, who is called out for interference: Three outs.

Q. Has there ever been an unassisted Triple Play that ended a game?

Yes, there have been two.  The first was turned in 1927 by Detroit Tiger Johnny Neun.  The second one occurred just last year.  On August 23, 2009, Jeff Francoeur of the Mets lined out to Phils’ 2nd baseman Eric Bruntlett who stepped on 2nd base to force out Luis Castillo for the second out and then tagged out Daniel Murphy coming from first to end the game. (See play here)

Many thanks to the tireless research of SABR for the details of much of this posting.  Those guys are fantastic!

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