Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rare and Coincidental

Speaking of rare triple plays*, makes me think of my old playing days. Let's go back 19 years, to 1992, in Highland Park, IL. I'm playing the unfamiliar position of catcher, mostly by default, but also because of the fact that I enjoyed calling the game. If you're a control freak who thinks pitching would be fun, try catching.

*Yeah, my friend today shared footage of a "very rare" 4-6-2-3 double play, for which I could not share a commensurate level of celebratory enthusiasm. No doubt, I could have feigned a keen interest in the highlight, but I subscribe to following a few Bob Dylan lyrics, including the out of context, "you must be honest."

Getting back to the most remarkable play I've ever been involved in, we were playing a High School game in Highland Park. There were runners on the corners, with no outs, when the opposing batter lifted a short fly ball into center field. The Centerfielder made the catch, threw a strike to me in such hurried fashion that the runner from third said, "Oh s#!t" while retreating back towards 3rd. I took a few steps, tagged him and was able to get a throw to 2nd base in time for an 8-2-6 triple play.

It's a weird feeling being part of a triple play, especially when there are no announcers and a very sparse crowd. It's one of those moments that sort of doesn't hit you right away. It was some time later, when we looked around at eachother and shared in the rare company we kept.

Until this moment, however, I did not know how rare an 8-2-6 triple play actually is. According to the website for the Society of American Baseball Research, this form of triple play has only happened twice in the history of Major League Baseball.

These guys are the worst.
Most recently, Mark McGwire hit into one on May 31, 2000 in Arizona, playing Buck Showalter's Diamondbacks. It happened to be the 1st triple play ever for the Diamondbacks.

Almost 100 years prior to that occurrence, two other events were taking place at the same time, but on other sides of the globe.

Smoot could hit.
In New York's Polo Grounds, on July 1, 1903, the St. Louis Cardinals faced off against the Giants. No-one new it at the time, but this game would be remembered over a century later because Homer Smoot hit into Major League Baseball's first ever 8-2-6 triple play.

Remarkably, matching up with McGwire, as a CArdinal, illustrates that the 8-2-6 triple play happened to two St. Louis Cardinals and no-one else!

A quick glance through SABR's website shows more than a few 4-6-3-2 triple plays during the years. Establishing that 8-2-6 triple plays are much more rare than ones with using any combination of four infielders, we dig a little deeper to see just how coincidental this event in sports history was.

Across the pond, on the same day, July 1, 1903, people were celebrating the first ever Tour de France bicycle race. The inaugural Tour was won by Maurice Garin, who was born in a French speaking town in Northwest Italy.

1903. The Cubs were just a couple of years away from their Glory Years. Good times... and yet... sigh.

Maurice Garin was legendary over 100 years ago.

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