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Strange But Possible Baseball Stories
2003-05-18 01:35
by Mike Carminati

While I'm on the subject strange applications of baseball rules of late, there's a doozy that's been circulating in the SABR mailing list of late. It's sort of a baseball urban legend (an Urban Shocker?). Some have claimed that so-and-so told them that it actually happened in a minor-league game. Others attribute it to rule geeks with an overdeveloped imagination. It's already the stuff of legends-like some people don't believe that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Al Gore are real.

It goes something like this: it is possible for a team to turn a triple play without having a single defensive player touch the ball.

Huh, how can that possibly be? Well, I guess the botched infield fly play by the Expos the other day got a lot of people's creative juices a-flowing. How the play would enfold would be as follows:

- First, there would have to be runners at first and second and no outs.

- The batter hits a fair fly ball that can be fielded by one of the infielders. He would then be out by the infield fly rule, even if no one touches the ball. One Out.

- The runner at first passes the runner at second. The runner at first is automatically out:

Any runner is out when... (h) He passes a preceding runner before such runner is out;

I remember a ball that Tim McCarver hit in his final year that invoked this rule (it may have been spring training). The bases were loaded and McCarver hit a ball over, I believe, the right field wall. As McCarver ran, he watched the flight of the ball and didn't notice that he had passed the runner at first. He was credited with a single and was declared out. All three runners scored, however. McCarver laughed his way to the bench as I remember.

Two Outs.

- The runner at second is struck by the batted ball as it lands:

Any runner is out when...(f) He is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance. EXCEPTION: If a runner is touching his base when touched by an Infield Fly, he is not out, although the batter is out; If two runners are touched by the same fair ball, only the first one is out because the ball is instantly dead. If runner is touched by an Infield Fly when he is not touching his base, both runner and batter are out.

Three Outs and no fielder touched the ball

It is important that those steps occur in the above order in the way described.

If the runner at first passes the runner at second after he has been struck by the ball, then the runner at second would already be out and could not affect the runner at first. Besides the ball would be dead, and he could not advance anyway.

If the runner at second keeps his foot on the bag when he is hit by the ball, he is not out. If the ball hits both runners, only the first is out and the ball is dead. If the ball is past, say, a drawn-in infielder, then the runner at second is not out.

Of course, this is an extremely unlikely set of events, which may explain why it (most probably) has never occurred. I mean, why would the runner at first run past the bag at second, in order to pass the lead runner, on a ball that is clearly not leaving the infield? Perhaps, he could have lost sight of the ball or believed that it was traveling further that it in actuality did or thought there were two outs already. In that case, it is imperative for the trailing runner to check out the third base coach and the lead runner to determine what to do, who would help prevent such miscues.

The lead runner would probably stay on the bag, eliminating rule 7.08 (f). Besides, where are the fielders? If a middle infielder-given that the lead runner is hit by the ball-cannot make a play, he would probably be in front of the ball and not behind it.

Let's assume that the play did occur. How would it be scored? I believe it would be listed as an unassisted triple play attributed to the player closest to the ball when it landed. In Tuesday's botched infield fly play, Fernando Tatis dove too late to catch the ball. It was scored a fly out to third, even though the ball was closer to home than third.

Also, I would think there are any number of nutty immaculate triple plays that you could come up with if you wanted to be creative. Why there's rule 7.09(g):

It is interference by a batter or a runner when...(g) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

Say the bases are loaded and none are out in a tie ballgame in the top of the ninth. The infield is drawn in. The coaches flash that the suicide squeeze is on, but the batter does not see the sign and is swinging away. The runner at second is overzealous and passes the runner at third, who realizes that the batter is swinging away. The batter hits a sharp one hopper to the second baseman, which further freezes the runner at third allowing the runner at second to pass him and be declared out. The runner at first realizes that it is a double play ball and interferes with the drawn-in second baseman before he fields the ball to avoid the double play. Both the runner at first and the batter are out for interference and the ball is dead before the defense touches it. Three outs and no one has touched the ball.

These scenarios are possible but highly improbable since they involve a number of dubious choices by a number of players. They are fun to think about though. And after seeing the Montreal play the other day, I'm starting to believe anything is possible.

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