On Tuesday, June 14, 1904, one outwardly typical game in the annals of American Association history became exceptional. Two fielding plays were executed by the Kansas City Blues in their confrontation with the host Toledo Mud Hens which accounted for three outs each. These rare examples are known as triple plays, and baseball has seen its share of them.
But what organized baseball has seen on only two occasions in the history of the game is two triple plays in one game. The first took place in the 1904 contest at Toledo's Armory Park. The second took place July 17, 1990 at Boston and featured the fast play of the Minnesota Twins against the Red Sox at Fenway. The first one came in the fourth inning, the second in the eighth. Despite those two gems, the Twins lost the game, 1-0.
Consider the very first game in which TWO triple plays took place in the same game. Of course the odds are astronomical for such an occurrence in the first place, but considering it was the same team that did it, the cellar-dwelling Kansas City Blues, and you're getting into the remote regions of statistical absurdity.
With a mere 450 fans in attendance for Ladies' Day at Armory Park in Toledo, the sixth-place Mud Hens took a 2-0 lead in the first against the last-place Kansas City and their starter Tom Barry, recently acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies. A five-run fifth in which he sustained a seven-hit attack was his undoing. Barry was replaced by local pitcher Zeke (Charles) Robinson, recently signed by Kansas City, in the fourth (Robinson is listed on baseball-reference as having played in only one game, that for his home town Toledo Mud Hens in 1902; he is not credited with any appearances for 1904 Kansas City).
Triple Play #1.
With inherited runners Bill O'Hara (lf) on third and Jack Burns (2b) at second, Robinson came on to face Pep (Otto) Deininger, the Toledo pitcher, in dire straits in the fourth. Deininger initiated the American Association's first triple play of the season when he lined to Ed "Kid" Lewee at short for the first out. Lewee then caught Burns off second before firing to third-baseman Suter Sullivan who tagged O'Hara before he could return safely to third base. The rapid-fire succession of three outs likely saved the Blues from further humiliation in the frame, but the damage was done as the Kansas City nine were down 7-0.
Triple Play #2.
With Robinson still on the mound, the Mud Hens were ahead 8-2 in the seventh inning. Bill Sweeney (ss) was on second base for Toledo, and Art Brouthers (3b) was perched at first with Bill Cristall (rf) at the plate. Cristall hit to shortstop Lewee who retired Brouthers at second and threw to first-baseman Jack Ryan to get Cristall. Brouthers then relayed to catcher John Butler for the final putout on Bill Sweeney to complete the triple play.
Was #2 a triple play or a triple out?
As pointed out in the Toledo News-Bee (June 15, 1904), the second triple play was technically a triple out, not a triple play. According to the News-Bee, the fact that Sweeney was not required to advance upon the bases, this was not an official triple play but rather a double play with Sweeney's out independent of the pair of putouts. Stated the News-Bee: "Had Sweeney been caught at third base it would then have been a triple play, but inasmuch [as he had] to score on his own responsibility after being safe on third it destroyed a triple play." This argument has its merits, but without greater familiarity with the rules defining a triple play, I'm in no position to judge whether this was actually a triple play or not. Most modern readers would probably agree that it was.
Were there other triple plays in the American Association in 1904?
More on this topic in a future blog. There is no log of triple plays performed in the American Association as yet, as there is for the major leagues (see http://sabr.org/tripleplays) but it's a topic that's worthy of exploring.
Box Score: June 14, 1904
In parentheses after each batter's or runner's name is their defensive position.
Neither of the three Mud Hens involved in the first triple play were American-born.
Left-hander Pep Deininger was born at Wasseralfingen, Germany, October 10, 1877. He appeared in 66 games for the Mud Hens, pitching in two, winning one game and losing none. He played outfield in 42 games, 21 at first base.
Bill O'Hara was a native Canadian, born in Toronto, Ontario, August 14, 1881. He eventually played 124 games at the major league level. He died at the age of 49.
Jack Burns was born May 13, 1878 at Salford, Manchester, England.
Ed "Kid" Lewee, who executed the front end of both the above plays, was in his eleventh season in organized ball. Born in somewhere in Ohio, January 24, 1873, Lewee never played in the major leagues, spending 17 seasons in the minors and appearing in over 1,600 games.
In the second triple play, John Butler made the final putout, retiring Sweeney; Butler was with Toledo for 24 games in 1903 before joining Kansas City that year.
Bill Sweeney, at 18 years of age, was the youngest of the group of players involved with this series of plays. Sweeney was born March 6, 1886 at Covington, Kentucky. In addition to his work with Toledo, he spent part of the 1904 season with the St. Paul Saints.
Jack Bernard Ryan, at first base to receive the throw from Lewee for second out of the second "triple play," was the eldest, and most experienced, of those involved in either of the two plays. Ryan was a veteran player with 11 seasons in three major leagues, primarily as a National Leaguer. He was born November 12, 1868 at Haverhill, Massachusetts. In his career, he played in 937 games at the minor league level, and 614 at the major league level (1889-1903); he later managed. He also appeared in one game in each of two seasons with the Washington Senators at the age of 43 and 44, in 1912 and 1913.
The Mud Hens won the contest, 8-2. It was their 19th win of the 1904 season; for Kansas City, it was their 32nd loss.
At the time of this game, my maternal grandmother, Nelle Flegel, was not yet three months of age, growing up in Houghton, Michigan.
The Blues, while finishing in seventh-place in the standings, were tied with Minneapolis for second-place in league fielding with a .950 percentage.
Toledo, while winding up spending virtually the entire second half of the season in the cellar in 1904, led the league in doubles (273) and double plays (111).
2. The St. Paul Globe, June 15, 1904.
3. The Toledo News-Bee, June 15, 1904.
4. Lin Weber, Ralph. The Toledo Baseball Guide of the Mud Hens (1944).
5. Lee, Bill. The Baseball Necrology (2004).
6. The Record Makers of the American Association (1955).