Ron Hansen’s 1968 unassisted triple play

More than half a century has passed since a player for the Washington Senators accomplished one of the rarest feats in the game: an unassisted triple play. It happened on July 30, 1968, a blowout loss for Washington during a season in which the Senators became the last American League team to finish in 10th place.

In the bottom of the first inning at Cleveland, Senators’ shortstop Ron Hansen snared a liner just to left of second base off the bat of Joe Azcue. On a 3-2 pitch, the two base runners — Dave Nelson, who singled, and Russ Snyder, who walked, were in motion, thinking the ball would get through. Hansen stepped on second to double-off Nelson and ran down Snyder, who was near second when he tried to reverse course, to tag him. This kept Cleveland off the board in the first, but the Indians put up six runs in the fifth to turn a one-run game into a rout, eventually winning 10-1.

The Senators only run came on Frank Howard’s homer off Sam McDowell in the second. Later in the game, Hansen was charged with an error.

My 1968 Topps card

Hansen’s unassisted triple play was the eighth ever (one was in the 1920 World Series) under modern rules and the first in either league in 41 years. The last two had come on connective days, May 30 and 31, 1927. Like every other unassisted triple play before and after, this one involved a liner to an infielder with runners on first and second, moving on the pitch. The inning is over in a heartbeat.

 After Hansen’s, it would be another 24 years until the next unassisted triple play. There were two unassisted triple plays in the 1990s and five more since 2000, the last coming in August 2009, the 15th ever. So 2022 was the 13th season without one.

Hansen was one of eight shortstops to get three outs on a batted ball. Five second basemen and two first basemen have done it. More pitchers have thrown perfect games than fielders have made unassisted triple plays.

Three days after his triple play, Hansen was traded back to the White Sox, from whom Washington had acquired him in the off-season. The Senators sent Tim Cullen to Chicago as part of the deal to get Hansen and then got Cullen back in exchange for Hansen.

 Hansen also is the answer to a Washington baseball trivia question: Who was the one person who played in the last game of the original Senators and the last game of the expansion Senators? Hansen played for Baltimore at Griffith Stadium on October 2, 1960, and for New York at RFK Stadium on September 30, 1971.

This also appeared in the May 2022 edition of The Squibber, the online newsletter of the Bob Davids chapter of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research.

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