Joe Cronin Hits Into One Of The Most Unusual Triple Plays Ever!

Joe Cronin Hits Into One Of The Most Unusual Triple Plays Ever!

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 Joe Cronin Hits Into One Of The Most Unusual Triple Plays Ever!

Triple plays are a rare occurrence. There have been 715 recorded since 1876, averaging about five per year. One reason triple plays are so unusual is there has to be at least two men on base with no outs to even have triple play potential. Only 1.5% of player at-bats fall into this category.

I may have uncovered one of the most unusual triple plays ever. It happened 82 years ago yesterday, September 7, 1935, in a game between the Red Sox and the Indians at Fenway Park. The fact that it ended the game as a “Walk-off Triple Play” was unique in itself; but the circumstances in which it occurred make it even more bizarre!

The Red Sox were trailing 5-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. The Indians had Mel Harder on the mount. The inning started off innocently enough: After Ski Milillo and pinch hitter Bing Miller singled, the Sox had two men on and nobody out. Dusty Cooke’s single to center scored Milillo, Miller taking second. Billy Werber also singled, loading the bases. A pitching change brought in Oral Hildebrand. Mel Almeda greeted him with a single, scoring Miller. Two runs had scored and the bases were loaded with no outs. Here’s where it got interesting.

In the featured photo above, we see Red Sox manager Joe Cronin with Babe Ruth and Bill McKechnie.

Next up for the Red Sox, star shortstop Joe Cronin, hit a screaming liner right at Indians’ third baseman Odell Hale. It was hit so hard Hale didn’t have time to react and get his glove up. The smash hit Hale in the forehead and deflected off him up into the air. The base runners, seeing what happened, all took off. But wait!  As the ball rick-o-shayed off Hale’s head, it careened right into shortstop Bill Knckerbocker’s glove, who caught the ball for the first out. Knickerbocker quickly fired to second baseman Roy Hughes, who stepped on the bag and relayed to first baseman Hal Trosky to complete the triple play.  

Game over…A unique 5-6-4-3 “Walk-off Triple Play” was now in the books!

According to author Bill Nowlin, in his SABR biography of Odell Hale: “Needless to say, any number of predictable stories on the ‘that’s using your head’ theme followed the triple play.” Fortunately Hale himself had suffered no ill effects from the glancing blow, and even hit a game-tying homer the next day.

One good thing: Odell Hale’s baseball nickname was “Bad News” Hale. I always assumed it was because he brought bad luck to his team. I found out that the nickname originated because Hale was known to be a clutch hitter who brought “bad news” to opposing pitchers.

Odell Hale played 10 years in the majors (1931-’41). He hit .289, with 573 RBIs, 73 home runs, .352 on-base percentage, and .441 slugging average. He hit over 300 four times. Did his teammates give him a “Hale and Farewell” party after his career ended? Or maybe a football helmet as a going away present! Haha!

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Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search; many photos in the gallery are from the Leslie Jones Boston Public Library Baseball collection

Information: Excerpts edited from the Retrosheet boxscore and game description, September 7, 1935; and from article on Odell Hale by Bill Nowlin:

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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