In the discussion of favorite/best/first Cubs games Tuesday, BCBer Theo’s Spare Soul brought up the game on June 2, 1983, in which the Cubs turned a triple play. It was an unusual one — a 5-4-3 around-the-horn triple play, helped by the fact that a slow runner (Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden) was the hitter.
This prompted me to look up some information on Cubs triple plays. In so doing I discovered that the 1983 play was the last time the Cubs turned one at Wrigley Field, coming up on 34 years ago.
All told, the Cubs have turned 29 triple plays since 1900 (and had 11 others before then). They’ve turned three others since 1983 -- August 8, 1985 vs. the Cardinals at St. Louis, July 9, 1986 vs. the Giants at San Francisco and May 10, 1997, also vs. the Giants at San Francisco.
So this coming May it’ll be 20 years since the Cubs last turned a triple play.
Per the SABR Triple Plays Database (searchable if you are a SABR member), only one team has a longer triple-play drought than the Cubs — the Reds, who haven’t turned one since 1995.
Why is this so? Hard to say. Triple plays are kind of random — the White Sox turned three last year, and have had six since the Cubs last had one. It’s really a function of baserunners and who you’re playing and how they’re playing the game. Many triple plays come on hit-and-run plays where the hitter then hits a line drive up the middle, caught by the shortstop or second baseman who then has an easy time doubling the runners off base.
And then there are weird ones like the one the White Sox turned last April:
I haven’t been able to locate video of the Cubs’ last Wrigley triple play, the one in 1983, nor of the last one overall in San Francisco in 1997, but I did find this video of one they had against the Pirates in Pittsburgh July 2, 1972:
Note that there were runners on first and second at the time. The first four men had reached base in that inning and the Pirates had scored twice before Manny Sanguillen, a very slow-running catcher, hit a ball right to Ron Santo, who started the around-the-horn triple play. Oddly, before that 1985 triple play against the Cardinals, the Cubs’ previous four triple plays were all against the Pirates: the one in 1983, the one in 1972, and two in 1965: October 3 in Pittsburgh and in the second game of a doubleheader July 25 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs had a third 1965 triple play turned just 11 days earlier, also in the second game of a doubleheader, July 14 against the Braves at Wrigley.
Told you it was kind of random. Javier Baez nearly started one last April in Cincinnati:
Also, because I know you’ll ask, the last triple play turned against the Cubs was September 14, 2014, by the Pirates (what is it with the Cubs and Pirates and triple plays?) in Pittsburgh. Matt Szczur was the hitter:
That’s the only triple play the Cubs have hit into since 2000.
The Cubs have done quite a few things in the last two seasons that hadn’t been done in decades, or longer. Perhaps in 2017, along with defending their World Series title, they can end their triple-play drought.