Little Bits of History

Three All Alone

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 19, 2014
Neal Ball

Neal Ball

July 19, 1909: Neal Ball makes an unprecedented play while playing for the Cleveland Naps. Neal was born in Michigan in 1881 and began playing baseball in the minor leagues for the Montgomery Senators of the Southern League. In 1907 he was signed with the New York Highlanders (now the New York Yankees) where he played until 1909 when Cleveland picked him up. The Cleveland team was founded in 1894 and would eventually come to be known as the Indians. Neal moved from Cleveland in 1912 and played for the Boston Red Sox until retiring in 1913. His usual position was shortstop, but he was also played at second and third base as well as the outfield.

Neal was the first of only fifteen Major League Baseball players to make an unassisted triple play. For this to be even possible, there needs to be no outs in the inning and at least two runners on base. Usually, the play is made when an infielder catches a line drive (first out) and then double off one of the base runners and tags out a second runner for the second and third outs. Of the fifteen men who have accomplished this rare feat, eight of them were shortstops, five were second basemen, and two were first basemen. The Indians are the only team in the franchise to have three players do this while playing for them: Neal Ball, Bill Wambsganss, and Asdrubal Cabrera.

In May 1927, Jimmy Cooney got an unassisted triple and the very next day, Johnny Neun did, too. This is the closest together this has ever happened. After Neun’s triple play, it took more than 41 seasons before Ron Hansen also got a triple, that time on July 30, 1968 – which is the longest time between the spectacular play. The last time it was done was on August 23, 2009 when Eric Bruntlett managed to again make a triple. Only Neun and Bruntlett made their astounding triples as the last plays of their game. Neun was playing for the Detroit Tigers and Bruntlett was playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.

After Neal’s playing days ended, he became a coach for the then minor league team, the Baltimore Orioles. He was coaching there when a new kid came out of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys and Neal said the kid was “the dumbest and yet the strongest player” he had coached. The kid? Babe Ruth. The two remained friends even after Ruth broke into the Majors. The two baseball players even had a friendly bowling match in 1923 with Neal winning four of the seven games. In the 1950s, Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Newfield Alleys named a tournament after Neal to honor their famous citizen. In February 1952, Neal became seriously ill with a heart condition and died five years later at the age of 76.

If you rush in and out of the clubhouse, you rush in and out of baseball. – Pee Wee Reese

The big tragedy in baseball is that the amateur spirit has gone out of it to a large extent. – Larry MacPhail

Baseball is a game of averages, but over a short period of time, to have a little luck going is not a bad thing. – Bill Buckner

You never really know baseball until you put on a pair of cleats and get out and play it; and if you play for five years, you still don’t really know what it’s about. – Waite Hoyt

Also on this day: Tennis, Anyone? – In 1877, Wimbledon championships are first held.
SS Great Britain – In 1843, the largest sailing vessel in the world was launched.
First Teacher – In 1985, Christa McAuliffe was selected to be the first teacher in space.
Raining Rocks – In 1912, Holbrook, AZ is pelted with the fall out of an exploded meteorite.


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