When was the last time you saw an unassisted triple play in a major league ball park? When was the last time you saw two of them on successive days? You'll have to be in comfortable middle age to answer either question, for it has been 40 years since Johnny Neun of the Detroit Tigers, a first baseman of all things, pulled off his solo triple killing against the Indians on May 31, 1927. And it has been the same length of time plus one day since Jimmy Cooney of the Chicago Cubs did the same thing against the Pirates. Since those plays more than 2,700,000 runners and batters have been put out in 50,000 big league baseball games but never again three at a clip by one man.
Today Jimmy Cooney is living in easy retirement in Cranston, R.I. He left baseball as a player in 1932, and of that great day in the past he remembers mainly that "Joe McCarthy—he was the Cubs' manager then—came charging out of the dugout and shook my hand. I don't think he said much but I'd never seen him do that before for any player during a game. He came halfway out to my spot at shortstop."
Next morning a headline in Pittsburgh's Gazette-Times told readers only that WIN STREAK ENDS AS BUCS AND CUBS SPLIT. The fans had to read through two banks of type before learning further that a "Triple Play Unassisted by Cooney Is Hair-Raiser."
"Well," says Cooney now, "maybe it was a hair-raiser, but I didn't even get to celebrate. Those were Prohibition days, you know, and if you got near a bottle of beer the club would fine you 10 bucks. That was a lot of money. I had a big dish of ice cream instead."
It took three whole paragraphs before the Gazette's Sportswriter Charles J. (Chili) Doyle got around to talking about Cooney's feat in his story of the day's doubleheader, and he didn't sound overly worked up: "To all intents and purposes the three-way put-out broke the dramatic sequence of victories which had made the Buccaneers the spellbinders of the sport. The Pirates thought they were headed for their 12th consecutive success when Cooney speared Paul Waner's liner."
Doyle wound up his essay with this final tribute to Cooney, "Jim Cooney always will remember his triple play unassisted, and so he ought. How could anyone forget?"
The way Cooney remembers the play is this: "Tony Kaufmann, the old right-handed pitcher, was working for us. With men on first and second it was my job as the shortstop to hold the runner, Lloyd Waner, close on second.
"We got the signal from Catcher Gabby Hartnett, who felt that Paul Waner, with power to right, also could hit to left. Hartnett called for a curve, and Kaufmann broke it to the outside of the plate. Waner really lined it.
"About 99 out of 100 times it would have been a base hit. Lloyd had a big lead and broke fast. I jumped and got the ball in my gloved hand. I took a step, and Waner was out. Clyde Barnhart came sliding into second. He had gone so far he was committed. They probably had the hit-and-run on. I got him easy."
The big play occurred in the fourth inning, and Kaufmann struggled on to win the game 7-6, even though he gave up 14 hits.