The 2020 MLB season is on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, so we’ve got some time to burn and a baseball void to fill. Fortunately, there are decades of Oakland A’s history to look back on, and even rerunball is better than no ball at all. Let’s reminisce!
Here’s the latest “this date in history” from A’s info manager Mike Selleck:
On April 7, 1996 Ernie Young starts the sixth triple play in Oakland history with a spectacular catch against Detroit in Las Vegas…after slamming into the wall to catch a Higginson fly ball, his return throw doubled up Trammell and Curtis. #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) April 7, 2020
We actually mentioned this play last week in our look back at the A’s 1996 Opening Day, which they hosted at Cashman Field in Las Vegas while the Coliseum was undergoing “renovations.” (Is there a different word for when you remodel a building to make it worse than it was before?) Young’s feat obviously didn’t come in that season opener, since it happened on today’s date, but it did come in that same “homestand” in Vegas.
The game itself was full of excitement. The score seesawed from start to finish, with several lead changes throughout the afternoon. Oakland struck early, gave up the lead, got it back, gave it up again, tied it in the 8th, fell behind in the 9th, and then (down to their last two outs) won on a walk-off dinger by Geronimo Berroa. Click here to see the full box score and play-by-play.
In such a tight affair, every out is valuable and every play counts, so this triple play turned out to be meaningful. With the A’s leading 1-0 in the top of the 3rd inning, starter Ariel Prieto allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the frame — including one by Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, playing his final season at age 38. Next up was Bobby Higginson, the Tigers’ best hitter that year, and he drilled the ball deep to center. By all rights it should have been off the wall for a two-run double, but instead this happened:
Center fielder Ernie Young tracked it all the way back to the warning track and made a leaping, sprawling catch, slamming into the wall in the process. It was such an improbable grab that the Detroit baserunners didn’t even realize it had happened, and Trammell was already crossing the plate when the relay throw reached the infield. No Tigers were anywhere in sight as the A’s casually flipped the ball to second base and then first, doubling off Trammell and tripling off Chad Curtis.
Play details: CF Young, to 2B Brent Gates (relay man), to 1B Jason Giambi (covering second), to C Terry Steinbach (covering first)
A promising rally for Detroit disappeared in an instant, wasting a prime scoring opportunity. The Tigers did find the plate soon afterward, several times over the next few innings, but Young’s dazzling gem kept them at bay as long as possible. That helped make the difference in an eventual one-run comeback victory.
As for Young, 1996 turned out to be the only full season of his MLB career, at age 26. He appeared in the majors in eight different years for five different teams, but that summer of ‘96 accounted for about half of his total playing time, with 141 games and 528 trips to the plate. He managed 19 homers, but that was a particularly dinger-happy year in which three teams (including the A’s) surpassed the all-time single-season record, so his power wasn’t enough to push his overall batting line above average (92 wRC+).
Nevertheless, my 11-year-old self had fond memories of Young, who wore green and gold from 1994-97. His baseball career went on to include an Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, and he’s currently a coach on the U.S. national team that is attempting to qualify for the 2020(ish) Games, but this particular moment was arguably the highlight of his time in MLB. In fact, it’s his only individual moment from the majors that’s even mentioned in his Wikipedia page.
As much as that last sentence might be a statement about one player’s nondescript career, it also goes to show the rarity of the triple play. As Selleck noted in his tweet, it was only the sixth time the A’s had turned one since moving to Oakland nearly three decades earlier. In over two decades since, they’ve only done it twice more. Here’s the list, dating back to 1968:
- 5/7/79 (vs. BAL): 3B Wayne Gross to 2B Mickey Klutts to 1B Dave Revering
- 6/19/79 (vs. KCR): 3B Wayne Gross to 2B Mike Edwards to 1B Dave Revering
- 6/23/79 (vs. TEX): 3B Wayne Gross to CF Tony Armas to SS Dave Chalk back to Armas
- 4/27/81 (vs. CAL): SS Rob Picciolo to 1B Dave Revering
- 7/18/83 (vs. DET): RF Rick Peters to 2B Tony Phillips to SS Bill Almon to 1B Wayne Gross
- 4/7/96 (vs. DET): CF Ernie Young to 2B Brent Gates to 1B Jason Giambi to C Terry Steinbach
- 5/29/00 (vs. NYY): 2B Randy Velarde unassisted (video)
- 8/21/12 (vs. MIN): 3B Josh Donaldson to 2B Adam Rosales to 1B Chris Carter (video)
Note: The Philadelphia A’s also turned a dozen triple plays in 54 seasons, and the Kansas City A’s managed one in 1966, started by Bert Campaneris.
In typically random baseball fashion, it took until their 12th season in Oakland for the A’s to turn a triple play, and then they did it three times that 1979 summer despite being a last-place doormat that lost 108 games. Wayne Gross was involved in all three, and then in a fourth a few years later.
Young’s effort was only the second time in Oakland history that an outfielder started a triple play after making a catch, but the real standout on the list is Velarde. His unassisted feat has only been accomplished 15 times in MLB history, making it even rarer than a perfect game. Make sure to click the video link above and give it a watch!
On the other side of the ball, the Oakland A’s have also hit into eight triple plays themselves. The unlucky batters were Dave Duncan (1968), Gene Tenace (1973), Manny Sanguillen (1977), Carney Lansford (1986), Willie Randolph (1990), Geronimo Berroa (1994), Kurt Suzuki (2010, Apr), and Mark Ellis (2010, Aug). That means it’s been nearly a decade since A’s fans saw a triple play, whether for or against.
It’s not always about winning and losing. Sure, championships are the primary goal in sports. But the journey counts too, and there’s value in the sheer beauty of the rare and amazing feats you see along the way. On this day in 1996, a replacement-level outfielder on a mediocre third-place club gave us a memory for the ages.
More this-date tweets from Selleck, over the past week:
- 4/2: On April 2, 2002 Carlos Pena hits the game ending home run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the A’s defeat Texas, 3-2 and start the season 2-0 for the first time since 1993.
- 4/3: How about a little trivia for #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory. On April 3, 1987 the A’s traded minor leaguers Brian Guinn, Mark Leonette and Dave Wilder to the Chicago Cubs. The A’s received Dan Rohn and this player in return. (Click here for answer)
- 4/4: On April 4, 1974 Reggie Jackson has four hits and a homer as the two-time defending World Champion Oakland A’s open their season with a 7-2 victory at Texas.
- 4/5: April 5 is a grand day for #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory. In 1993, Eric Fox hits the first Opening Day grand slam in Oakland history. In 1994, Terry Steinbach hits the second.
- 4/6: On April 6, 1982 an Opening Day crowd of 48,348 watches the A’s defeat the California Angels 3-2 in 11 innings…the A’s score the winning run when Davey Lopes walks with the bases loaded to force in Dwayne Murphy with the go-ahead run.