- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Ron Hansen remembers the play well, as well he might. There have been only nine others like it in 127 major league seasons and only two in the 34 years since he turned a routine fielding maneuver into baseball's ultimate defensive achievement.
"It was a low line drive up the middle," Hansen told the Associated Press. "I was moving toward second base and caught it knee-high or thereabouts, maybe two or three steps from the bag. When I crossed it, I kind of made a little fake throw to first, and the runner froze a little bit. That's why I was able to tag him."
When shortstop Hansen snared the liner hit by Cleveland's Joe Azcue off Bruce Howard, that was one out. When he stepped on second before Dave Nelson could return, that was two. And when he slapped a tag on Russ Snyder coming down the line from first, that was holy cow! (With apologies to Harry Caray and Phil Rizzuto).
On the night of July 30, 1968, 5,937 sparsely spaced spectators at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium saw Hansen pull off an unassisted triple play.
It was, of course, his biggest moment with the expansion Senators almost his only big moment, in fact and it didn't last long. Later that week, general manager George Selkirk traded him back to the Chicago White Sox, from whence he had come six months earlier.
Hansen got into 86 games under manager Jim Lemon with the '68 Senators, batting just .186. But no matter how unspectacular his Washington career might have been otherwise, the triple play made up for it.
"More than anything, I was in the right place at the right time," said Hansen, now living in Baltimore and a scout for the New York Yankees at 64. "Both runners were fairly fast, which helped, and they had good jumps when the ball was hit."
The Senators, who were to finish 10th and last with a 65-96 record in their eighth season and the American League's final one without divisional play, lost that game to the Indians 10-1. Two nights later, Hansen delivered the biggest hit of his tenure with Washington, a grand slam.
In baseball, though, gratitude is just a word. The next day, he was on his way back to Chicago traded, oddly, for the same man the Senators had dealt for him earlier in the year, second baseman Tim Cullen. In a later interview with broadcaster and baseball historian Phil Wood, Hansen called the second trade "predestined." Nowadays, the two deals would be described as a loan.
As usual where the Senators were concerned, there was a weird aftermath. In that earlier day of endorsements, Hansen swore by MacGregor gloves, using an extremely flat model. The day after the triple play, Wood recalled, a representative of the company called to congratulate the ballplayer.
"Thanks," Hansen replied, "but there's a little problem. I was using a Spalding last night."
A few days later, if memory serves, MacGregor dropped Hansen for violating his glove contract.
Since Hansen's triple play, only Mickey Morandini of the Philadelphia Phillies and John Valentin of the Boston Red Sox have matched his feat. Before Hansen, the previous culprit was Johnny Neun of the Detroit Tigers, a Baltimore native who went on to manage the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds briefly in the late 1940s.
Neun did it the hardest of ways, as a first baseman in 1927. According to Wood, he caught a liner at first base, tagged one runner and raced over to third in a deliberate attempt to complete the play himself.
Perhaps Johnny didn't trust Jack Warner, the Tigers' third baseman that season.
Another oddity of the Neun triple play: It came the day after Jim Cooney had executed one the previous day on behalf of the Chicago Cubs.
Nine unassisted triple plays in 127 years and two of them on consecutive days. The odds against that must be too long to calculate.
"I don't know the odds against [even one] happening again," Hansen said. "The way I look at it, there might not be another one made for 50 years, and there might be one tomorrow."
In other words, Ron Hansen is an accidental tourist in the baseball record book.
"I'm just happy that I was a part of it," Hansen said, modestly skipping the fact that he was all of it. "I hope I'm remembered in baseball for something I did. Maybe that will be it."
Maybe?
Some years before his brush with glory, it had seemed Hansen would be remembered for a great deal. As a rookie with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960, he batted .255 with 22 homers and 86 RBI and consorted with brilliant third baseman Brooks Robinson to seal off the left side of the O's infield.
Hampered by a chronically bad back that required two operations, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound shortstop never approached those overall offensive numbers again for the Orioles, White Sox, Senators, Yankees or Kansas City Royals. Defensively, Hansen led AL shortstops three times in double plays and set a major league record by handling 28 chances in a doubleheader.
But none of these other stats will endure. The memory of his five seconds of glory 34 years ago in cavernous, nearly deserted Cleveland Stadium does.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide