In 1949, Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Joe Coleman, while attending a community event, was asked if anyone had ever made an unassisted triple play in the World Series. He said he didn’t know. Sitting nearby, Grace Coolidge, former first lady of the United States, quietly replied, “Yes, Bill Wambsganss did, in the 1920 World Series.”
After Ray Chapman’s death, the Indians’ pennant hopes took a dive as the players mourned the loss of the popular shortstop. His double-play partner, Bill Wambsganss took the loss especially hard. Chapman had said to him shortly before his death, “Bill, you’re the only second baseman I’ll ever play next to.” After a downturn, the team recovered and took the American League pennant.
Wambsganss (“Wamby” to his friends) was no Ty Cobb at the plate (.259 lifetime), but he was a slick fielder. He played for the Indians from 1914 to 1926, and would have slipped into obscurity. But, in the 1920 World Series he did something that stamped his name in baseball history.
It was the top of the fifth inning in Game 5 against the Brooklyn Robins. The Robins’ Pete Kilduf and Otto Miller led off with singles. With Clarence Mitchell at bat, his manager signaled a hit-and-run play. The runners took off and Mitchell slammed a line drive to the right of second base. Wambsganss, already scurrying over to cover second, leaped and caught the liner (one out). Kilduf was almost to third base when Wambsganss touched second (two outs) as Miller arrived from first. Wambsganss reached out and tagged Miller (three outs).
“He stopped running and stood there,” said Wambsganss later, “so I just tagged him.” Miller, shocked at what happened, said “Where’d you get that ball?” To which Wambsganss replied, “Well, I’ve got it and you’re the third out.”
Dead silence hung over the ballpark followed by an explosion of celebration. The Indians’ second baseman had pulled off the only unassisted triple play in the history of the World Series.
After he retired, Wambsganss managed the Fort Wayne Daisies in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Despite a solid, 13-year major league career, he could never escape his singular achievement. Long after retirement, as he neared 90, he was asked by a reporter about the triple play he made on Oct 10, 1920. Later, he said, “You’d think I was born on October 9th and died on October 11th.”
(From an article by Bill Nowlin for the SABR bio project)