A couple weeks ago Radio Lab, an NPR program, featured a segment on Smead Jolley, an outfielder from the early 1930s. The program repeated a myth about Jolley—that he once made three errors on one play. There is no record of that happening, according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
However, in the modern era (1900-to the present), there is only one pitcher who made three errors on one play—Tommy John, who pulled off this amazing feat on July 27, 1988. John is more famous for being the first to have a surgical procedure now known as Tommy John surgery. When he made his triple boner he was 45 years old. With a man on first, he fielded a slow roller to the right side of the mound, bobbled it, allowing the batter first base (error 1), then threw the ball down the right-field line, allowing him second base (error 2). He then caught the relay but threw wildly toward home, allowing a run to score (error 3).
Told after the game that he’d tied a record set by James Seymour in 1898, John said, “I knew him well. Pitched against him in the Eastern League.
John’s was a defensive play. The great Theodore Williams—the man with five nicknames (Ted, The Splendid Splinter, The Kid, The Thumper, and Teddy Ballgame)—once got three plate appearances in the same inning! It happened on July 4, 1948. The Kid’s Red Sox were playing the Philadelphia Athletics. The great Ted Williams got to the plate three times in one inning without getting a hit; he was walked twice and ended the inning on a fielder’s choice.
Johnny Damon made better use of his three plate appearances in one inning. On June 27, 2003, playing for the Red Sox against the Marlins, in a 14-run inning Damon drilled a double, a triple, and a single.
But the most amazing (and truly a triple-triple) feat occurred in the 19th century during a game between the Chicago White Stockings and the Detroit Wolverines. Three players got three plate appearances all in the same inning of the same game! Tom Byrnes got two doubles and a homer; Fred Pfeffer got a double and two singles; and Ned Williamson hit two doubles and a single. Eighteen runs scored, putting a dent in somebody’s ERA.