Tag Archives: Boston Red Caps

The First Triple Play in the West

12 Sep

On April 4 of 1880, the California League San Franciscos and Athletics met at the Recreation Grounds (the park was located at 25th and Folsom).

San Francisco's Recreation Grounds

San Francisco’s Recreation Grounds

Two newspapers in town treated the key play of the game very differently.

The San Francisco Bulletin’s coverage of the game was headlined:

Extraordinary Base-Ball Play

The San Francisco Chronicle headline:

An Uninteresting Game with a Score of 4 to 1—Very Poor Playing on the Part of the San Franciscos

In the eighth inning, the San Franciscos’ Al Mast was on second and Andy Piercy was on first.  George “Live Oak” Taylor was at the plate.

Hall of Famer James “Pud” Galvin was pitching for the Athletics; Galvin, in a contract dispute with the  Buffalo Bisons, played several months in California before jumping the Athletics to return to Buffalo in May.

Pud Galvin

Pud Galvin

The second baseman was Jim McDonald, a 19-year-old San Francisco native.

The Bulletin’s first paragraph referred to “The feature of the game” and said:

“(Taylor) struck a powerful ‘liner’ to second base, which was neatly captured by McDonald, and placing his foot on second forced Mast out, and then threw the ball to first in time to cut Piercy off.  The play was vociferously applauded.  There is but one other instance in the history of the national game where this play has been made.”

(The article was referring to Providence Grays center fielder Paul Hines’ disputed unassisted triple play, turned two years earlier versus the Boston Red Caps)

The Chronicle, while mentioning McDonald’s play was less impressed, mentioning the play deep into its much longer recap of the game.  The paper noted that McDonald made three errors earlier, and “in a measure he redeemed himself by an effective pay in the eighth inning,” the paper described the play and noted that McDonald “was deservedly applauded for it.”

Despite the triple play The Chronicle questioned the wisdom of McDonald being in the lineup:

“(McDonald) is a player of some promise, but the policy of putting him in the important position he fills is a questionable one.  In his practice games his playing in brilliant, but in a match contest he appears to lack the necessary confidence, and in baseball vernacular he falls all to pieces.”

Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald

McDonald played primarily on the West Coast, but had a brief career in the East, spending time in all three major leagues in 1884 and 1885.  He played two games for the Washington Nationals in the Union Association, 38 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association and five with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.

After his playing career ended in 1894, McDonald was an umpire in the National League and California League, and a West Coast boxing referee; he officiated many fights including Jim Jeffries 1898 victory over Peter Jackson and Abe Attell’s 1903 20 round draw with Eddie Hanlon.

His active career came to an end in 1904 when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis; he died in 1914 in San Francisco.

“The Greatest Play Ever Made”

2 Aug

Most fans know that the first confirmed major league unassisted triple play was turned by Neal Ball of the Cleveland Naps July 19, 1909, and that one credited to Paul Hines of the Providence Grays against the Boston Red Caps May 8, 1878 has been disputed.

What most don’t know is that the first confirmed unassisted triple play in professional baseball was turned on August 18, 1902 by Hal O’Hagan of Rochester in an Eastern League game in Jersey city, New Jersey.  The New York Times called it “The Greatest Play Ever Made in Baseball.”

Patrick Henry “Hal” O’Hagan had two brief stays in the major leagues.  He played in one game as a twenty-two-year-old rookie with Washington in 1892, and trials with Chicago and New York in the National League and Cleveland in the American League in 1902.

After being released by the Giants in mid-July, O’Hagan was signed by Rochester to manage and play first base.

John Butler was batting for Jersey City with George Shoch on second and “Mack” on first (every contemporary newspaper account identified the runner on first this way, it was probably catcher/1st baseman Frank McManus).  Butler attempted a sacrifice bunt as The Times reported “O’Hagan ran in and caught the ball within a few inches of the ground, a seemingly impossible catch.”

According to the glowing account: “Having in his quick-thinking mind the possibility of a triple play, O’Hagan, with the coolness and agility which are part of a baseball player’s earning capacity, ran back and placed his foot on the initial bag thus completing a double play.”  O’Hagan then ran to second as Shoch returned from third, “It was a hot race, but O’Hagan, ball in hand, reached the bag first, thus dismissing the side.”

Diagram of the play published in The New York Times and several newspapers across the country

O’Hagan continued playing until 1908, finishing his career with Lynn in the New England League.  He passed away on January 14, 1913 in Newark, New Jersey at 43 years old.