It is amazing how one moment can keep a player in baseball history forever, no matter how good of a player they were. Everyone remembers Kirk Gibson’s home runs in the World Series for the Tigers in 1984 and the Dodgers in 1988.
It could be a negative moment. How about the missed call by umpire Jim Joyce in the near perfect game by Armando Galarraga?
But it doesn’t even have to be that big of a moment. It could be that a player struck out five times in a game, or did something unusual.
Let’s take former Detroit Tigers first baseman Johnny Neun.
Ever heard of him?
Neun played for the Tigers from 1925 to 1928, then played his final two years for the Boston Braves. He played just six seasons in the majors, none as the full-time starting first baseman.
Also in an era of power, he hit zero home runs for the Tigers and finished with just two for his career, both coming for the 1930 Braves.
But Neun did something that Tiger fans and Cleveland fans who saw the game at Navin Field — or even read about it the next day — would not forget. On May 31, 1927, Neun completed an unassisted triple play against the Indians. In the ninth inning, he caught Homer Summa’s liner, tagged Charlie Jamieson between first and second, and then touched second base before Glenn Myatt could return. The amazing play ended the game, which Detroit won 1-0 over Cleveland.
Neun went 1-for-3 with a single and was caught stealing. But his play in the field kept the Indians from scoring and the Tigers won the game thanks to an RBI single by Hall of Fame outfielder Heinie Manush, the reining American League batting champion from the previous season.
It wasn’t something that is easily remembered, but Tiger fans at Navin Field that afternoon remembered the rare unassisted triple play. In the history of major league baseball, an unassisted triple play has happened only 15 times, most recently on August 23, 2009, by Philadelphia second baseman Eric Bruntlett. Neun is one of just two first basemen who have turned the trick, the other is “Tioga” George Burns, who briefly played for Detroit, but performed his triple play feat for Boston. Cleveland has a special connection with the rare play: six of the 15 unassisted plays in baseball history have involved the Cleveland franchise, most recently in 2008 when Indian second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera turned a solo triple play.
Few people remain who can say they were alive back in 1927, and for those who didn’t remember Neun’s feat, they will forever come across his name randomly when looking at triple plays, or perhaps what happened on May 31 in baseball history.
That is how the name Johnny Neun will live on.
For the full article, see Dan D/Addona, “Rare unassisted triple play has happened only once in Detroit“, Michigan Athletic Company, June 3, 2017.
Major League Tally of Players Who Have Turned the Unassisted Triple Play, compiled by the Baseball Almanac.