Saturday, 24 January 2009

Gary Gaetti and the Triple Play

1995 Topps #353 Gary Gaetti
Who holds the record for the most triple plays started by a third baseman? If you didn't already know, you can probably correctly guess it's Gary Gaetti with 7. But I'll get back to that in a moment.

On May 15, 1994 the Kansas City Royals retired George Brett's number 5 during a pre-game ceremony. I was living in Kansas City at the time and was able to see many of George Brett's final games. That next spring I made the short trek to Kauffman Stadium to witness a bit of Royals history, to see George Brett one last time. Of course I stayed for the game and got to witness something that borders on amazing unless you know a bit of the background.

In the third inning, with runners on first and second with nobody out Geronimo Berroa hit a sharp grounder right down the third base line which was snared by Gaetti who fired to Terry Shumpert at second who relayed the throw to Wally Joyner at first for a routine double play. But wait, the Royals are running off the field - it wasn't a double play at all - it was a TRIPLE PLAY! When Gaetti came up with the ball, he was already positioned on third base for the first out, it just happened so fast I hadn't noticed initially.

After the game I remember an interview with Gaetti stating that whenever there were runners on first and second with nobody out, he played on the third base line LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT GROUNDER TO START A TRIPLE PLAY! When he scoops up the ball, he doesn't have to go far to get the force out which allows enough time to complete the throw to second. Gary Gaetti played every game of his career looking for a triple play! Just how effective was Gaetti at getting the elusive triple play? Between 1982 and 1994 there were 25 triple plays in the major leagues started by third basemen - seven of which were initiated by none other than Gary Gaetti. In other words, 28% of all triple plays started by third basemen (and 14% of ALL triple plays total) during that time period were a result of Gary Gaetti hugging the third base line looking for the opportunity. In fact, on July 17, 1990, Gary Gaetti was able to perform the feat TWICE in one game - something that had never been accomplished before and has never been repeated.

Two years later and Gaetti was granted free agency and his Royals days were over. The next time I got to see him play was in the 1996 NLCS when Gaetti was playing for the Cardinals. Batting fifth, he put the Cardinals ahead for good in the 7th inning when he hit a grand slam -- the first and only grand slam Greg Maddux had ever given up spanning his entire career up to that point.

I don't really have the words to describe Gaetti's style adequately, but that pretty much sums up how intense he approached the game. Perhaps I'll leave you with perhaps the strangest, tackiest website ever dedicated to a Major League Baseball player (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). It's just one of those oddities that make the internet the place that it is and is how I started thinking about Gary Gaetti again a decade after he retired. So without further ado, let me present the The Gary Gaetti Cult

Once you have recovered enough from that, here is a list of all the triple plays since 1876 involving third basemen, and in which Gary Gaetti plays such a disproportionate part.

Whatever happened to Gary Gaetti? From
Since retiring as a player, Gaetti coached in the minors with the New Orleans Zephyrs from 2002 to 2004. From 2004 to 2006, he was the Houston Astros hitting coach. Following the 2006 season, Gaetti was named hitting coach of the Durham Bulls. Gaetti's son, Joe, played baseball for NC State and now plays in the Colorado Rockies farm system.

I think I am going to start something new on my blog. Whenever I feature a player on "Whatever happened to..." I am going to try to track down that player's current status and try to get an autographed card. I won't disclose his current address, but if I have success I'll let you know...

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