In one of my recent baseball games, a hitter on my team hit a ball very well, but the ball rolled under the outfield fence while in fair territory. That hitter only made it to second base because of the ground-rule double, but one of my teammates jokingly said that he could have been standing on third base so the play should have been ruled a ground-rule triple. Even though I have never seen a ground-rule triple, that got me thinking – what is a ground-rule triple, and is there such a thing as a ground-rule triple?
In baseball, a ground-rule triple occurs when a batter is awarded three bases for hitting an unplayable fair ball. Ground-rule triples are extremely rare, but they are possible when special ground rules have been agreed upon by both teams prior to a game.
The common misconception is that ground-rule triples are not possible or that they are only possible with a rule known as the “detached equipment” rule. After doing some research, I found out that it is possible to get a ground-rule triple in baseball and it actually happened 17 times during the 1903 World Series.
17 Ground-Rule Triples Were Hit During the 1903 World Series
While playing at Exposition Park (III), there was an overflow of spectators that came to watch the game. Because of this surplus of fans, the overflow crowd was jammed into the outfield, only separated from the field by a make-shift rope.
Due to this situation of excess fans, both teams agreed that if a batted ball rolled under a rope that held fans, a ground-rule triple would be called.
There were only four games played at this park, but a total of 17 ground-rule triples were hit at Exposition Park (III) during the 1903 World Series.
Even though there is not specifically a rule for a ground-rule triple in the MLB rulebook, a ground-rule can still be called if both teams agree upon “special ground rules” that include a ground-rule triple.
“Special Ground Rules” Can Allow For a Ground-Rule Triple
Prior to a game, the home team manager is allowed to present ground rules they think are necessary for the game. What are special ground rules in baseball?
In the MLB, “special ground rules” is a section in the MLB rulebook that allows home team managers to present rules they think are necessary for managing certain scenarios of the game, such as an overflow of spectators, live balls going into an overflow of spectators, or any other specific scenarios that could impact the game.
The special ground rules are outlined in the official MLB Rule book:
“The manager of the home team shall present to the umpire-in-chief and the opposing manager any ground rules he thinks necessary covering the overflow of spectators upon the playing field, batted or thrown balls into such overflow, or any other contingencies. If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal. If these rules are unacceptable to the opposing manager, the umpire-in-chief shall make and enforce any special ground rules he thinks are made necessary by ground conditions, which shall not conflict with the official playing rules.” (See Rule 4.05)
This means that a home team manager could present a scenario where they believe a ground-rule triple would be a reasonable rule to enforce during a game. In fact, these special ground rules are why there were 17 ground-rule triples hit during the 1903 World Series.
Even though there is a potential for a game to include a rule for a ground-rule triple, a special ground rule to allow for a ground-rule triple almost never occurs in baseball. Therefore, it is much more likely that any unplayable fair ball will result in a ground-rule double.
The Ground-Rule Triple at Fenway Park is a Myth
When it comes to ground rules in baseball, the MLB enforces universal ground rules, but it also allows each individual ballpark to enforce its own set of ground rules, as long as these rules don’t override the MLB’s universal ground rules.
Individual ballpark ground rules are allowed because each ballpark is built a little differently, so each ballpark is allowed to enforce its own set of ground rules for what makes sense for their ballpark.
One of the rumors that have spread in baseball has to do with how Fenway Park set up its own ground rules around what happens when a live baseball hits the ladder that is attached to the Green Monster. Is there a ground-rule triple at Fenway Park?
Fenway Park does not have a rule for a ground-rule triple. A common misconception is that if a live ball hits the ladder on the Green Monster and goes over the wall, a ground-rule triple is awarded, but this scenario actually results in two bases being awarded to the batter.
According to the ground rules set by Fenway Park, if a fair ball hits the ladder and bounces out of the park, two bases are awarded to the batter.
On the other hand, if a fair ball hits the ladder on the Green Monster and the ball bounces back into the field of play, the ball is a live ball. To see an example of this, watch the video below of a batter hitting the ladder on the Green Monster on 7/18/14.
Players are Awarded Three Bases When Detached Equipment Touches a Live Ball
Although the detached equipment rule does not technically result in a ground-rule triple, this rule is a common thing that people point to when thinking about what a ground-rule triple could be. What is the detached equipment rule in baseball?
In baseball, the detached equipment rule is when runners are awarded bases because the defense deliberately touches a live ball with a piece of equipment that is not attached to their body. This typically happens when a fielder intentionally throws a hat or a glove at a live ball.
The batter is awarded three bases when the fielder deliberately touches a fair ball with a piece of unattached equipment, two bases if it was a thrown ball, and one base if it was a pitched ball (for example, the catcher fields a ball with his catcher’s mask).
Because this detached equipment rule allows batters to advance three bases when a fielder intentionally touches a live ball with a piece of detached equipment, a lot of people consider this to be one of the ways a player can earn a ground-rule triple.
While runners are awarded three bases in this scenario, this scenario is actually scored as a triple. So the detached equipment rule is not technically a ground-rule triple, but it is one of the uncommon ways a batter can receive three bases.
Below is a video that shows an example of this in action. This video is a little grainy, but you should still see a good replay at the 50-second mark.
On the other hand, if a player intentionally throws a glove or a hat at a fair ball and they miss, the ball is still in play and there is no penalty.
As an example in the video below, Clayton Kershaw threw his glove at a fair ball, but his glove did not touch the ball. If the glove would have hit the ball the batter would have been allowed three bases, but since his glove missed the ball the play was able to continue.
In this video, the announcers speculated that this is a two-base penalty, but this is actually would have been a three-base penalty.
How Do You Get a Ground-Rule Triple in Baseball?
Now that we know what is a ground-rule triple in baseball we also know how to get a ground-rule triple. How do you get the ground rule triple?
In baseball, a team can get a ground-rule triple if special ground rules are agreed upon prior to a game and one of the teams hits into a scenario that meets those special ground rules for a ground-rule triple.
Most of the time there are no special ground rules that allow a team to hit into a ground-rule triple, but it has happened on rare occasions. The most notable occasion is during the 1903 World Series, where hitting a ball under a rope that contained spectators was ruled a ground-rule triple (see the above section for more details).