When it comes to baseball play rarities, nothing comes close to the fabled quadruple play. “Rare” probably isn’t even the right word to describe this type of play.
I’ve never seen a quadruple play in baseball and it’s probably never happened once in a Major League Baseball game. A quadruple play could theoretically happen, but the one scenario that would make it happen is incredibly rare. What is quadruple play in baseball?
As a general rule, a quadruple play in baseball occurs when the defense retires four players in one play. A quadruple play could occur when the bases are loaded, a fly ball is caught, no runners tag up, and the defense appeals the run that scored from third base.
The news of a Massachusetts Little League baseball team pulling off a “quadruple play” in their game has sparked the interest of many, but that play wasn’t technically a quadruple play. In the rest of this article, we’ll discuss what is a quadruple play in baseball go into more depth as to how it could theoretically happen.
What Is a Quadruple Play in Baseball?
In baseball, a quadruple play is a term that describes a play in which the defense makes four legal outs on the same play.
To date, we’ve yet to see an actual quadruple play taking place because it’d require some bizarre baserunning, a lot of confusion, and retiring base runners in the correct order.
While the defense only needs to acquire three outs in one inning, it is actually possible to get four outs in one inning.
In order to understand how a quadruple play can occur in baseball, we first need to understand how it’s possible to get four outs in one inning (and not just in one play).
The Fourth Out Rule in Baseball
In baseball, the fourth out rule is when the defense makes a legal fourth out in one inning.
The fourth out rule typically comes into effect when a runner on third base scores, but that runner forgot to tag up and the inning ended because another runner caused the third out.
For example, imagine there is one out in the inning and there are runners on 2nd and 3rd base. The batter hits a fly ball to left field.
Both runners thought the ball was going to land, but it turns out the left fielder made a diving play for the first out. The runner who was on third base scores, but the runner on second base gets out because they didn’t tag up.
In this scenario, there are already three outs, but the run counts.
So the defense needs to appeal that the runner on third base didn’t tag up. Once that appeal occurs, the runner on third base is also out (for the fourth out of the inning).
While I’ve never been in a game where we needed to get four outs in one inning, it does happen. Below is an example of why it’s important to know about the fourth out rule in baseball (because the run will count if you don’t know it).
You can already imagine this type of play is rare, but it’s important to first understand the fourth out rule in order to understand how it’s technically possible to turn an even rarer quadruple play.
How to Turn a Quadruple Play in Baseball
In baseball, a quadruple play is a combination of a triple play and the fourth out rule all happening in one play.
While a quadruple play is only a theoretical play, here are the exact steps needed for a team to turn a quadruple play:
- The bases are loaded with no outs
- The batter hits a fly ball
- All base runners think the ball will land, so nobody tags up
- A fielder catches the fly ball for the first out
- The fielder throws the ball to first base for the second out
- That fielder throws the ball to second base for the third out
- The runner on third base scored, so the defense must appeal that the runner left early (fourth out)
Once all of these steps occur, a team has turned a quadruple play.
Though theoretically possible, it’s never happened in professional baseball and probably never will. The closest thing a quadruple play came to happening was in 1978, in Cuba.
According to then-Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell, Wilfredo Sanchez (known as the greatest batter in Cuban history) once came within inches of getting four legal outs in one play.
The only downside is that the runner on third base actually tagged up and ended up scoring before the third out was recorded.
Wilfredo Sanchez is proof that quadruple plays are technically possible; he came extremely close to pulling it off, after all.
As far as I know, we don’t have video evidence of Wilfredo Sanchez’s phenomenally rare triple play and almost quadruple play. Even if there is, it’s probably lost to time by now.
Has There Ever Been a Quadruple Play in Baseball?
From what has been recorded in MLB history, a quadruple play has yet to be achieved.
The closest example we have of a quadruple play occurred in the 1978 Cuban game (mentioned above) with Wilfredo Sanchez, but it was an “almost” incident for the quadruple play.
Some sources claim the White Sox pulled off the rare quadruple play against the Royals in September 2010, but the White Sox didn’t even play against the Royals on the day the post claimed. Also, the post was written in an almost satirical fashion. It’s certainly a fun read, but it’s all made up.
Another close attempt of a quadruple play happened with the Massachusetts Little League baseball team in August 2022.
In this scenario, there was already one out, the left fielder made a great catch for the second out, then the runner on third was thrown out at home.
After the runner was thrown out at home the inning was over, but there was confusion so the defense continued playing and tagged the remaining two runners (even though one runner was the batter who was already out).
So technically, the play from the Massachusetts Little League baseball team was not a quadruple play, but it was still an incredible play nonetheless.
I’ve no doubts that someone, somewhere, has managed to pull off a quadruple play, even if unintentionally. There are thousands of baseball games played every year across all types of leagues, so chances are that a quadruple play has happened before, but we’ve yet to witness it with Major League.
For now though, the quadruple play remains theoretical in practice.