The worst play in baseball history?

I’m wimping out by adding a question mark to the headline. There’s no doubt this is the worst ever.

Look at it this way. The rarest play in baseball is an unassisted triple play, which has happened just 15 times in the history of the game. (One of those was in the World Series, weirdly. And even more weirdly, two of them happened on back-to-back days in 1927.) And yet there are plenty of people alive today who’ve seen an unassisted triple play.

No one’s ever seen this happen. Not outside a Little League game, and maybe not even then.

Watch it, absorb it, then I’ll walk you through it as you slowly recover.

What you’re really watching there are two of the worst plays in baseball history, not one. And Pirates first baseman Will Craig is guilty of both.

The first mind-numbingly terrible play is Craig chasing Javier Baez, the Cubs’ batter, back towards home to tag him instead of just … stepping on first base. Craig had plenty of time to beat Baez to the bag even though the throw pulled him down the line.

Why on earth did he chase him back towards the plate? Especially since there were two out. The inning would have been over with the force out.

But that’s not the worst part of this.

The worst part is that, having chased Baez back towards home, if Craig had simply followed through on his intentions and tagged Baez out then the run wouldn’t have counted. Remember, a run that scores on a play with two out doesn’t count unless and until the batter makes it safely to first. This isn’t the same situation as when a baserunner ends up in a rundown between first and second while a runner from third breaks from home. In that case, if the run scores before the man caught in a rundown is tagged out, the run *does* count.

This is different. In baseball, when there are two out and the ball is in play, what happens on the base paths is irrelevant until the batter reaches first. Which means, instead of panicking and flipping the ball to the catcher to try to tag out the runner coming home, all Craig had to do was tag out Baez — who was two feet away from him at that point — and the run would have been nullified. Even if the runner crossed the plate before Craig made the tag.

To make this run count, in other words, Craig had to commit two of the most absent-minded blunders since Fred Merkle forgot to proceed to second base against the Cubs 113 years ago. And even then, he could have been bailed out with a bit of luck. If Baez hadn’t had the presence of mind to break for first, reaching safely, he might have been tagged out by the catcher and the run wouldn’t have counted. Or if the Pirates’ second baseman had had the presence of mind to cover first, the catcher could have thrown down there before Baez reached the bag and gotten a force out. Again, the run wouldn’t have counted.

The only way the run could have scored was if everything happened here just as it did. The batter buys time for the runner to cross the plate and then, bizarrely, the entire defense forgets that all they need to do is record the out at first to nullify the run. It’s never happened before. It’ll probably never happen again.

And almost as a coup de grace, Baez ended up on second when the catcher finally did throw down to first and missed his target, sending the ball into the outfield.

What a day to be a Pirates fan. They should be relegated to AAA.