Home Page Baseball History Features: Double Suicide Squeeze
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During the Deadball Era (1901-1919), fans were still not allowed to keep foul balls, which were viewed as team property. Here the police go into the crowd to retrieve a foul ball.
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Photo Credit: Steve Steinberg Collection

Double Suicide Squeeze

The Suicide Squeeze is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. With a runner on third base, the batter is instructed to bunt as the runner takes off for home-before the ball reaches the batter. (In the regular squeeze play, the runner waits until the batter lays down the bunt before taking off for home.)

There is an even more spectacular play, one that seems improbable and almost inconceivable today: the Double Suicide Squeeze. With runners on second and third, the batter is instructed to bunt and both runners take off for home-before the ball reaches the batter. The runner on second does not stop at third; he continues on to home plate.

Surprisingly, during the 1910s this thrilling play was not that rare; the Philadelphia used it as an offensive weapon. In a syndicated column that appeared in the Spokane [Washington] News on July 3, 1914, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton explained this relatively new play.

"One of the prettiest plays evolved by the Athletics this year is the squeeze with runners on second and third, with both runners attempting to score. In one game at Chicago both scored. The play is a variation of Mike Kelly's [1878-1893] famous play of olden times, when he used to score from second behind the man who was thrown out at the plate.

"The Athletics have worked this play three times that I know of. With runners on second and third, the batter pushes a bunt down the line, if possible, with both runners advancing at top speed when the ball is pitched. The runner from second naturally has a great lead, and turns third, gaining on the man ahead. If the ball is fielded to the plate, there is a chance to catch the first runner, but while the catcher is tagging him the one behind slides safe on the other side of the plate."

In his book, A Game of Inches, The Stories behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball: The Game on the Field, Peter Morris explains that the double squeeze was an uncommon play until the 1913 Athletics popularized it. They practiced the play in Spring Training and utilized it a number of times during the season. They even tried it in the opening World Series game that October, though it failed.

The New York Yankees soon incorporated the play into their tactical arsenal, as an extension of the (single) suicide squeeze. The Sun (New York) noted on March 3, 1918 that the Yanks had led the league in squeeze plays in 1917 with 28. (The paper noted the AL had tried the play 87 times in 1917, and the NL had done so only 21 times.) Apparently these were the number of times the play was attempted because the paper goes on to say:

"In the way of winning games the squeeze play paid poor dividends. Just thirteen battles [of the AL's 87] were captured by the man on third starting for the plate after he had been tipped off the batter was going to lay the ball down. The Red Sox captured five of these controversies [out of 27 attempts], the White Sox three, the Yankees three and the Cardinals two."

As is often the case with baseball, a new play is really the rediscovery of an old one. The May 11, 1907 issue of Sporting Life credits Hal Chase and Kid Elberfeld of the New York Americans with inventing the play and relays this account of a recent play from an unnamed newspaper, which Peter Morris points out was the Sporting News of a week earlier :

"The 'double-squeeze' play invented by Chase and Elberfeld is even more spectacular than its sensational predecessor. They tried the new play in the game of April 20, and but for the fact that Elberfeld stumbled and fell on the base line, both men would have scored on the out. Imagine what ball players 20 years ago would have said if such a play had even been suggested! For one runner to score on an infield out is hard enough, but for two to do so seems physically impossible. They are going to do it this summer, just the same.

"When the play was introduced Elberfeld was on second and Chase was pacing up and down at third. [Second baseman Jimmy] Williams, who was at bat, got a signal for the 'squeeze' play, and he very accurately bunted toward third. Elberfeld had the signal to start from second with the pitcher's swing [sic]. By the time the ball was pitched, Chase was within ten feet of the plate and Elberfeld had shot past third like a deer. Of course Chase scored. Elberfeld stumbled when he was half way and fell, or he would certainly have crossed the plate, while Collins threw out Williams. Even at that he got to his feet quickly enough to get back to third and be safe. It was a daring attempt, and it is a play which requires daring men to execute.

"It is very rare that the 'squeeze' play is tried when there are runners on both third and second. It is usually attempted when one man is on the bases and only one run is needed. When two men are on bases it is usual to wait for a hit or long fly. The 'double squeeze,' but for the accident to Elberfeld, would have done practically the same work as a single-scored two runs."

As Peter Morris points out repeatedly in A Game of Inches, the origins of many plays go back to the 19th century. The Sun (New York) of March 3, 1918 had this to say about the play's origin:

"Who invented the squeeze play is unknown, but it was used back in the Brotherhood days [1890] and probably earlier than that. Clark Griffith revived the play when he was the leader of the Yankees and they were about the only set of athletes who used it for a long time. Its fame spread to the minors, and a manager up in the Wisconsin-Illinois League nearly lost his job because he tried the play. His directors had the same opinion of the runmaking [sic] stunt as John McGraw has-that it is one of the non-essential commodities of baseball."

The paper goes on to say that when Kid Elberfeld managed the Chattanooga Lookouts, [1913, 1915-1916, 1917], they played a game in which nine of their thirteen runs came via the squeeze! The Sun continues about the origins of the double squeeze:

"The double squeeze appeared a few times last season [1917]. The Mackmen [Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics], when they were at their best in 1913, were thought to have discovered a new mode of attack, since they were experts at getting two runs on one bunt. But here again the historians come to bat with some data regarding the double squeeze long before the Athletics introduced it into the American League. The New York Sun of July 15, 1905, describing a game between the Cubs and the Superbas [Dodgers]:

"'In the fifth the Chancemen [Cubs, managed by Frank Chance] worked the squeeze with variations. [Jimmy] Slagle singled and [Billy] Maloney doubled. Chance was hit by a pitched ball, filling the bases. The base runners all came tearing along as Jones pitched the ball and had such a start when [Joe] Tinker bunted that not only one but two of them scored on the play before the horrified Brooklyns came to.'"

The play fell into disuse as baseball entered the higher-scoring Lively Ball Era in the 1920s. Should it be used in a game today, the surprise would be enormous. Fans everywhere would find the double suicide squeeze astonishing.

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