When Tom Wambsgans outmaneuvered the Roy siblings, getting himself named as the U.S. executive running Waystar Royco for GoJo at the end of a rollicking finale of the HBO series “Succession,” it likely came as a shock to many of the viewers at home. But to fans of baseball’s early days, and internet conspiracy theorists, the signs were there for Tom to come out on top, besting three competitors at the same time.
“It’s me,” Wambsgans said to his wife, Shiv Roy.
The clues were there for some, thanks to Bill Wambsganss, a second baseman for Cleveland from 1914 to 1923. Wambsganss didn’t hit much, and there’s little indication he was a stellar base runner or a top-notch fielder. But he had one moment of pure glory, turning the first — and only — unassisted triple play in World Series history.
The unusual surname, and the notion that Tom would be facing three opponents at once, caught fire on social media in recent days, thanks to a viral TikTok by Sophie Kihm, the editor in chief of Nameberry, an online catalog of baby names.
Thanks to her video, people began to speculate if the show’s writers had tipped their hands as to who would come out on top — and how. The theory had existed in various places for awhile — some believe it explained the ending of Season 3 — but, as the series began to wrap up, the idea that Tom could end up winning, just like Wambsganss, started to feel more and more plausible.
Whether the connection was intentional or not, it shined a light on a player who has been all but forgotten beyond one outrageously good play.
Wambsganss and Cleveland were playing Brooklyn in the 1920 World Series. In the fifth inning of Game 5, with Cleveland leading by 7-0, Brooklyn’s Pete Kilduff and Otto Miller both singled. Clarence Mitchell then hit a liner that looked as if it could score a run or more.
In a breathless story about the game the next day, which ran on page A1, The New York Times recounted what happened once the ball left Miller’s bat. Wambsganss, who had been playing fairly far from second base, “leaped over toward the cushion and with a mighty jump speared the ball with one hand,” the paper reported.
“Wamby’s noodle began to operate faster than it ever did before,” the article continued. “He hopped over to second and touched the bag, retiring Kilduff, who was far down the alley toward third base.”
With two outs already having been recorded on the play, Wambsganss turned his attention to Miller.
“Otto was evidently so surprised that he was just glued to the ground, and Wamby just waltzed over and touched him for the third out,” the paper reported.
The play gave Wambsganss a level of notoriety that eclipsed anything else about his career, or even his life despite his having gone on to manage in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
“Funny thing, I played in the big leagues for 13 years, 1914 through 1926, and the only thing that anybody seems to remember is that once I made an unassisted triple play in a World Series,” he said in the 1966 baseball oral history, “The Glory of Their Times.” “Many don’t even remember the team I was on, or the position I played, or anything. Just Wambsganss-unassisted triple play! You’d think I was born on the day before and died on the day after.”
With “Succession” having completed its wildly popular run on television, we will never know if Tom Wambsgans was able to thrive after completing a triple play of his own, or if he would come to be defined only by the one moment, as Wambsganss was.
In Wambsganss’s defense, it has been more than 100 years since the unassisted triple play, and people are still talking about him. You would have to assume Tom Wambsgans would be OK with having the same fate.