This article was written by Mike Huber
On June 4, 1951, a meager crowd of 2,343 came to Shibe Park to witness the third and final game of a series between Pennsylvania’s cross-state rivals. A month and a half into the season, the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates were occupying the bottom two spots in the National League standings. The visiting Pirates (eighth place) had won just one game since May 17. Over the same time span, the defending National League Champion Phillies (7th place) had gone 8-8. On this day, the Pirates “thumped Eddie Sawyer’s men, 12-4,”1 snapping the Phillies’ four-game win streak. The handful of fans who stayed to the end of the game were treated to watching Pittsburgh’s Gus Bell hit for the cycle.
Right-hander Russ Meyer had the mound duties for the home team. He was making his eighth start and seeking his fourth win of the season and sported a 2.93 ERA. Rookie Bob Friend, also a righty, was making his third career start (and 10th overall appearance) for the Pirates. His record was 0-1 and he brought a 4.94 earned-run average into the game. Friend’s previous start (on May 22 against the Brooklyn Dodgers) had lasted 6⅔ innings, but he had allowed 11 runs on 14 hits and five walks.
It was apparent early that Meyer “did not have his stuff, as the Pirates rapped him for seven hits and five runs in 2⅓ innings.”2 Pittsburgh’s Hank Schenz led off the top of the first with a single to left. After George Metkovich flied out, Rocky Nelson singled to right. Schenz scored on Ralph Kiner’s fly out. Bell then launched a shot that bounced off of the fence in right, giving him an RBI triple. This was Bell’s first triple of the season. He finished the 1951 season with 12 three-baggers, leading the league. The Pirates had a quick 2-0 lead and never looked back.
Pittsburgh had two men on base in the second but came away empty. In the third, however, the Pirates jumped on Meyer again. Nelson led off with a triple to deep center and scored on another fly out by Kiner. Bell singled to right and Wally Westlake smacked his 14th home run into the upper seats beyond the left-field fence, “rattl[ing] Meyer into the shower.”3 Milo Candini came on in relief.
Metkovich singled in the fourth, ending a drought of 23 at-bats without a hit, but the Pirates did not score. Meanwhile, Friend pitched perfectly through the first three innings. Philadelphia’s Eddie Waitkus singled to open the fourth, breaking up the no-hitter, but after Richie Ashburn flied out, Dick Sisler grounded into a double play, and Friend had still faced the minimum.
Bell opened the top of the fifth inning by “hitting the ball out of the park via the high right field fence.”4 The Pirates now had a 6-0 lead.
Friend allowed a single to Del Ennis and a walk to Willie Jones in the fifth, but Granny Hamner grounded into a 1-6-3 double play to end any threat. The Phillies loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth on two singles and a walk, but once again, Friend prevailed, holding them scoreless.
The Phillies finally got on the scoreboard after the seventh-inning stretch. Jones singled. Hamner hit the first offering from Friend into the left-field stands for his fifth home run of the season. Andy Seminick fanned, but Mike Goliat and Bill Nicholson (pinch-hitting for Philadelphia’s third pitcher, Cristante) each singled. Pittsburgh skipper Billy Meyer made a motion to the bullpen, calling for right-hander Murry Dickson. Waitkus greeted the new hurler with an RBI single to center, but the veteran Dickson “put on the brakes,”6 retiring Ashburn and Sisler to end the rally. All three Philly runs were charged to Friend.
The Pirates put the game away for good in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded, two outs, and the Pirates hanging on to a three-run lead, Nelson “ripped his second triple of the day to right-center to highlight a five-run burst.”7 Kiner singled and went to second on an error by left fielder Sisler (Nelson scored). Charles J. Doyle of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph reported that Bell, with the cycle already accomplished, “was so vicious when he walked to the plate he was able to draw a pass.”8 Westlake stroked a single to left, driving in Kiner. George Strickland flied out for the final out (he also made the first out of the inning), but Pittsburgh had sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five runs. The Pirates added a final tally in the ninth, manufacturing a run. Clyde McCullough reached on an error by Phillies shortstop Hamner. Dickson sacrificed him to second, and McCullough scored on Metkovich’s second single of the game.
Ashburn “counted the fourth and final run for the Phils”9 in the bottom of the ninth inning with an inside-the-park home run to deep center. Evidently, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Metkovich loafed on Ashburn’s line drive single,”10 and the ball went all the way to the fence, allowing Ashburn to score safely. Dickson then retired Sisler on a pop foul to end the game.
Pittsburgh had won, 12-4. Although the Pirates had snapped their eight-game losing streak, this was only their second win in their last 16 games. Friend had blanked the Phillies through the first six frames. He allowed eight hits through 6⅓ innings and “annexed his first major league victory.”11 But he lost his next four decisions and finished 1951 with a 6-10 record. Russ Meyer took the loss, taking his record to 3-4.
Bell was zeroed in on the right-field fence, clearing it with his home run and smacking it with his double and triple. In hitting for the cycle, he had gone 4-for-4, reached base five times, scored twice and driven in three runs. With the victory, Pittsburgh “collected their greatest hit total of the season”12 with 17 safeties. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “the Buc bats were like the weather as the big three of Gus Bell, Ralph Kiner and Wally Westlake” combined with newcomer Nelson13 for 11 hits and 11 runs batted in.
After five players had hit for the cycle in 1950, including teammate Kiner (June 25, 1950, against the Brooklyn Dodgers), Bell was the only batter to accomplish the rare feat in 1951. Exactly one year later, on June 4, 1952, Cleveland’s Larry Doby hit for the cycle against the Boston Red Sox.
Bell joined the long list of Pittsburgh players who had cycled, becoming the 17th player in franchise history to do so. Thirteen seasons would go by before Willie Stargell became the next Pirates player to hit for the cycle (July 22, 1964).
Bell was in his second season in the majors. In collecting the four hits, he raised his batting average 16 points, to .302, and his slugging percentage 47 points, to .458.
Bell enjoyed a 15-season career and is known for being the father of Buddy Bell and grandfather of Mike Bell and David Bell, who hit for the cycle 53 years later, on June 28, 2004, while playing for the Phillies. As of the start of the 2020 season, Gus and David Bell were the only grandfather-grandson pair to have hit for the cycle in the majors.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Retrosheet.org and SABR.org.
1 Stan Baumgartner, “Bell Gets ‘Cycle’; Hamner Homers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 1951: 32.
3 Jack Hernon, “Club Cracks 17 Safeties Off Champs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 5, 1951: 12-13.
4 Charles J. Doyle, “Bell, Friend Help Pirates End Losses,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, June 5, 1951: 26.
13 Rocky Nelson began the season playing for the St. Louis Cardinals but was traded with Erv Dusak to the Pirates for Stan Rojek on May 17, 1951. Nelson had appeared in only nine games for St. Louis, collecting a mere four base hits, before the trade. Beginning with this series against the Phillies, Nelson became an everyday starter, batting .267 in 71 games for Pittsburgh, splitting time between first base and the outfield.