Hitting for the Cycle

This article was written by Joseph G. Donner

This article was published in 1981 Baseball Research Journal

Hitting for the cycle is coming back into style. A player connecting for a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game is a feat that has been accomplished with unusual regularity in recent years. In 1976 six players did it; in 1977 three, 1978 three, 1979 four, and in 1980 five. In comparison, only 11 were hit in the decade of the 1950s and 14 in the 1960s when team expansion took place. There were 28 cycles in the 1930s and 23 in the war-ridden 1940s.

Up to the start of the 1981 season, players had hit for the cycle 198 times since  1882 when the first one was accomplished by Charles Foley of Buffalo in a May 25 National League game against Cleveland. Foley did his cycle in reverse order, hitting a grand slam homer in the first inning, a triple in the second, a double in the fifth, and a single in the seventh. All came off George Washington Bradley, the one-time star hurler who had pitched 16 shutouts for St. Louis in 1876, but who this day absorbed a 20-1 shellacking.

There were a number of years, of course, when no cycles were hit, including the first six years of the NL. There was another gap in the NL from 1897 to 1900. The American League had an even longer hiatus from 1913 to 1919 when no player connected. No player completed the cycle in either league in 1955-56, and, most recently in 1967 and 1969.

Of the 198 cycles achieved through 1980, 99 were hit in the NL, 79 in the AL, 18 in the old American Association, one in the Players League of 1890 (Roger Connor), and one in the Federal League (Jim Lennox in 1914).

There have been three “tricyclists” and 18 “bicyclists.” The last player to do it twice was Bob Watson, who acquired additional publicity as the first player to hit one in each league – with Houston on June 24, 1977, and the Boston Red Sox on September 15, 1979. However, if you go back some 90 years, you will find that “Long John” Reilly, a long-forgotten first baseman with Cincinnati, connected both in the old AA and in the NL. In fact, the six-foot, three-inch Reilly, who had a fine spread of extra-base hits for his ten years in the majors, hit two cycles in the AA in 1883 and only a week apart.

Playing for Cincinnati on September 12, he came through with 3 singles, a double, triple, and homer in a wild 27-5 victory over Pittsburgh where he scored six runs himself. He repeated the cycle against Philadelphia on September 19, and the victim of all four hits was George Bradley, who had given up the first cycle to Foley the year before. When Cincinnati moved into the NL in 1890, Reilly, on his way to a new league record of 26 triples, achieved another cycle on August 6. He thereby became the first to hit two in one season, the first to connect in different leagues, and the first to hit a total of three cycles.

Babe Herman also hit three cycles – two with Brooklyn in 1931 and one with the Cubs in 1933. Bob Meusel connected three times for the New York Yankees, in 1921, 1922, and 1928. For those hitting cycles on two occasions, two players almost forgot how to do it before connecting for their second cycle. Eleven years elapsed for Joe Cronin, 1929 and 1940, and Joe DiMaggio, 1937 and 1948. DiMaggio added an extra home run in both of his cycles, to give him four long hits, 14 total bases, and especially big batting days. The biggest batting day for a cycle hitter was achieved by Larry Twitchell of the 1889 Cleveland club. He had six hits, including three triples, which gave him five long hits and 16 total bases on August 15 of that year.

There were 19 players who needed extra innings in which to complete their cycles. One, Tim Foli of Montreal, needed two days! In a game against the Cubs on April 21, 1976, he hit a single, double and triple before the game was called because of darkness with Expos leading 11-3. When the game was resumed at Wrigley the next day, Foli hit a home run in the eighth inning to complete the cycle.

Cycles have been hit by players at all positions except pitcher. Several catchers did it, including Mickey Cochrane twice. The first time Jimmy Ryan hit for the cycle, on July 28, 1888, he started the game in centerfield. With two out in the second inning, he went into pitch. Ryan hurled the rest of the game, winning a 21-17 slugfest for Chicago. A check of the play-by-play shows that Ryan, the lead-off batter, hit a single in the first and a triple in the second before taking over as pitcher. Later in the game he connected for a double, another triple, and a homer; consequently, he had no legitimate claim to being the only pitcher in the majors to hit for the cycle.

Click here for an updated list of all cycle htters, courtesy of the Baseball-Reference Play Index.