I’ve always been fascinated with players hitting for the cycle. Of all of baseball’s unusual events, to me the cycle is the least appreciated. Hitting for the cycle is surprisingly rare. According to Baseball Reference there have been 218,168 major league baseball games played in the history of the sport. There have been 299 no-hitters thrown and only 324 players have hit for the cycle. Natural cycles, where a player collects his hits in order: single, double, triple and home run are even rarer.
There have only been 14 natural cycles in major league history. The first natural cycle was accomplished on October 6, 1910 when Bill Collins of the Boston Doves pulled off the feat against the Philadelphia Phillies. The last natural cycle was on September 13, 2006 by Gary Matthews, Jr.of the Texas Rangers in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Baseball statisticians have calculated that an average player would likely hit for the cycle once every 4,400 games. For a true superstar like Mike Trout, the odds increase to one cycle every 2,700 games. Hitting higher in the lineup obviously increase your chances while batting in the 7th slot cuts your chances in half.
The very first player to hit for a cycle was George Hall of the Philadelphia Athletics who pulled off the cycle against the Cincinnati Red Stockings on June 14, 1876. Ted Williams missed three seasons due to military service and came back to hit for a cycle on July 21, 1946.
I have attended and watched hundreds of baseball games in the last fifty years and have only witnessed one cycle, but what a cycle it was. On October 8th, 2018, Brock Holt became the first player to hit for a cycle in a postseason game when he did it against the New York Yankees. Holt needed a ninth inning home run to collect his cycle. Granted it came against backup catcher Austin Romine who was mopping up a blowout game, but I will admit I was rooting for him to do it. Holt was jacked up. His teammates were pumped. Watching the game on TV, I was pumped!
I’ve never seen a member of the Royals collect a cycle, though I did come close once. I attended a Royals-Twins game on August 11, 2009 in the old Metrodome. The Twins were on their way to the American League Central title while the Royals were on their way to an ugly 65-97 finish. In fact, their lineup that day was ugly. Some guy named Josh Anderson started in right field. I had to look him up to verify his existence. Mike Jacobs was the DH. Alberto Callaspo started at second while Yuni played short and Mitch Maier started in center field. A young Alex Gordon played third. The pitcher was none other than Kyle Davies. The catcher that night was a stocky right-handed hitting Miguel Olivo. Olivo’s career stretched over 13 seasons. He played 198 games in Royals uniform was performed well, slashing .251/.286/.470 with 35 home runs and 106 RBI. I always liked watching Olivo. He always seemed to play with some fire in his belly. My seat was on the rail in the upper deck of left field, which in the Metrodome is a long way from the action.
Olivo was batting in the six slot that evening, which based on the odds shown above, greatly reduced any chance of him hitting for a cycle. But on this night, the Royals bats were working. Olivo came to the plate in the top of the first against Twins starter Nick Blackburn and laced a two-out triple to right field. Gordon followed with a ground rule double and the Royals jumped to a quick 4-0 lead. For a player to hit for the cycle, the triple is the key hit. Olivo, who must have possessed decent speed for a catcher, hit 26 triples in his career and he got this one out of the way early.
In the top of the third, facing reliever Brian Duensing, Olivo smoked a leadoff home run deep into the left field seats, right below where I was sitting. Looking at my scorecard, I realized that something special might be happening, so I started to work my way into a better seat in the sparsely attended game. The Royals continued to pour it on and in the top of the 4th, Olivo beat out a slow grounder to third for a single. I now realized that Olivo had a real chance to pull off the cycle. The game was turning into a blowout, with the Royals holding a 9-1 lead at the end of four innings. Olivo only needed a double and as long as manager Trey Hillman didn’t pull him, he would get at least two and maybe three more at-bats.
In the top of the 6th, Callaspo led off with a single bringing Olivo the plate to face Bobby Keppel. By this time, I had moved to a seat just a few rows behind home plate in anticipation of witnessing the cycle, but no go as Olivo went down swinging.
In the top of the 8th, with Kansas City now holding a 12-2 lead, Olivo once again came to the plate with a chance to close out the cycle. Facing Jesse Crain, he drew an agonizing walk and I figured that was it. There’s no way he’ll get another plate appearance, right? Wrong. The Royals sent eight men to the plate in that 8th inning, upping their lead to 14-2.
Think about that for a minute. They sent eight men to the plate and only scored two runs. Then the wheels almost came off. Hillman brought in a right-handed reliever named Doug Waechter to pitch the 8th. Waechter must have been coming off of some kind of arm injury because his fastball was topping out between 78 and 82 MPH and the Twins were not missing that cheese. Waechter faced six batters in a brutal 1/3 of an inning, giving up three hits and two walks while allowing three runs before Hillman mercifully pulled him for Bruce Chen.
In the top of the ninth, Olivo came to the plate with one out and a chance to get his cycle. It was not to be, as Jose Mijares got him swinging. The Royals ended up winning 14-to-6, in a game that felt closer than the score. They pounded out 18 hits, with every Royal collecting a hit except for Josh Anderson. Davies got the win.
In Kansas City baseball history, amazingly no Kansas City Athletic ever hit for the cycle. In fact, there was only one cycle against the A’s, when Lou Clinton of the Red Sox did it on July 13, 1962 in a game in Kansas City.
There have been seven players hit for the cycle against the Royals. The first was the great Rod Carew of the Twins in a game at Municipal Stadium on May 20, 1970. The last cycle was by Jeff Davanon of the Angels, who accomplished the feat in a game on August 25, 2004.
There have been four Royals hit for the cycle: Freddie Patek, John Mayberry, George Brett (twice) and Frank White (twice).
Going into the 2019 season, there has not been a Royal hit for the cycle in 28 years. Not that there haven’t been players capable of doing it. Alex Gordon comes to mind. Eric Hosmer certainly had the ability during his time in KC, as did Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon. Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn appear to be the most likely candidates on the current roster while Brett Phillips, Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier certainly have the tools to make the cycle happen.
Eleven former Royals have hit for the cycle: Wil Myers, Alex Rios, Melky Cabrerra, Mark Ellis, Mark Grudzielanek, Miguel Tejada, Jason Kimball, Gregg Jeffries, Kevin McReynolds and even Neifi Perez and George Kottaras. George Kottaras!! Kottaras hit three triples in his entire career, but one of them came at an opportune time. Kottaras hit 40 doubles and 32 home runs in his career. What were the odds of a guy like that hitting for the cycle? One in ten million?
The Florida Marlins have never had a player hit for the cycle and the San Diego Padres, who started play in the same year as the Royals, have only had two. Let’s take a closer look at the Royals cycles, starting with the first.
Freddie Patek – July 9, 1971
When Fred Patek came to the Royals from the Pirates prior to the 1971 season, people weren’t sure what to expect. Sure, Patek had a great glove and terrific speed, but could he hit and get on base? Turns out that yes, he could. He led the American League with 11 triples in 1971. He led the league in steals in 1977 with 53 and had an eight year stretch from 1971 to 1978 where he averaged 46 steals per season. Think of someone like Terrance Gore who could play lights out shortstop and hit a little and you have Freddie Patek.
On July 9th, 1971, the Royals were playing the Twins at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. The Mall of America now stands on where the Met used to be. Like many stadiums of its time, the Met was a multi purpose stadium, hosting the Twins and the Vikings of the NFL. On the mound for the Twins was Jim Perry, the older brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry. Jim Perry was no slouch as a pitcher. He finished his career with a record of 215-174 and 42 WAR.
On this night, Patek batted leadoff and in his first plate appearance stroked a double to left field. The Royals touched Perry early, sending six men to the plate in the first and another seven to the plate in the second, to build an early 3-0 lead. With two outs in the second, Patek poked a single to right field. The Twins nicked Mike Hedlund for three in their half of the third to knot the score. With two outs in the top of the fourth, Patek sliced a triple into the right field corner, but a Paul Schaal strikeout ended the inning.
Freddie came to the plate in the seventh with a chance to close the deal, but instead hit a fielder’s choice grounder to short. The game was still tied at three when Patek came to the plate with one on and two out in the top of the ninth. Perry was still on the mound for the Twins, trying to close out the complete game. Patek turned on an inside fastball and sent the pitch over the left field wall, giving himself the cycle and the Royals a 5-3 lead. Paul Schaal followed that with a home run of his own to give the Royals some breathing room and Ted Abernathy made it stand up, getting the Twins in order in the ninth. For his cycle game, Patek went 4 for 5 with 2 RBI and 3 runs scored. Patek hit a career high six home runs in 1971, but none more important than this one.
John Mayberry – August 5, 1977
As the years roll by, people forget what a great career Big John had in Kansas City. He came over from Houston in another of Cedric Tallis’s one sided trades in 1972 and was a revelation immediately. In his six years in KC, Mayberry slashed .261/.374/.439 with 143 home runs, 552 RBI and 561 walks, while only striking out 457 times in 3,131 at bats.
On August 5, 1977 a loaded Royals team was on their way to a club record 102 wins. On this night they were playing host to the Chicago White Sox and Mayberry was batting fifth. Big John’s first plate appearance came with one out in the bottom of the second and he laced a single to left field off of White Six starter Chris Knapp. The Royals sent ten men to the plate in the inning, chasing Knapp and opening up a 5-0 lead. Bart Johnson came on in relief of Knapp and Mayberry greeted him with a lead off home run in the bottom of the 3rd. The Royals continued to pour it on, batting eight men in the third to take a commanding 8-1 lead. Mayberry came to the plate with one out in the 4th and slammed a triple to right field off of Johnson. As I said earlier, triples are the key hit in any cycle and especially in this one. In 1977 John Mayberry hit, you guessed it, one triple. Mayberry came to the plate once again in the 6th, needing only a double. Johnson induced him into a ground ball to second to end the inning.
By the time Mayberry came to bat in the bottom of the 8th with one out, the outcome of the game was not in doubt. The Royals held an 11-2 lead and everyone in Royals Stadium knew this was John’s last chance. Facing Don Kirkwood, Mayberry didn’t disappoint, ripping a double into the right field gap. For the game, Mayberry went 4 for 5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. Because of Mayberry’s lack of triple hitting prowess (19 in 5,447 career at bats), The Hardball Times ranked his cycle the 8th least likely in major league history. I disagree with this assessment. Looking at the list of players who have hit for the cycle, there is no rhyme or reason. You have Hall of Famers like Ted Williams, Rod Carew and George Brett and players such as Luke Scott, Fred Lewis and George Kottaras, whose respective fan clubs consist primarily of family members. John Mayberry was a good hitter with a terrific eye and during his prime years, he terrorized American League pitchers.
George Brett – May 28, 1979
It’s no surprise to see George’s name on this list. He was one the games great hitters. On May 2, 1979, the Royals were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. George was batting in the three hole this evening against Dennis Martinez. George came to the plate in the first, third and fifth and the only hit he had was a third inning triple, so at this point a cycle was probably the furthest thing from his mind. Things changed in the bottom of the 8th. Brett came to the plate with one on and one out and the Royals trailing 3-2. Martinez tried to slip a fastball past George. Brett hit it on the screws, sending it over the wall in right-center to give Kansas City a 4-3 lead, sending the crowd of 34,677 into delirium. It didn’t last long. Marty Pattin gave up a leadoff home run to Ken Singleton in the top of the 9th to tie the game. Pattin and Al Hrabosky worked out of a bases loaded jam to send the game to extra innings.
Then it started getting weird. In the 10th, Brett singled to right off of Don Stanhouse, but was erased when Darrel Porter hit into a double play. Brett came up in the 12th, with runners on first and second and no outs and rather than let Brett beat them, manager Earl Weaver ordered Stanhouse to intentionally walk Brett. The gamble paid off as Porter grounded into his second double play of the game. The double play went 3-2-4, Eddie Murray to Rick Dempsey to Kiko Garcia (who was covering first base).
With one out in the bottom of the 14th, Brett laced a double off of Tim Stoddard to complete the cycle, but the Royals again left him stranded. The game stretched to the 16th inning. Brett led off the 16th against Sammy Stewart. The game was now approaching five hours and at the time was the longest in Royals Stadium history. Brett had seen enough and drove Stewart’s second pitch, a fastball, deep into the right field bleachers for the walk off home run. With his five-hit performance, Brett set a team record with 14 total bases, which stood until 2015 when Kendrys Morales had a 15-base game. He drove in four of the five Kansas City runs and scored three times.
Frank White – September 24, 1979
When the Royals rolled into Anaheim for this late September series, there was still hope that they could catch the league leading Angels. The Royals were three games back with three games remaining in Anaheim followed by the final three games of the season in Oakland. Unfortunately, Nolan Ryan out dueled Larry Gura in the opener and Frank Tanana closed the door the next night, which effectively ended the Royals three year run as West division champions.
Against this backdrop, Frank White turned in a performance to remember. Batting third, White singled to left off of Angel starter Dave LaRoche in the first. With one out in the third, and Willie Wilson on third base, White slammed a LaRoche pitch over the left field wall to give KC a 2-0 lead. White added a double in the 5th off of Angel reliever Bob Ferris. Frank came to the plate with two outs in the 7th and a chance to complete the cycle, but Ferris got him on a fly ball to center field. The Royals sent six men to the plate in the 8th, which meant that White would get one more chance in the top of the 9th. Facing Ralph Botting, Frank ripped a triple to deep center field, completing the cycle. Frank came around to score on an error, giving the Royals a 4-0 victory. For the game, White went 4 for 5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.
Frank White – August 3, 1982
It’s not a surprise to see White’s name on this list, twice. He was after all, a terrific hitter, finishing his 18-year career (all with his hometown Royals) with 2,006 hits. This game was eerily like White’s cycle in 1979. In an August 3rd game against Detroit, Willie Wilson led off the first with a single. White, batting second, smashed a home run off of Tiger starter Pat Underwood. White nicked Underwood for a double in the 3rd and reached on an error in the 5th. A Hal McRae home run in the 6th gave the Royals a brief 4-3 lead. The Tigers struck for two in the top of the 7th to take a 5-4 lead. Facing Underwood in the 7th with Wilson on third, White ripped a single to center to tie the score. The game remained knotted at five going into the bottom of the 9th. Onix Concepcion singled to keep the inning alive, bring White to the plate with two outs and needing a triple to complete the cycle. Once again, Frank rose to the occasion, ripping a triple into the right field corner, scoring Concepcion with the walk off winner and etching his name into the record books, becoming only the 20th person to hit for the cycle twice in his career.
George Brett – July 25, 1990
Brett got off to a slow start in 1990. After a May 13th loss to the White Sox, Brett has hitting .218 and contemplating retirement. The next day, he collected three hits against Boston and by the time he faced off against Todd Stottlemyre in Toronto on July 25th, he had brought his average up to .296. Batting cleanup, Brett singled in the first and tripled in the 3rd off Stottlemyre. He led off the 5th with a double off of reliever George Willis. With the Royals holding a comfortable 5-0 lead, Brett led off the 7th against former teammate Frank Wills. Brett wasted little time, slamming a two-strike fastball from Wills deep over the center field fence to complete his second career cycle. Brett had one more at-bat in the 9th but grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. No matter, the Royals won the game 6-1 with Brett going 4 for 5 and joining Joe DiMaggio and Joe Cronin as the only players who collected their second cycle eleven years apart.
Will 2019 be the year that someone from the Royals breaks the skid? I would bet on Mondesi, the player who I believe has the tools to be the next superstar for the Royals. Mondesi has the speed and the power necessary to collect a cycle. But who knows? With the seemingly random occurrence of the cycle, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone like Chris Owings pull it off.