I’ve written in the recent past about the least likely three-homer games, the least likely no-hitters, and the worst seasons to get MVP votes. In keeping with that basic underlying theme, today we will talk about the most unlikely players to have hit for the cycle.
As you probably know, hitting for the cycle means having a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in the same game. The triple is by far the hardest part of the equation — since 1914, there have been 244 instances of a player hitting for the cycle and 13,191 instances of a player ending up “a triple short of the cycle” (eight times already in this young season, including Adrian Gonzalez in each of the Dodgers’ first two games). By comparison, there have been 465 games where a player was missing only the single, 1,721 games where a player was missing only the double, and 5,114 games where a player was missing only the homer (including both Dee Gordon and Anthony Gose already this season).
Triples are generally hit more often by fast runners, so the element most commonly missing is speed. Besides triples, the other main statistical indication of a player’s speed is stolen bases. So I looked at the owners of all 244 cycles, especially their speed stats, to determine which one had the most unlikely cycle. We have a definite winner, but there are 13 worth talking about. So let’s talk about them.
13. Albert Hall, September 23, 1987
Albert Hall was not a very good baseball player, but he was one of the best players on the 1987 Atlanta Braves. In 337 plate appearances over 92 games, he batted .284/.369/.411 for a 104 OPS+, by far the best of his career (his next-best was 77). Hall was fast — he stole 33 bases in 1987 and 67 in his career of only 910 plate appearances, and he stole 455 bases in the minor leagues, including 100 in one season — but he hit only five triples in his career (three of them in 1987).
In this game, Hall singled to lead off the bottom of the first for the Braves, only to be thrown out stealing just before what might have been a run-scoring double by Gerald Perry. In the bottom of the second, Hall made the third out with a groundout to second.
Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Hall hit a double but was eventually stranded at third after walks to Dale Murphy and Gary Roenicke. In the bottom of the sixth, after a triple by Jeff Blauser and a sacrifice fly by Graig Nettles pulled the Braves within one, Hall hit a two-out, game-tying home run to make it 4-4.
The score remained tied until the bottom of the ninth inning. Hall led off the inning needing only a triple for the cycle, and this happened:
The next batter was Ron Gant, who watched a wild pitch get away to score Hall for the walkoff wild-pitch victory. Albert Hall had his cycle, the first in Braves history and the only four-hit game of his career, and the Braves had one of only 69 victories that season.
12. Felix Pie, August 14, 2009
Felix Pie was a highly touted minor leaguer who never panned out in the big leagues. After batting .223/.284/.331 (56 OPS+) in parts of two seasons with the Cubs, they traded him to the Orioles after the 2008 season. In 2009, Pie was better, but still not good, slashing .266/.326/.437 for a 98 OPS+, the closest he would ever get to being a league-average hitter.
But on August 14, he was good. He hit an RBI double in the bottom of the first and a solo homer in the bottom of the third. His homer put the Orioles up 6-2 in a game they would eventually win 16-6.
In the bottom of the fourth, Pie struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning. He wouldn’t bat again until the seventh, when he led off the inning with an infield single. That started a lengthy Baltimore rally, and five runs later he was back at the plate with two outs and runners on first and third. Needing only a triple for the cycle, he hit a line drive to the gap in right-center. The ball stuck briefly under the padding of the wall, and Pie had a standup triple for his cycle.
You can see all four of Pie’s hits in the video above. Like Hall, Pie’s cycle was the only four-hit game of his career. The video is set to start at 1:49, the point where this game starts, but it might be fun/sad to watch the entire thing and realize that there are RBI singles in losing causes on a video called “Felix Pie Career Highlights.”
11. John Mabry, May 18, 1996
In 1996, there was still hope that John Mabry might be a good Major League hitter. He had finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1995, but he was a first baseman and corner outfielder without much power. In 1996, he had one of the best seasons of his 14-year career, which included career highs in both triples and stolen bases — the two best indicators of speed, remember. Unfortunately, those career highs were two triples and three stolen bases, and he had only six triples and seven steals in his career.
On May 18, Mabry led off the second inning with a single to center. In the fourth, he doubled to right. In the fifth inning, he hit his first career triple, and suddenly he was just a homer away from the cycle with four more innings to play.
With one out and a runner on first in the top of the seventh inning, Mabry came up to the plate looking for his home run, and he got it, driving the ball over the wall in right-center to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 7-3 over the Rockies.
Mabry came up one more time, in the top of the ninth, and he was intentionally walked. In the bottom of the ninth, the Rockies rallied against the Cardinals against Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley. Ellis Burks hit a two-run homer to pull the Rockies within two, and four batters later pinch-hitter John Vander Wal hit a walk-off, three-run home run to win the game for the Rockies and overshadow Mabry’s unlilely cycle.
10. Bengie Molina, July 16, 2010
Believe it or not, Bengie Molina had six career triples. That is not a lot, but it is more than anyone who ever saw Molina run would have guessed. He also had three career stolen bases, although he was caught stealing seven times.
Molina’s last four seasons were void of stolen bases, but his sixth and final triple came on July 16, 2010, his last year in the Majors. After being traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline (so the Giants could finally fit a kid named Buster Posey into their lineup), Molina’s ninth game for Texas, at Fenway Park in Boston, was a big one.
With one out in the top of the second inning, Molina hit a single to center. Two innings later, he doubled to right. Then, in the fifth inning of a 3-3 game, Molina came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. With one ball and two strikes, he hit a grand slam to dead center field to put the Rangers up 7-3.
In the top of the eighth, Molina came to the plate needing only a triple for the cycle. He hit another long fly ball to center that skipped off the glove of Eric Patterson and bounced into the outfield nook just below the 420-foot sign. He rumbled and rolled around the bases, and just 14.51 seconds after hitting the ball (according to the stopwatch on my phone while watching the video below), he pulled into third with a standup triple.
Now, in case you are wondering, getting from home to third in 14.51 seconds is not fast. According to the Tater Trot Tracker, there have been at least nine inside-the-park homers since 2010 where the hitter made it all the way to home plate in less time, and Adam Rosales‘s standard home run trot averages only about 16 seconds. That’s right — Adam Rosales in a home run trot is significantly faster than Bengie Molina’s sprint.
Video of Molina’s day, and then a couple notes:
Molina had to leave the game after his triple with a sore quad. He was back in the lineup the next day and didn’t miss any time because of the injury, but he did go 4-for-36 over his next 13 games.
One final Molina note: he spent his first eight big league seasons with the Angels, including six seasons under manager Mike Scioscia. Scioscia, like Molina, had spent his playing days as a slow-footed catcher. Tommy Lasorda once said of Scioscia, “If he raced his pregnant wife, he’d come in third place.” A few years ago, I met Scioscia and asked him if he ever raced Molina. He said, “No, but even at my age, I guarantee I would have beat him.”
9. Bill Salkeld, August 4, 1945
Bill Salkeld was a rookie in 1945, and he split time behind the plate for the Pirates with veteran Al Lopez. Both Salkeld and Lopez got MVP votes that year, although only Salkeld even remotely deserved them. Salkeld was a 28-year-old rookie who probably only made the big leagues because of the player shortage caused by World War II, but he hit well enough (.311/.420/.547, 163 OPS+) in 1945 that he stuck around for several years after the war.
Salkeld could hit, but he was not extremely fast. He finished his career with just two triples and six stolen bases in six seasons. His first triple came his rookie year, on August 4, 1945.
In this game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Pirates took a 5-1 lead over the Cardinals on the strength of a three-run homer from Salkeld in the first inning and a two-run triple in the seventh, but the Cards scored four in the eighth off Pittsburgh starter Nick Strincevich and one more in the ninth off Al Gerheauser to win the game and spoil Salkeld’s cycle.
Salkeld, whose grandson Roger Salkeld pitched for the Mariners in the 1990s, for many years had sole possession of the record for fewest career triples by a player who hit for the cycle. He is still tied for the record, with the player who tops our list. You’ve been teased — you must continue reading!
8. Jody Gerut, May 8, 2010
Jody Gerut wasn’t a slow runner, but he wasn’t crazy fast. Over the course of his six-year career, Gerut had a 162-game average of four triples and eight stolen bases (with five caught stealing). He had 13 triples and 30 stolen bases in his career, so his cycle on its own probably doesn’t merit being listed this high.
What puts Gerut on this list is what he almost did. In his career, Gerut had four different four-hit games. On May 8, 2010, he hit for the cycle. On July 1, 2004, he went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. And on April 16, 2004, he went 5-for-5 with three doubles and a homer. So Jody Gerut, a somewhat-fast runner with a little bit of power and a relatively short career, was a couple inches away from having three career cycles.
Gerut’s actual cycle was aided by his teammates. Batting sixth in the lineup, he went 4-for-6, not getting his double to complete the cycle until he came up as the sixth batter in the ninth inning. Gerut had a great game, but he never would have had the chance if his teammates hadn’t gotten on base 20 times.
In the following highlight video from this game, you can see that maybe if Justin Upton had been playing right field in Gerut’s other two near-cycles, he might have had his triples:
7. Mike Blowers, May 18, 1998
Mike Blowers played eleven years in the big leagues, and he was somewhere between replacement level and average. He put up a career WAR of 4.3 — 5.4 in his three-year prime, -1.1 in the eight surrounding seasons. His career OPS+ of 97 pretty accurately describes Blowers as a hitter: almost average.
He also was not fast. In his career, he had eight triples and seven stolen bases, and he was caught stealing eight times. But on May 18, 1998, he was just fast enough. After going 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, and a single to start the game, he came to the plate in the top of the eighth looking for his triple. On a 1-1 count, he hit the ball down the first base line and rumbled around the bases for a triple and his first career cycle.
But it almost wasn’t his first. Three years earlier, on May 24, 1995, Blowers had the best game of his life, going 4-for-5 with eight runs batted in. By the time he got his third and fourth hits — a three-run triple in the fifth and a two-run homer in the seventh — he may have been wishing he had stopped at first earlier — he hit doubles in both the second and fourth innings.
If one of Blowers’ doubles had been a single, he would have had two career cycles, and he would be the most unlikely multi-cycle player in history. Instead, he has one, and you will have to click to the next page to find out who is the most unlikely with two…
6. John Olerud, September 11, 1997, and June 16, 2001
John Olerud was a great hitter. His career slash line of .295/.398/.465 was good for a 129 OPS+, and there are more than 50 Hall of Famers with less than his 58.0 career WAR. He had decent power — 255 home runs in 17 seasons — and his 500 doubles are tied for 58th on the all-time leaderboard.
But John Olerud did not hit triples. He had 13 triples in his career, and only once did he ever have more than two in a season. And the one thing he did less than hit triples is steal bases — only 11 stolen bases in his career, and he was caught 14 times. For all of Olerud’s charms, he was not fast.
But somehow, two of his 13 career triples were attached to cycles. The first time, in 1997, he took what seems to be the most common route, at least among the group we’re looking at today: he got the three “easy” parts out of the way and the magically hit a triple in his last at-bat. This cycle may have benefited from some “home cooking,” as his triple could have easily been called either an error on Vladimir Guerrero in center field or a double with third base taken on the throw home. But the official scorer at Shea Stadium called it a triple, and Olerud had his cycle. See for youself:
In the 2001 game, Olerud had his single, double, and triple by the fifth inning, and after reaching on an error by the first baseman in the seventh, he came up in the ninth inning needing a home run to complete the cycle. If this game been played in Seattle, Olerud’s cycle would not have happened, because the Mariners would not have batted with a 7-2 lead in the ninth. But the game was in San Diego, so the Mariners batted, and with Mark McLemore on second after a leadoff double, Olerud drove a ball deep into the seats in right field to complete his second cycle.
On the video below, you can hear the announcers start to speculate about a cycle after Olerud’s double and triple, knowing that the hardest part was behind him:
5. Chad Moeller, April 27, 2004
Chad Moeller played eleven seasons in the big leagues, and he had 53 more hits in his career than Ichiro had in 2004. He had seven triples and two stolen bases in his career. He was a backup catcher who hit and ran like a backup catcher.
One of those triples came on April 27, 2004, when Moeller’s Brewers took on the Reds in Milwaukee. Moeller homered in the bottom of the second, doubled in the fourth, and then tripled in the fifth. In the seventh inning, needing just a single, he lined one up the middle to complete his first cycle.
Moeller is another player who almost had two cycles, and he would have been less likely than Olerud (who was at least a good hitter). On September 29, 2002, Moeller’s Diamondbacks took on the Rockies in Phoenix. Moeller singled in the first, homered in the fourth, homered in the sixth, and doubled in the seventh. He was on deck when the third out was made in the bottom of the eighth, and the Diamondbacks didn’t bat in the ninth. He would have to wait a couple years for his first cycle, but 4-for-4 with a double and two homers is a pretty good day’s work.
Those two games, his cycle and his near-cycle, were the only two four-hit games Moeller had in his career.
4. Daryle Ward, May 26, 2004
On September 18, 1980, the Twins’ Gary Ward hit for the cycle against the Milwaukee Brewers. Just less than 24 years later, his son Daryle matched his feat for the Pirates against the Cardinals. While the elder Ward had a fair bit of speed (41 career triples and as many as 26 stolen bases in a season), his son did not inherit that particular attribute — Daryle had five career triples and one stolen base (in seven attempts). He didn’t do much else on offense, either, basically a power hitter who didn’t have quite as much power as everyone hoped. He was about as good defensively as you would expect a big slow guy to be, generally hiding on the field at first base or an outfield corner.
On May 26, 2004, Ward had the day of his life. By the end of the fifth inning, he had a double, a triple, a homer, and a walk, with six RBI and three runs scored. He popped out to third in the seventh, but he got one more chance in the ninth and took advantage of it, ripping a single into right field to join his dad as the first father/son duo to both hit for the cycle.
Ward’s cycle brought his slash line to .380/.404/.860 for the young season; unfortunately for him and the Pirates, he hit .222/.286/.395 the rest of the season to finish at .249/.305/.474 for a 99 OPS+.
3. Roy Carlyle, July 21, 1925
Roy “Dizzy” Carlyle played only two seasons in the big leagues, 1925-26, mostly with the Boston Red Sox. He was apparently pretty fast, hitting as many as 20 triples in one season in the minors. But in the big leagues, he had just six triples and one stolen base. In addition, he hit only nine career homers. The combination of a short career and a relative lack of the individual elements make him a pretty unlikely candidate to hit for the cycle.
But he did it on July 21, 1925, in the first game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park against the White Sox. We don’t have detailed game logs going back that far, so much of the drama of the game is lost to history (at least for now). But we do know some pretty interesting things about Dizzy Carlyle.
Despite his apparent speed, Carlyle was a dreadful fielder. His career fielding percentage was .910. Quick, name the worst defensive outfielder you can think of, and we’ll compare him to Carlyle.
- Manny Ramirez: .978
- Frank Howard: .978
- Lonnie Smith: .964
- Ryan Raburn: .958
- Alfonso Soriano: .973
- Nelson Cruz: .984
- Pete Incaviglia: .966
- Dave Kingman: .957
- Adam Dunn: .967
- Ruben Sierra: .970
- Dante Bichette: .974
- Jose Canseco: .971
- Greg Luzinski: .972
All of the worst defensive outfielders in history, guys who are famous for being terrible defensively and often ended up as designated hitters because of their ineptitude in the field, were significantly better at catching the ball than Dizzy Carlyle. Fielding percentage is a very flawed statistic and must be used in the proper context, but “I can catch more than nine out of ten balls hit directly at me” is a pretty basic minimum requirement to be an outfielder.
Carlyle was very powerful, though. In the Pacific Coast League with the Oakland Oaks, he hit a home run measured at 618 feet in Oakland; the next week, he hit a 605-foot blast in Salt Lake City.
If he hadn’t played defense in such a manner that people actually worried out loud that he would kill himself out there, Carlyle might have been quite the player.
2. George Kottaras, September 3, 2011
Chad Moeller isn’t the only part-time Milwaukee Brewers catcher to hit for an unlikely cycle. He’s not even the most unlikely. George Kottaras’s career isn’t over yet — he’s currently playing in Triple-A in the White Sox organization — but to this point, he has a grand total of three triples and three stolen bases in his seven-year career. Even his own mother would not have predicted a cycle from him.
His game on September 3, 2011, did not start off great. He had a flyout to left in the second inning and didn’t get his first hit until the fourth. But then things took off, for him and his team. Kottaras hit a solo homer in the fourth, and then he led off the sixth with a triple that was aided by Minute Maid Park’s ridiculous hill in center field. He batted again in the seventh and had an RBI single to right.
In the ninth inning, Kottaras came up needing only a double to complete his cycle. He hit the ball almost to the exact same spot as his triple in the sixth, but this one hit the warning track and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Watching the video, it seems like Kottaras might have had a triple if not for the bounce, but with an 8-2 lead and knowing he needed the double, he might have stopped at second anyway.
Kottaras has played in 313 career games, and he has four hits in exactly one of them: his cycle.
1. Eric Valent, July 29, 2004
Eric Valent played in 205 games in his five-year MLB career. In 450 plate appearances, he slashed .234/.307/.389 (81 OPS+). More specifically to our purposes, he had two career triples and was thrown out the only time he ever tried to steal a base. He did not get hits; he did not run fast; he did not do anything that made you think, “It’s just a matter of time before this guy hits for the cycle.”
But Valent did it on July 29, 2004, in Montreal. He singled in the second, doubled in the third, and homered in the fifth. Before he came to the plate in the seventh, hitting coach Don Baylor told him that third base coach Matt Galante would be waving him to third on any hit that had a chance to be a triple. (The Mets were leading the Expos 7-1 by this point, so they could give a little attention to personal achievements.) Valent hit one down the line and into the corner in right, and he didn’t even bother looking at Galante as he hustled to third for a triple.
It was the only four-hit game of Valent’s career.
From the New York Post: “It’s cool,” a grinning Valent said after the Mets’ 10-1 romp over the Expos. “Not a lot of guys can say they’ve hit for the cycle, no matter how long you play.”
Valent is tied with Bill Salkeld for the fewest career triples by a player who hit for the cycle (two). His cycle bumped his 2004 average up to .293, but he batted just .233 the rest of the season, and after he slashed .186/.300/.256 in 28 games in 2005, the Mets released him. He signed with the Padres prior to the 2006 season, but after batting .209 in 30 games in Triple-A Portland, he was released and his professional baseball career was over.
But like he said, not a lot of guys can say they’ve hit for the cycle, and only Eric Valent can say he hit for the most unlikely cycle in MLB history.