Cycles within cycles within cycles

The second week of the baseball season was a cycle fest. On Monday Orlando Hudson of the Los Angeles Dodgers had a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. Then Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers pulled off the rare feat on Wednesday and Jason Kubel of the Minnesota Twins did it Friday.

Three players hitting for the cycle in five days. I couldn’t remember such a thing happening before. Hitting for the cycle isn’t vanishingly rare, like throwing a perfect game, but it’s an unusual event. It only happens a few times a year in the big leagues.

I decided to try to find out if three in five days had ever happened before. It didn’t take long for me to find Retrosheet’s List of cycles and I opened it, prepared to squint happily at it for hours trying to find another crazy five-day period in which three players had collected each of baseball’s four hits in one game.

How far back would I have to go? What names would I be able to pull out of the colorful past if such a thing had ever happened? I started at the bottom of the chronological list, began scanning up and —

It happened at the end of last year. In baseball terms, it happened last month. Cristian Guzman of the Washington Nationals hit for the cycle on Aug. 28, followed by Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Adrian Beltre of the Seattle Mariners both doing it four days later, on Sept. 1. This set of circumstances was so monumentally fascinating that I’d completely forgotten it. I’m not even sure I’d been aware of it at the time.

Mark Kotsay of the Atlanta Braves had hit for the cycle two weeks before Guzman. So that was four in 19 days, something for this year’s big leaguers to shoot for.

That was kind of an anticlimax.

But I’d come this far, loaded the Web page and everything, so I decided to look for the last time three cycles had been hit in five days before last year. Because I figured that would be just as exciting as the Guzman-Drew-Beltre trifecta that had so thrilled me back in ’08, or would have if I’d noticed it.

It almost happened in July 1970. Tony Horton of the Baltimore Orioles hit for the cycle on July 2, then Tommie Agee of the New York Mets did it on July 6 and Jim Ray Hart of the San Francisco Giants on July 8. A seven-day stretch.

In August 1933 four players did it in 16 days, and the first three of them were Philadelphia A’s. Mickey Cochrane did it on the second, Pinky Higgins on the sixth and Jimmie Foxx on the 14th. Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians added a cycle on the 17th. Big month for the cycle, but no three of them were within five days of each other.

There were three cycles in an eight-day period in 1887, the first and third by the same guy, Tip O’Neill of the American Association St. Louis Browns, who are now the National League St. Louis Cardinals. He did it on April 30 and May 7. In between, Fred Carroll of the N.L. Pittsburgh Alleghenys — soon to be renamed the Pirates — cycled on May 2.

The only other three cycles in five days episode I found happened in June 1885. Dave Orr of the American Association New York Metropolitans did it on the 12th, followed by George Wood of the N.L. Detroit Wolverines the next day and Henry Larkin of the A.A. Philadelphia Athletics on the 16th.

Boy! That must have been exciting. I wonder if people back then had the same reaction to that thrilling sequence of events as I had to the Guzman-Drew-Beltre sequence last year. Fat lot of good that cyclefest did in June 1885. Within a half-dozen years, the Metropolitans, Wolverines and Athletics were all extinct.

Here’s something with a little more historical resonance than last year. The last time three big-league players hit for the cycle in the same calendar month was in June 1950, when George Kell of the Detroit Tigers did it on the second, Ralph Kiner of the Pirates on the 25th and Roy Smalley of the Chicago Cubs on the 28th.

Roy Smalley was the father of Roy Smalley — dad was Jr. and son was Roy III — who was a shortstop in the ’70s and ’80s, mostly for the Twins. It’s funny that the son, who was a pretty good hitter for a shortstop, never hit for the cycle but the father, a banjo hitter who never managed an OPS-plus above 85, did.

That’s how the cycle goes. It’s a random collection of events, a false “accomplishment,” important only because someone along the line thought it was kind of cool when it happened. There is no list of games in which players have hit two doubles and two home runs, a demonstrably better performance than a single, double, triple and home run.

But the thing is: That guy was right. The cycle is cool.

Newspaper crisis means MLB plays in secret

Terrible news on the death of newspapers front. A USA Today report the other day told the story in its headline. Shrinking newsrooms put squeeze on MLB coverage.

Reporter Mel Antonen notes that membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America is off by 65 writers this year, reflective of newsroom layoffs and newspapers ceasing or sharing beat coverage. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for example, share beat writers covering the Texas Rangers.

Those papers have always been competitors, but now they’ve united against a common enemy: their obsolescence.

Antonen paraphrases Los Angeles Dodgers exec Josh Rawitch noting the drop in newspaper reporters covering teams. A dozen or so traveled with the Dodgers in the early ’90s, compared to just two this season, plus the beat writer.

I wonder how long MLB and most of its teams will keep using the “press box space” excuse when denying credentials to online writers.

Rawitch also points out that the loss of newspaper writers affects radio and TV stations that, in Antonen’s words, “need fodder from newspaper accounts of the games and notes.”

This of course is a microcosm of the larger crisis in journalism. Without newspapers, there simply isn’t enough raw information. I mean, I’m really having trouble following this baseball season so far, aren’t you? There just isn’t enough information out there. Never mind radio and TV stations. Won’t somebody please think of the bloggers?

My first thought when I saw Rawitch’s I.D. as a Dodgers exec was “I was just wondering whether they were still in the league.” With so many newspaper reporters dropping off the beat, it’s like baseball’s being played in secret.

What are we all going to do with only three beat reporters writing that Shlabotnik scored from second on Casey’s single, instead of 12? How can we really understand the game, I mean really get to the bottom of it, if Shlabotnik’s postgame quote — “I saw Casey hit it and I just ran” — is only scribbled in three notebooks, not a dozen?

The BBWAA lost a net 65 writers this year, Antonen reports, even after its forward-thinking decision to allow 22 Interthingy typists in. You can see for yourself how the BBWAA has its finger on the pulse of the modern world by Googling it.

Search baseball writers association of america and the organization’s home page does not appear in the first 100 results. Most people use Google’s default configuration of 10 results per page, and it’s common knowledge in the SEO world — you can Google that, BBWAA people — that hardly anybody looks beyond Page 1 of their results. The BBWAA home page would be absent from the first 10 pages.

There are three matches for pages on the BBWAA site among the first 100, including the second and third result, a press release about the 2009 Hall of Fame vote and the organization’s awards page.

It’s pretty much the same story if you search for BBWAA.

I’m sparing you the links to those pages because they include the eye-assaulting bright green background that until recently all BBWAA pages sported. Note to BBWAA: Maybe you’re losing members because you’ve blinded the ones who’ve checked your site?

The home page has recently been redesigned with a vision-preserving white background, so it’s safe to say: Here it is.

Now: Weren’t the Yankees and Mets supposed to open new stadiums this year? Has anybody heard anything? These really are dark times.

Ignorance is not a skill

New Salon column.

I’m picking on Dave Kindred, longtime Sporting News columnist, who doesn’t really deserve it. He was the straw that broke the camel’s back, though. I’m sick of baseball writers dismissing newfangled stats without even bothering to learn about them, and then bragging about that refusal.

Ignorance isn’t a skill. It’s something journalists are supposed to fix, not brag about.

Don Larsen’s perfect game

New Salon column about watching the rebroadcast of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

A few other thoughts:

• It was really a pleasure to watch the hitters march right up to the plate, get set and wait for the pitch. No relaxation techniques or surveying the defense before stepping in. Nobody stepped out to lovingly adjust both batting gloves and his helmet before every stinkin’ pitch.

It helped that nobody wore batting gloves or helmets.

But this, along with the relative paucity of mid-inning pitching changes, is the main reason games are so much longer today than in the past. Batters just won’t get in the box.

• The thing that looked the most similar to today’s game was fielding. I guess there are only so many ways you can field a grounder or catch a popup. It was interesting how both teams, when whipping the ball around the horn after a bases-empty out, threw it to the catcher. College teams sometimes do this today, but you never seem major leaguers do it.

Interesting might be too strong a word there.

• The pitchers didn’t stand in the on-deck circle before they hit. They waited in the dugout. Then, when it was their turn, they bounded up the steps — and marched right into the box.

I don’t remember this practice from my early days of fandom, the early ’70s. I do remember that in situations when the next hitter — whether he was a pitcher or not — might hit or might be hit for, the on-deck circle would sometimes be empty. Nowadays there’s a rule that says you have to put somebody in the on-deck circle, and the umps actually enforce it. Kind of a dumb rule, because you can put a pinch-hitter out there and still send the scheduled hitter up.

• Yogi Berra would stand up after every pitch to throw the ball back to the pitcher. That was a lot of work for his legs. I can’t think of a catcher today who does that. They mostly drop to one knee after the pitch and throw that way. Berra also bounced a lot in his crouch, and when warming up a pitcher, he kind of leaned on his right leg while crouching. Don’t know if he was favoring an injury that day or if that was a habit. His legs took an awful beating, though. And it’s not like he was a bouncy young thing in 1956. He was 31, and he’d caught more than 1,200 games.

• Roy Campanella, the Dodgers catcher, looked like a fat middle-aged bus driver who somehow got drafted to play. He was a month shy of 35, and 1956 was sandwiched between his last good offensive season and the last year of his career. He stepped way in the bucket as he flailed at pitches. He’d go 4-for-22 with seven strikeouts in the ’56 Series, but even while he was hitting .219 during the regular season, he walked more than he struck out.

Thanks to segregation, which helped keep Campanella — a pro at 15 — out of the big leagues till he was 26, Berra had a much longer big-league career than Campanella did. But at least the numbers say that at his best, for a few years in the early ’50s, Campanella was a better hitter than Berra. That’s saying a lot.

• The Dodgers played an exaggerated shift on Mantle when he hit left-handed, as he did in Game 5 against Sal Maglie. They pulled Pee Wee Reese to the right of second base. I’d never heard that teams did that for Mantle. Just for Ted Williams.