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.

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