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Among all the interesting words used in baseball, the “cycle” might be the most curious. Doesn’t a cycle involve wheels somehow? Our readers from time to time will ask us, What is a cycle? And, eventually, they’ll ask, Why is it called a cycle?
A cycle in baseball is when a single batter collects a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game. It is very rare, having occurred only 339 times in the history of Major League Baseball dating back to 1876 and through the 2022 season.
When it is accomplished, the batter is said to have “hit for the cycle.” There are types of cycles, depending on factors like the order in which the hits occurred, or when the home run was struck, which we will outline below.
Let us begin by exploring what a cycle is, and why it is so rare, and go from there.
Studies have shown that, on a comparative basis, a cycle by a batter is just about as common as a no-hitter by a pitcher. That is, the no-hitter and the cycle are among the rarest of plays in baseball.
A cycle most definitely is uncommon.
The average number of cycles in an MLB season is somewhere between 2 and 3. The most cycles in a single major league season is 8, happening in 1933 and 2009.
This is what they call it when a player collects the hits required for a cycle ~ single, double, triple, home run ~ in that order.
Just what it sounds like, a reverse of the above: a cycle by hitting a home run first, followed by a triple, then the double and single. (The very 1st cycle in MLB history was one of these ~ and the initial home run was a grand slam!).
When the last hit to achieve the cycle results in a run that ends a game. (There also could be the walk-off home run cycle, by the way).
When a grand slam accounts for the home run required for a cycle.
The most rare type of cycle that has never occurred in MLB history. It involves hitting 4 home runs, each with a different number of runners on base. That is, a solo homer, and home runs that knock in 2 runs, 3 runs, and a grand slam of 4 runs. This has happened twice in the minor leagues, first in 1998, the last in August 2022.
When a player uses a bicycle to run the bases on the last of the hits needed for a regular cycle. (Just kidding! But we include this here because sportswriters through baseball history have come up with some zany names and concepts).
The first MLB cycle is credited to Charles “Curry” Foley of the Buffalo Bisons in 1882.
However, a debate continues about whether George Hall of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia hit for the cycle in the National League’s inaugural season of 1876, because 1 of the multiple newspaper accounts of the game credited him with a double.
The other newspapers reported that Foley had achieved “only” a home run, single, and 2 doubles ~ without the triple. This was long before the word “cycle” was applied to the feat; to date, the official Historian of Major League Baseball does not believe Hall hit for the cycle. Still, in some articles you will see Hall credited with the initial cycle (or whatever it was called back then).
Speaking of that, let’s talk about the name, too.
No one has evidence that a single person brought the word “cycle” into the baseball lexicon. The first mention of it in print occurred in 1921, and then not again until the 1930s. By the mid-1930s it began to be used more commonly for the 4-hit wonder.
The 1st mention of a cycle we can find is that of George Sisler in 1921 ~ and by that time there had already been 69 cycles in MLB history beforehand. The name did not stick immediately.
Baseball scholars note that the term coincided with what now is known as the Lively Ball Era, which began in 1920 once the league began using newer and cleaner baseballs during games, and banned pitches like the spitball, resulting in a lot more hitting success.
From the beginning of that era and into the subsequent years, it seemed there was an explosion of cycles. Then again, in the 1920s there were a lot of offensive “explosions,” most notably by Babe Ruth (who never hit for the cycle, by the way). The rule changes that MLB made were quite effective in growing the popularity of the game.
Then by the 1930s a small number of newspaper or headline writers used the term, and it slowly gained traction, a usage that continues to this day.
Why do we use the word “cycle”? We point to alternative definitions of the word cycle. The main definition most often used is, “A series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order.” This does not really describe a baseball cycle because the hits could occur in any order (and that order is not regular).
However, consider this definition of the word: “A complete set or series.” A cycle in baseball is indeed a complete set. And “cycle” sounds way more cool to use in print than “set.” Imagine, “Foxx hits for cycle in blowout.”
The term is not officially part of the MLB Glossary … it is not really a stat that scorekeepers need to keep score, nor even to note impact to a game. It’s just a neat, good individual achievement that is rare to see.
Baseball Cycle Trivia
- Only a single player has hit for the cycle in both Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League of Japan: Alex Ochoa, who did it for the New York Mets in 1996, then for the Chunichi Dragons in 2004.
- In other top-level professional leagues, the cycle occurs even less frequently than in the MLB.
- From its beginnings in 1950 through 2022, there have been only 76 cycles in the NPB, the largest highest-level baseball organization of Japan.
- Only a single cycle has been recorded in the postseason in the MLB dating back to 1876: Brock Holt holds this distinction for his 4 hits against the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the 2018 American League Division Series.
- Sometimes 2 cycles occur in the same game. It has happened once in NPB history, but twice in the minor leagues in the United States ~ both amazingly in 2018! (in April that year by Gio Brusa and Jalen Miller of the San Jose Giants in Class A-Advanced; and months later August by Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings of the Indianapolis Indians in AAA ball.
- The most cycles in a career in MLB history is 3, held by 6 players. The last 3 were Adrian Beltre (in 2008, 2012, and 2015); Trea Turner, when with the Washington Nationals (2017, 2019, 2021); and Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers (twice in 2018 and again in 2002, all amazingly versus the Cincinnati Reds).
- In the MLB, 44 players have achieved a cycle at least 2 times over a career; 5 did so twice in the same season! (See Yelich, Christian, above).
- Most often, the triple is the hardest type of hit for a batter to get to qualify for a cycle. That would be followed by the home run. A lot of players get close with just 3 of the 4, only to not hit a triple or homer by the end of the contest.
Some baseball insiders might say the cycle is overrated; that it not always is the most important part of a game, or did not contribute significantly to a win. Often cycles are attained in major blowouts where a lot of runs are scored by a single team because the pitching by the other team is very poor.
Still, it is difficult to overlook, since it occurs in less than 1% of all games in MLB play. Hitting for the cycle is most definitely a noteworthy event.
First off, only the Miami Marlins have the distinction of being the only current MLB club to never have a batter hit for the cycle. What of the other 29? Let’s start with that Miami goose egg and go up:
Miami Marlins 0
Tampa Bay Rays 2
Toronto Blue Jays 3
San Diego Padres 3
Seattle Mariners 4
Chicago White Sox 6
Kansas City Royals 6
Arizona Diamondbacks 6
Houston Astros 8
Los Angeles Angels 8
Philadelphia Phillies 8
Cleveland Indians 9
Colorado Rockies 9
Atlanta Braves 9
Cincinnati Reds 10
Los Angeles Dodgers 10
Detroit Tigers 10
Milwaukee Brewers 10
Baltimore Orioles 11
Chicago Cubs 11
Texas Rangers 11
Washington Nationals 11
New York Mets 11
Minnesota Twins 15
New York Yankees 15
St. Louis Cardinals 20
Oakland Athletics 21
Boston Red Sox 23
Pittsburgh Pirates 24
San Francisco Giants 26
How Hard it is to Hit for the Cycle in Baseball
As you can see, it is very hard for the best hitters in the world to hit for the cycle. Why is that?
There are several reasons, among them:
- Triples by themselves are rare. By one estimate they only occur in about 1.5% of MLB games.
- Home runs are not commonplace, also.
- Hitting both a triple and a home run in the same game is very difficult to do, statistics bear out.
- It can be physically exhausting ~ especially the 3-base sprint for a triple, often accompanied by a hard slide. This makes it even harder to get that last hit, regardless of what’s needed.
- The mental element.
What about that last item, the mental side of hitting for a cycle? Well, pretty much hardly any hitter would even think about hitting for the cycle until he gets 3 of the 4 required hits.
Then it becomes much like a no-hitter past the 6th inning. A single player, the hitter, becomes the focus of everyone in the stadium. All players and most of the fans watching will know precisely what is expected of that hitter.
On defense a team may play outfielders back to prevent a triple, if that’s needed. Heck, pitchers could choose to walk the batter during his last at-bat (which is very poor sportsmanship and we are unaware of that ever happening).
Hitting a pitched baseball is the single most difficult physical act to perform successfully in team sports. Just hitting the ball in play is really hard. But trying to get a specific type of hit, like trying to hit a double, is extremely hard.
So thousands of MLB players have gotten to the cusp of a cycle, only to fail in getting that last required piece.
On the other side, the player trying for the cycle could hurt his team ~ if he chooses to pull up short when he could have gotten an extra base. If a player needs a single for the cycle, he could stop at 1st base regardless of how fast the defense returns the ball to the infield.
In the Major Leagues, batters hoping for the cycle just focus on hitting the ball hard. If it finds a gap for a triple or clears the fence for a home run, the better.
In all reality, cycles are celebrated after the fact, usually when reports are published with the results of the game. Think about the old days when the only media reporting on games was in newspapers. Just writing it out sounds cool.
“Foxx hit for the cycle, smashing a single, double, triple, and home run altogether in the contest.”
“The cycle was obtained when Jones in the 8th inning hit a triple, to go along with the single, double, and home run he already struck in the contest.”
“Needing a double to complete the vaunted cycle, Maddox came through with a sharp grounder down the 3rd base line and scurried into 2nd base for the feat.”
Remember, the word cycle began increasing in usage during the 1930s, and then into the 1940s when sports often competed with national and world events for the attention of readers.
Baseball to fans and insiders is fascinating and exciting. But for those who have seen little of the game, and perhaps even none, it can be hard sometimes to be excited about games.
Enter the sensational headline. Cycles were a headline-writer’s dream. First of all, not many readers even knew what a cycle was, so including the word in a game headline was sure to draw attention.
Then there’s all the ways to spin around “cycle,” as in “Robertson spins a cycle in blowout of Yankees.”
In the text, as stated above, there is no way around writing out which type of hit is required for the cycle.
Final Thoughts on the Cycle in Baseball
The cycle ~ hitting a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game ~ is not something fans flock to stadiums with hopes of witnessing. It is extremely rare, which is a reason why it almost always generates a headline when it occurs.
It’s a lot like the no-hitter, just a few spread out over each season. The no-hitter of course is very exciting in the last inning when the pitcher needs just 3 outs for the accomplishment.
For the cycle, nothing really can happen until the batter strikes 3 different types of hits. It is then that the crowd, his teammates, and opponents start taking notice.
When not only a hit but a specific type of hit is needed to reach a milestone, the hard task of hitting a pitched baseball becomes much more difficult.
Overall, the cycle is something to behold mostly after games conclude. It is then that players, fans and sportswriters can see all the types of hits listed in the box score, and imagine the level of difficulty.
They also can tip their cap to the fact that the player succeeded in getting 4 hits in a single game ~ no small feat unto itself.
So the cycle is quite an accomplishment for a batter, something that will always be associated with his name, especially in the modern age of internet searches.
Question: What is the hardest hit to get for the cycle in baseball?
Answer: The triple, which requires speed and lucky placement of the ball in the outfield. Lack of a triple has killed about 15,000 cycles in MLB history. After that, the home run would be the most difficult to pull off ~ especially if it’s the last of the 4 hits needed and the pitcher bears down not wanting to be that guy who gave up the record-making hit.
Q.: Does the natural cycle in baseball happen often?
A.: No. It’s even more rare than a perfect game. Only 15 have occurred in MLB history. The last natural cycle to occur in baseball was by Gary Matthews Jr. of the Texas Rangers, in 2006.
Q.: Has a cycle ever been attained by an inside-the-park home run
A.: Yes, last by Leon Culberson of the Boston Red Sox way back in 1943. It is pretty rare, indeed.