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Curry Foley Hits for First Cycle in Major League History

By: Brian Frank

Curry Foley was born in Milltown, Ireland on January 14, 1856. His family moved to the United States when he was seven years old. By the age of 23, he was playing for the Boston Red Caps of baseball’s National League (the Red Caps would go on to become the Boston Braves and eventually the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.) Foley had a five year Major League career, split between two years in Boston, and three years with the Buffalo Bisons. He was a .286 lifetime hitter, with six homeruns and 128 RBI, and also pitched, compiling a 27-27 record with a 3.54 ERA and 127 strikeouts in his career. However, Foley is best remembered in baseball history as being the first major league player to hit for the cycle while playing right field for the National League’s Buffalo Bisons on May 25, 1882.

The game of baseball in 1882 was still developing the modern rules and equipment that are familiar to fans of today’s game. Among some of the more obvious differences from the modern game are that most players still played the game without gloves, pitchers were not allowed to deliver a pitch above the waist (although many would push the bounds of that rule,) batters were allowed to call for a low or high pitch, and eight balls were needed for a base on balls.[1]

Perhaps the rule that today’s fans would notice first if they saw a game from 1882, would be the rule that defined each team's uniform. A new 1882 National League rule stated that each player had to wear a shirt and hat color coded to denote the position they were playing. Catchers wore scarlet, pitchers light blue, first basemen scarlet and white (striped,) second basemen orange and blue, third basemen blue and white, shortstop maroon, right field green, centerfield red and black, and left field white. The Buffalo Express stated that the comical looking uniforms as “zebra garments” and went on to say “the players look like a lot of jackasses turned to pasture.”[2] Even the players were embarrassed at how they looked. The Buffalo Express reported on April 13 that “The new uniforms have arrived. We say ‘uniforms’ out of courtesy for ‘costumes’ is the proper word- a more thoroughly disgusted lot of ball players than the Bisons would be impossible to find.”[3] According to the Express, Bisons manager and future Baseball Hall of Fame member, Jim O’Rourke, said “Why great heaven! The idea of dressing up like a lot of fantastic- making clowns of professional base-ball players! They are the meanest suits that ever were made, and that doesn’t half express my indignation. If we’re ever so unfortunate as to play near a lunatic asylum we’ll get into trouble. Go to a strange city with these patch-works and the people would chase us all over a 10-acre lot with pitchforks.”[4] In fact, since both team’s players at each position were wearing the same color uniforms, the only way to tell one team from the other was to look at their socks. Buffalo wore gray socks, Cleveland navy blue, Boston red, Chicago white, Detroit old gold, Troy green, Providence light blue, and Worcester brown.

The Bisons played their 1882 games at Riverside Park, which was located in the block bounded by West and Fargo Avenues, and Vermont and Rhode Island Streets. Admission to the game was only 25 cents, but attendance to start the season was low due to cold weather. Less than 1,000 people were on hand to see the first cycle.[5]

The Bisons entered the game against the Cleveland Blues with a 6-7 record. Their hitting, led by future Baseball Hall-of-Famer Dan Brouthers was well regarded around the league. As the Buffalo Express noted “If batting will win the Championship, the Buffalos have it.”[6] However, their fielding and pitching were another matter. Future Hall-of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin was inconsistent to start the year, while thirty-four year old rookie Hugh “One Arm” Daily was off to a better start. The often volatile Daily was the first pitcher missing a hand to make the major leagues, paving the way for the likes of Pete Gray and Jim Abbott. Daily lost his left hand due to a gun accident and had a special pad made for his left arm, which he used to trap the ball between the pad and his right hand.

Daily took the mound for Buffalo for the May 25th game. He would finish his rookie year of 1882 with a 15-14 record and a 2.99 ERA, starting 29 games and completing all of them. The pitcher for Cleveland was George Bradley, who is notable for having thrown the first no-hitter in major league history on July 15, 1876, playing for the St. Louis Brown Stockings in the first year of the National League. Bradley had a very good major league career before he took the mound against Buffalo that day. His 16 shutouts in 1876 are still a major league record. He would go on to a career record of 171-151, with a 2.42 ERA. He was also a light hitting third baseman with a career average of .229. Bradley made 16 starts for Cleveland in 1882, going 6-9 with a 3.73 ERA. He was the team’s second pitcher to Jim McCormick, who led the league with 36 wins in a league leading 67 starts, 65 of which were complete games. It was truly a different era of baseball.

Before the game even started, there was controversy over who the umpire should be. Only a single umpire was used in National League games at the time and Cleveland objected to Joseph Quinn umpiring the game. After a long argument, Buffalo manager Jim O’Rourke finally agreed to let Charles L. Bullymore of Victoria, Ontario, call his first National League game. Bullymore would have a rough day. He made a couple close calls against Cleveland in the early going, and his “judgement on balls and strikes was not the best.”[7] At one point Cleveland even wondered if the game should go on due to the umpiring. Fortunately, they decided that it would.

Piecing together the actual play-by-play of the game from numerous newspapers of the time is rather difficult, as the game recaps often weren’t as specific as they are today. Perhaps a better way of saying this is that the game recaps did not emphasize the same types of things that would be stressed today. For example, Cleveland argued that Foley’s homerun should not have been a homerun, but there is no explanation as to why (Was there a question if it cleared the fence? Was it close to being foul? Was it because of the developing rules at the time, or confusion over local ground rules?) Also, the idea of hitting a single, double, triple and home run being a cycle was not an idea or term that was commonly used yet, so newspapers did not describe the feat in any more detail than they would any other hits in the game.

In the bottom of the first, Buffalo’s Blondie Purcell and Dan Brouthers both singled, and Deacon White reached on an error to load the bases for Curry Foley with two outs. Foley began his cycle by depositing the ball over the left field fence for a grand slam. For some unclear reason, Cleveland argued that the hit should have been a double, however Foley was awarded a homerun. At the end of the first inning, the Bisons led 4-0.

In the second inning, after Jim O’Rourke doubled, Dan Brouthers singled, Hardy Richardson reached on an error, and Deacon White singled, Curry Foley once again came to bat with the bases loaded. This time Foley cleared the bases with a triple. The Bisons continued their parade around the bases with a Jack Rowe single, Davey Force double, Hugh Daily double and Blondie Purcell single. By the end of the inning, Buffalo had brought 11 men to the plate, scored eight runs, and led 12-0.

In the third inning, Foley’s single would help contribute to two more runs, putting Buffalo ahead 14-0.[8] He would complete the cycle in the fifth inning with a double, which would help lead to another run. After a five run seventh, Buffalo went on to win the game 20-1, with 28 hits on the day.

Foley finished the day 4-6, with four runs, and the first ever major league cycle. It is unclear how many runs batted in he had due to imprecise game recaps (RBIs were not yet included in box scores,) but he had at least eight, and maybe nine- four on the grand slam, three on the bases clearing triple, and at least one on his third inning single, maybe two. The fifth inning double was with the bases empty. He came into the day hitting .267, and ended it hitting .314. There is no mention of a cycle being hit in any of the Buffalo newspapers the next day, as the term had apparently not come into vogue yet.

Foley would finish the 1882 season hitting .305, with 104 hits, 3 home runs, 16 doubles, 4 triples, 49 runs batted in and 51 runs scored. He was forced to retire a little over a year later, after the 1883 season, at the age of just 27 due to rheumatism.[9] He died at the young age of 42. However, he will always be remembered for an accomplishment that no one recognized at the time, hitting for the first cycle in major league history.

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[1] Peter Morris, A Game of Inches, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006. Morris notes that “Until sometime in the 1880s, almost all reliable sources agree, most catchers and first basemen were wearing no more than simple finger gloves, and most other fielders were bare-handed.”

[2] Sports and Pastimes, Buffalo Express, April 13, 1882.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “A Great Game,” Buffalo Express, May 26, 1882.

[6] “Time! Now Let the Ball Begin,”Buffalo Express, May 1, 1882.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Buffalo Courier, May 26, 1882. In some places online, it says that Curry hit a reverse cycle (homerun, triple, double, single, in that order,) and hit his single in the seventh inning, after the double. However, the Buffalo Courier from the day after the game clearly states in its game recap that Foley got a hit in the third inning (the single,) doubled in the fifth, and did not get a hit in the seventh inning.

[9] Brian McKenna, “Curry Foley”

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