A Good Day to Go Cycling

For whatever reason, be it a couple of months of practicing and playing under the belt, better weather, or reasons unknown, July 2 has been a good day for cycles in the history of the Cleveland Indians organization.

Two of the nine cycles hit by members of the Cleveland franchise over its 119 completed seasons of Major League play have landed on the second day of July, with the first of them coming 50 years ago today.

Tony Horton’s time in Cleveland and in Major League Baseball came to a very unexpected halt during the 1970 season, but before his playing career ended, he accomplished one of the rare feats possible for a baseball player.

Horton came to Cleveland in 1967, after debuting at the young age of 19 and spending parts of four seasons with Boston. With some mixed early results, he was dealt by the Red Sox to the Indians on June 4, 1967, with Don Demeter for All-Star Gary Bell. With the chance to slot into the lineup regularly with Cleveland at first base, Horton put up some good numbers. In his 106 games with the Indians in 1967, he hit .281 with 13 doubles, ten homers, and 44 RBI. He played in 133 games the following season, hitting a career-high 14 homers and 59 RBI, and he did even better in a nearly full slate of action in 1969, when he hit .278 with 25 doubles and established new highs of 27 homers and 93 RBI.

Horton was back in the middle of the Tribe’s lineup for manager Al Dark in 1970. While not quite as productive as the previous year, he was still giving the offense something as through the first three months of play, he was hitting .249 with a .325 on-base percentage with 14 doubles, nine homers, and 37 RBI in 66 games while out of the lineup just five times. He had a three-hit game against the White Sox on April 25, a three-homer game against the Yankees in game two of a doubleheader on May 24, and he drove in five in a four-hit performance against Detroit in 12 innings of a doubleheader on June 21, shortly after Dark moved him down in the batting order.

He opened July with a pair of singles in the middle game of three with Baltimore before adding his name to a short list in team history that included just Bill Bradley, Earl Averill, Odell Hale, and Larry Doby.

Sam McDowell drew the starting nod for a scuffling Cleveland club against Baltimore’s Jim Hardin at Memorial Stadium. Neither fared well in a game that went down to the wire, one night after Jim Palmer blanked the Indians in an eight-hitter. Horton, who had been pressing at the plate, got the start at first and hit sixth in Dark’s lineup. He had talked with the media about some of his troubles on the field, many of which he had no answers for.

“I can’t understand it…I just can’t understand what I’m doing wrong,” he was quoted in the July 3, 1970, edition of The Plain Dealer. “I know I should relax, and I tell myself to relax every time I go to the plate. But I don’t. I can’t, but don’t ask me why. It used to be that I relaxed when I batted, but I was tight in the field. You know, worried about doing the right thing if the ball was hit to me. But everything was natural when I was at the plate. Now, it’s just the opposite. I don’t worry about anything when I’m playing first base, and that’s probably why I’m playing first base better. At least I think I am.

“I wonder if people realize how tough this game is to play…and how it teaches humility…real humility.”

Due to a good first inning by the Tribe, Horton got to tackle that self-doubt quickly in the contest. Jack Heidemann was plunked to start the game, but was forced at second on a fielder’s choice by Graig Nettles. Vada Pinson moved him to third on a single to center and Ray Fosse put the first runs of the day on the scoreboard with a three-run shot to left-center, wasting no time in extending his hitting streak to 23 straight [O’s manager Earl Weaver was also tossed from the game during his at bat for arguing balls and strikes]. Duke Sims lined to second for the second out before Horton kept the inning going with a double to center. He was stranded there when Ted Uhlaender flied out to left.

McDowell put on three runners to get into trouble in the bottom half, as a leadoff single by Merv Rettenmund was followed by a one-out walk by Frank Robinson and a single by Boog Powell to load the bases. A wild pitch with Paul Blair at the plate allowed Bobby Grich to score to make it a 3-1 game.

Hardin worked around an error in the second and McDowell struck out the side in the home half. Hardin got three straight ground ball outs around the infield to clear the third quickly, while the Orioles used a four-run third frame to take the lead. Rettenmund walked, Robinson was hit by a pitch with one out, and Blair walked to load the bases with two down. Brooks Robinson cleared the bases with a triple to left to give the O’s the lead and Davey Johnson knocked him home with a single to left to make it 5-3 Baltimore.

Horton got things going for the Tribe in the fourth against Hardin, driving a triple to right before scoring on a double by Uhlaender to cut the deficit to 5-4.

After McDowell worked around a walk in the fourth, Hardin returned to the mound and nearly got into trouble. Pinson singled with one out and Fosse reached safely on error, but Sims flied to center and Horton, in his third at bat of the day, popped up in foul territory for the final out.

F. Robinson padded the Baltimore lead with a leadoff homer to start the fifth to make it 6-4, but Eddie Leon countered with one of his own for Cleveland in the top of the sixth off of Hardin to get the game back within one at 6-5. McDowell got the hook in the top of the sixth, lifted for a pinch-hitter after Leon’s homer.

1970 Topps
Horton’s 1970 Topps card

Hardin survived the inning before being replaced to start the seventh by Marcelino Lopez. Pinson reached on an error with one out and Fosse singled to end Lopez’s day, bringing Moe Drabowsky in from the bullpen. He struck out Chuck Hinton for the second out, but Horton came through with a single to left that scored Pinson to tie the game at six.

Dennis Higgins kept Baltimore scoreless in the seventh before the Indians took the lead for good with a productive eighth. Leon singled and pinch-hitter Buddy Bradford was hit by a pitch. Heidemann sacrificed the runners over and Larry Brown drew a walk to load the bases. Pete Richert entered for Drabowsky to face Pinson, who hit a comebacker to the pitcher, but his throw to the plate was missed by the catcher to allow the go-ahead run to score. Fosse knocked home Bradford with a sacrifice fly to make it an 8-6 Indians lead.

Cleveland’s Dean Chance allowed a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth, but no further damage, bringing Horton back to the plate to lead off the ninth against Richart. With a double, a triple, a foul out, and a single to his credit in four trips on the day, Horton drilled a homer over the wall in left to complete his cycle, putting him in rare company in Indians history. Heidemann added a sacrifice fly later in the inning, with both runs looming large as Powell slugged a three-run homer off of Chance in the ninth before the right-hander settled down and got Blair on a strikeout and B. Robinson and Johnson on grounders to the left side of the infield to secure the 10-9 victory.

The next day’s write-up in The Plain Dealer made mention of Horton’s cycle, but was more focused on Fosse’s 23-game hitting streak and the Indians ending a 10-game losing streak against the Orioles. Russell Schneider’s “Batting Around” column spoke in greater length on Horton, but only his discouraged mental state regarding his performance on the diamond prior to his cycle and less about the production that he provided.

Horton played well enough through the rest of July and into early August, but playing time and his production began to dwindle as the Indians dropped down the standings. The boo birds were becoming more and more vocal when Horton was at the plate. He made just six starts in the second half of the month and completed just four of those games. After an 0-for-2 in game two of a doubleheader in Cleveland against the California Angels, Horton was removed after five innings.

Initially, Dark said it was a groin injury that had taken a “physically exhausted” Horton out of the game. Still out of the lineup through mid-September, the Indians released a statement regarding the 25-year-old on September 15, 1970, which said, “We’ve had several inquiries about Tony Horton. The latest report we have is that Tony is home in Los Angeles, resting in a hospital and doing very well at this time.” He was previously hospitalized in Cleveland before he was sent home to southern California, where he grew up and attended college. The rumor mill implied that Horton was battling some very strong demons.

Horton was thought to be on the trade block in the offseason, one year after holding out over financial disputes with Dark the previous winter. That all changed on January 22, 1971, when the Indians announced that Horton was still hospitalized with an emotional disorder and was not being expected to play during the coming campaign.

“The doctor and Tony are working this thing out together and they’ll make any decisions on what to do,” Horton’s father, Troy, told The Plain Dealer. “But as it stands now, there is no reason whatsoever for anyone, Alvin Dark included, to speculate that Tony will never play baseball again. He’s doing fine and has improved a great deal, especially in the last two weeks. But the opinion of the doctor is that Tony should not be in any rush to play this year.”

Spring Training 1971 came and went. So did the entire season. Comeback rumors swirled again the following spring, but Horton was nowhere in camp. Still just 27, he spoke briefly with The Plain Dealer in quotes from the June 15, 1972, edition, where he said, “I feel fine and everything is okay. I work at the stock exchange and I play a lot of golf and read a lot. I follow the Indians in the newspapers and watch as many games on television as I can. But otherwise, I haven’t given much thought to playing baseball again. I don’t know if I ever will. I’ve got some things to work out first. Before I’d even consider trying to play again, I’d want to be sure that I’m ready and that I really want to play. Right now I don’t.”

Horton never picked up a bat at the professional level again and, to all accounts, does not talk about his baseball career to this date. Attempts to do so have been declined. He was described by author Bill Madden (via contact by SABR in February 2006) as needing “to sever all ties to baseball and that part of his life” in order to recover from the breakdown that he suffered and that “his old teammates and managers never heard from him again”.

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While Horton was set to enter the prime years of his career at the time of his cycle and before the stresses of his life forced a premature exit from baseball, the second Indians player to hit for the cycle on July 2 did so in the twilight of his career, holding on for every last game in his eleventh MLB season and at the age of 35.

Rajai Davis had logged ten years of time in the Majors with five different clubs (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Oakland, Toronto, and Detroit) when his baseball life brought him to Progressive Field in December of 2015. Never really known for his offensive production, Davis was far better recognized for his ability to affect the game with his legs. In 1,067 games over his first ten seasons, he owned a career slash of .269/.316/.387 with an average of 18 doubles, four triples, and four homers a year. On the base paths, he had averaged 32 swipes a season, topping 40 four different times.

The veteran outfielder, inked to a one-year deal for $5.25 million, saw regular playing time at all three outfield spots while also serving as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

Davis was hitting .271 at the end of June through his first 69 games, having shown a surprising amount of pop (eight homers) and some impressive theft work (21 steals in 24 attempts). In the final game of the month and in the series opener of four against his former Blue Jays club in Toronto, he went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer. The Indians opened July with a 2-1 win over the Jays in a 14-inning marathon, but Davis went 0-for-6 on the day.

Looking to get back off the schneid the next day, Davis did just that as he started the game with a bang, taking Toronto’s Marco Estrada deep to left on a 3-2 pitch for his ninth homer of the season. Estrada struck out the next three swinging.

A three-run homer in the bottom half by future Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion plated two other players with ties past or future to Cleveland in Ezequiel Carrera and Josh Donaldson as opener Zach McAllister allowed four to reach in the three-run first. Estrada used a double play to avoid trouble in the second and Jeff Manship kept the Blue Jays off of the ‘board in the home half.

Davis got his second look in the third and knocked a big hurdle in the cycle hunt out of the way. After a single by Tyler Naquin and a strikeout by Chris Gimenez, Davis sent the eighth pitch of his at bat down the right field line and into the corner for an RBI-triple, cutting the Tribe deficit to 3-2.

Carlos Santana tied the game in the fourth with a solo homer. Davis was finally retired by Estrada in his third trip to the plate on the afternoon, grounding to short to end the top of the fifth.

The Jays reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the frame as Troy Tulowitzki took Shawn Morimando deep for a two-run shot after the rookie left-hander, making his Major League debut, walked a tight rope in his first two innings of work in the third and fourth. The Indians cut the Jays’ lead back to one with an unconventional run in the sixth against reliever Joe Biagini. Jason Kipnis reached on a strikeout wild pitch. Jose Ramirez singled. Santana walked after a Mike Napoli strikeout to load the bases. Lonnie Chisenhall struck out for the second out and on the eighth pitch of a long battle, Juan Uribe was plunked by a 3-2 offering to force home Cleveland’s fourth run of the day.

After a scoreless bottom of the sixth, the Indians used a pair of runs to retake the lead. Facing Drew Hutchison after a Gimenez lineout, Davis doubled to center, giving him three hits and nine total bases on the day. He came in to score one out later on a single by Ramirez. A double by Napoli put the Tribe on top, 6-5.

Donaldson tied the game again, homering to left-center off of Dan Otero to start the seventh, and he put the Jays out in front for good in the eighth, coming through with an RBI-single off of Tommy Hunter to make it 7-6. Michael Saunders added two more with a two-run double.

Up second for what looked to be his final at bat of the day barring a comeback by the offense, Davis jumped on the first pitch that he saw from closer Roberto Osuna with one out in the ninth and lined a single over the right side of the infield to complete his cycle in reverse fashion, going homer, triple, double, and single to complete the feat.

“I have not hit for a cycle [before],” Davis said in a story on MLB.com on July 2, 2016. “Not in Little League, not in Senior League, not in Babe Ruth, not in the Minors. Not until now, in The Show, the big leagues. It’s nice.”

Davis’ cycle was number eight in team history, following Andre Thornton’s on April 22, 1978, and Travis Hafner’s on August 14, 2003 (Jake Bauers has since hit the ninth for the franchise, doing so last June 14). The reverse cycle had been accomplished just six times in Major League history to that point, with Carlos Gomez hitting the last one before Davis in 2008 while with the Minnesota Twins.

Davis returned to Oakland following the 2016 season as a free agent and was traded to Boston during the year. He re-signed with the Indians for the 2018 season and played a handful of games for the New York Mets in 2019. He looks to continue his playing career at the age of 39 in the Mexican League this year.

Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. I will always love my tribe. What a great person Rajai Davis is. All blessings to him, Tony Horton, and all of the tribe family.

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