Pittsburgh Pirates Great: Kiki Cuyler

On September 29,1921 in the second game of a doubleheader against the St Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates put a new right fielder into their lineup and batted him in the cleanup spot. That first game for Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler, turned out to be his only game that season for the Pirates. He went 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout, and handled his only chance in the outfielder cleanly. It would be nearly a full year before he played another game with the Pirates, and even during the 1922 season, his only game for the Pirates ended up being a pinch running appearance. Before he left the team though, Cuyler would put himself among the all-time greats in team history.  

Born on August 30,1898 in Harrisville, Michigan, Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler got a late start in baseball and it may have never started, had he not had his hours cut at his everyday job. The need for a steady income led him to his baseball career and because of his late start, it took four full seasons of minor league ball for him to become a major league regular. When he finally did, he quickly made his mark on the game.

In 1920, playing for Bay City of the Michigan-Ontario League, Cuyler had a quiet beginning to his career. In 69 games, he hit .258, with just one home run. Returning to the team the following season, he drew the attention of the Pirates with a .317 average in 116 games, collecting 16 triples and eight homers. That led to his one game trial with the team during his first of three straight September stays.

In 1922, Kiki was sent to the Charleston Pals of the South Atlantic League, where he batted .309 with 56 extra base hits in 131 games. The word early on about Cuyler was that he punished fastballs, but had trouble with breaking balls. During his first three seasons in the minors, he played in Class B, not the low minors, but also not the best level of play. He moved up to Class A ball in 1923, playing for Nashville of the Southern Association and he continued his strong hitting. In 149 games, he batted .340 with 65 extra base hits, while also adding in 62 stolen bases. That got Cuyler extra playing time with the Pirates in September. He started ten games in left field and one in center, hitting .250 in 40 AB’s.

In 1924, he finally made the Pirates Opening Day roster, though it was as a backup outfielder at first. He didn’t get off the bench for the first 18 games of the season. The Pirates outfield to start the year was Hall of Fame center fielder Max Carey, longtime Pirates Carson Bigbee in left field and Clyde Barnhart, a third baseman-turned-outfielder in right field. When Carey and Bigbee both missed a short time in mid-May, Cuyler was forced into action and he responded. In his first four starts, he collected 11 hits, a small streak that helped keep his name in the lineup once the two regulars were back.

Despite not playing the first 18 games, Cuyler ended up hitting .354 with 85 RBI’s, 32 stolen bases and 94 runs scored. Carey, with his .297 average, had the second highest mark on the team among regulars and only hard-hitting shortstop Glenn Wright, had more RBI’s. That season led to one of the best years in team history, the World Series winning 1925 season. Cuyler had one of the best seasons in team history that year, batting third in the lineup for most of the year. He hit .357 with a 1.021 OPS, leading the league in games played, plate appearances, runs scored and triples. His 144 runs scored that year, ranked third all-time in team history, and it is the highest total since the 1894 season. His 220 hits is the seventh highest mark in team history and his 369 total bases, stands at the top of the team’s all-time list, unsurpassed in the last 87 years. Only Willie Stargell in 1973, collected more extra base hits in a season, during the franchise’s 131 seasons.

In the World Series against the Washington Senators, Cuyler hit .269 in seven games, driving in six runs. The Pirates won their second of five World Series titles that season and Kiki was instrumental in two of the wins. In game two, he hit an eighth inning two-run homer off of future Hall of Famer, Stan Coveleski, giving the Pirates a 3-2 victory. In the eighth inning of game seven, against the great Walter Johnson, Cuyler hit a bases loaded, two-out, ground-rule double that broke a 7-7 tie. Pittsburgh won the game 9-7, capping an improbable comeback off the best pitcher of all-time.

The Pirates couldn’t repeat in 1926 as NL champs, but Cuyler still had a strong season at the plate. He batted .321, while leading the league with 157 games played, 113 runs scored and 35 stolen bases. He also tied Paul Waner for the team lead with 92 RBI’s. The outfielder that season of Waner, Cuyler and Carey, represents one of the best trio of names in baseball history, three Hall of Famers all in the starting lineup. It may not have been as good as the outfield group the next season though, as Carey was put on waivers and Lloyd Waner joined his brother and Cuyler, as they roamed the outfield at Forbes Field.

The group did not last long together and Cuyler’s time with the Pirates came to an unfortunate early end. He became upset about having his position and spot in the lineup changed, after he came back from an injury that cost him three weeks in the middle of the season. After an August 6th game against the Giants, in which Cuyler made a couple base running blunders, the Pirates manager Donie Bush decided to bench his star outfielder. The benching lasted the rest of the season, as Cuyler started one of the last 46 games, and didn’t play in any of the last 27 games. In the World Series against the Yankees, Cuyler continued to ride the bench, going without an AB in the four game series.

Cuyler would later apologize for his actions, but the damage was done. In the off-season, Pittsburgh sent him to the Chicago Cubs for Sparky Adams and Pete Scott, a trade that turned out to be a disaster for the team. Cuyler played eight years in Chicago, hitting .325 with 602 RBI’s and 665 runs scored, three times leading the league in stolen bases. He helped them to two World Series appearances, 1929 when he hit .300 against the Athletics and in 1932, when Babe Ruth hit his called shot home run. He remained in the majors for another three seasons after leaving Chicago, playing with the Reds and then Dodgers. In 1879 career games, he batted .321 with 1065 RBI’s and 1305 runs scored, collecting 2299 hits and 328 stolen bases. In 1929, he hit a career high of .360 and the following year he drove in 134 runs.

With the Pirates, Cuyler batted .336 with 312 RBI’s and 415 runs scored in 525 games. His batting average ranks third in team history behind Jake Stenzel and Paul Waner. In 1925, he finished second in the NL MVP voting to Rogers Hornsby, and in the prior season, he finished eighth in the voting. Kiki was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968, eighteen years after he passed away.

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John Lease

Shirley you jest… Don’t call me Shirley!

Lee Young

One of my all time favorites. For years I called him KeeKee (like KiKi Dee)….lol

Lee Young

One of my all time favorites. For years I called him KeeKee (like KiKi Dee)….lol

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