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Baseball Legends: Hazen Shirley “Kiki” Cuyler (Pirates 1921-1927, Cubs 1928-1935, Reds 1935-1937, Dodgers 1938)

May 15, 2008

An outstanding hitter and the fastest player in the NL in his prime, KiKi Cuyler reached the majors in 1921 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a regular in the lineup in 1924, when he hit .354. In 1922, he hit .357 with 45 doubles, 26 triples, 18 homers, 102 RBIs, 144 runs scored, and 41 stolen bases.

In the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators, he had a game-winning home run in the second game, and in game seven his 2-run double in the 8th defeated Walter Johnson and Washington 9 to 7, making it the only time in his career he would be part of a championship team.

His nickname “Kiki” (pronounced like bye-bye), supposedly came from the way he stuttered his own last name. Another version is that while running in from center field the second baseman and shortstop would yell “Cuy” for him to take it, and the pressbox turned it into “Kiki”. Whatever the reason, it is not pronounced “Kee-Kee”.

Cuyler verbally expressed his dislike for batting second in the lineup and was benched halfway through the season in 1927 because of an argument with his manager, Donie Bush, related to a stand-up slide. It did not help that Cuyler won a salary dispute with the Pittsburgh owner, Barney Dreyfuss. To the amazement of the Pirate fans, Cuyler sat out the end of the season and was not allowed to play in the World Series. The salaries of Cuyler and the Waner brothers were probably more than the organization could bear, and late in the year, Cuyler was traded to the Chicago Cubs.

In what some have claimed the greatest game in Cubs history outside of Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin”, on August 31, 1932 against the Giants Cuyler had four hits. He singled in a four-run ninth that tied the game at 5-5. The Giants scored four in the top of the tenth, taking a 9-5 lead. In the bottom of the inning, after the first two men were out, the Cubs scored two and had two on. Cuyler then hits a walk-off home run for a 10-9 win, the Cubs’ 12th straight.

On September 20, 1932, five years after the Pirates had gotten rid of him, Cuyler blasted a triple against the them to clear the bases and clinch the second pennant for the Cubs in four seasons.

Cuyler swung hard and struck out often for this era of contact hitters. Batting in a style like Rogers Hornsby he could hit with power to all fields. Cuyler led the league in stolen bases four times and had 328 steals for his career. He batted over .300 ten times with a .321 lifetime batting average. In 1925, Cuyler collected hits in ten consecutive at-bats in September, to set a National League record, since tied by 9 other players. His 1929 total of 43 stolen bases stood until beaten by Maury Wills in 1960.

I would ask my father, who was fortunate enough to be a Cubs fan in the 1920s and 1930s, about the players he liked the most. I expected to hear about the exploits of Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby, but instead the name “Kiki” Cuyler always surfaced. Ironically, in the same breath, he would mention “Big Poison” and “Little Poison”, the Waner brothers, as if to say, “If it weren’t for the Waner brothers Kiki Cuyler may never have left Pittsburgh to help the Cubs win multiple pennants in the 1930s.”

Cuyler was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1968. In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.

See Cuyler’s career statistics at baseball-reference.com.

Written by Bill at the Golden Age of Baseball Cards.

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One comment

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