There is nothing in baseball I love more than a perfect sacrifice bunt. Mainly, I love it because it’s so annoying. There is a runner on the bases already and the opposing team is stressed. We need runs, and our batter is not a Home Run Derby contender. The batter stands in the box and at the last moment pivots, holds the bat at a slight angle and presses it into the ball. The sound is terrible. There is no booming crack, just a terrible thunk. The ball rolls slowly down the line, or to the pitcher. It doesn’t have to be that good of a bunt because it’s not for the batter. It’s for the team.
Sacrifice is a lost art in baseball. Last night, while I was watching Sunday Night Baseball, I was thinking about how, in this era of baseball where sabermetrics and the three true outcomes reign supreme, it is the former gritty heroes of the game—the guys who hit sacrifice flies and bunt runners over—who are perhaps a little under-appreciated for once. These players, I think, still deserve their own kind of glory, and that’s why I have invented a new statistic called The Saint Cycle.
To hit for the Saint Cycle, a player must use each of their at-bats for the benefit of their team and not themselves. They must martyr themselves for the win, and they must do this in a distinct way for each at-bat. The ways they can do this according to me, inventor of this statistic, are: Hit By Pitch, Walk, Sacrifice Bunt, Sacrifice Fly, and Productive Out. A productive out (in case you just learned this term like I did) is when a routine ground ball or other out moves a runner from (say) second to third. It is very hard to hit for the Saint Cycle because not only must you be strategic, able to bunt, and collaborative with your teammates, you must be willing to sacrifice honor and splendor. You must put the team on your back, prostrate yourself for the win. You must be good and magnificent.
I called up Frank Labombarda, the head of research for Elias Sports Bureau, and asked him if anyone kept this stat. No, he told me. No one keeps it. But, he said, “It’s not silly. No statistic is silly. If it’s interesting to you, it’s not silly.” And unluckily for him, the Saint Cycle is very interesting to me. I wanted to know: Had anyone successfully done it? How many saints did Major League Baseball have?
Frank called me back a couple of hours later. We were in luck. Though he warned me that it is impossible to have a fully comprehensive list of people who have hit for the Saint Cycle, he did find a few. MLB does have some saints. “You wouldn’t know these guys had a good game looking at their stat pages, but I guess that’s your point. This guy did a lot and no one remembers.” And that is exactly my point. We must remember them.
We must canonize them.
SAINT TIM FLANNERY
On Oct. 1, 1988, Tim Flannery hit for the Saint Cycle. He was playing for the San Diego Padres in a game against Houston Astros. In five at-bats, Flannery sacrificed himself for the good of the team a different way each time. His first at-bat, he was hit by a pitch. His second, he drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. His third, he walked. In his fourth at-bat he hit a fly ball to move the runner from second to third. His last at-bat, he sacrifice bunted.
The Padres won, 6-3. Congratulations to Saint Tim Flannery.
SAINT JOSE MORALES
On April 22, 1979, Jose Morales hit for the Saint Cycle in a game for the Minnesota Twins against the Seattle Mariners. He batted only four times, but in each he sacrificed himself for his team. His first at-bat, he walked. His second, he sacrifice bunted. His third, he grounded out with a man on second, moving him to third (productive out). His last at-bat, he hit a sacrifice fly.
The Twins won that game, 3-1. Congratulations to Saint Jose Morales.
SAINT BIFF POCOROBA
On April 17, 1977, Biff Pocoroba hit for the Saint Cycle playing for the Atlanta Braves in a game against the Houston Astros. In his first at-bat, he grounded out with a man on second, moving him to third. In his second, he walked. In his third, he hit a sacrifice fly. In his fourth at-bat, with a runner on second, Biff Pocoroba bunted a man over to third. The next batter (who cares who he was) hit a double, batting in the scoring run.
The Braves won, 5-4, because of Biff Pocoroba’s sacrifices. Congratulations to Saint Biff Pocoroba.
Sadly, we have no other record of other saints, though more may emerge with time. It is worth noting that with the data we do have, hitting for the Saint Cycle comes with a 100-percent guarantee that your team will win the game. More and more, hitters are swinging for the fences, but that’s their loss. You cannot become a saint by hitting a home run.