By running into an unnecessary out, losing a fly ball in the sun, and throwing a live ball into the stands with only two outs, Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley came tantalizing close to one of baseball’s rarest statistical accomplishments in Friday’s loss to Minnesota at Wrigley: Screwing Up for the Cycle.
Statisticians still debate exactly what constitutes the Screw-up Cycle (SUC), and it is not yet an official major league statistic, though it’s common from T-Ball through Double-A. Some argue that it’s a mistake running the bases, at the plate, and in the field. But this only has three screwups, while the classic Hitting for the Cycle–single, double, triple and homer in one game–requires four, according to Emil Statskowiecz, of the Society for American Baseball Research. “The more appealing definition of this feat is screwing up at the plate, on the base paths, catching a ball and throwing a ball.”
This is no easy thing to accomplish, as to screw up base-running, you first have to get on base, something Bradley has not done much of since signing with the Cubs. “Most of the time when he SUCs, the player gets on base by being hit by a pitch, an error, or catcher’s interference.” This leads to the tantalizing possibility of a double SUC, where one player’s screw-up allows another to get on base and complete their own SUC.
Bradley, however, screwed up his chance at baseball immortality by having a decent day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI. His misplayed fly ball also doesn’t officially constitute a fielding error, since he didn’t get his glove within 20 feet of the ball. And no run scored after his premature distribution of a souvenir into the bleachers on the fly ball he managed to catch in the eighth inning.
Another variant on the SUC involves differentiating between physical and mental errors. The problem here, Statskowiecz says, is that it’s hard to tell with Bradley. “His physical errors could be the result of how mental he is.” Bradley is also competing with historical Cub outfielders, from Hack Wilson to Andy Pafko to Keith Moreland to Sammy Sosa. “The Cubs have had more players SUC than any team in baseball history, apart from the Cleveland Spiders and the St. Louis Browns,” Statskoweicz says.
When informed of Bradley’s near miss, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said “What can I say? The guy screwed up his chance to really screw up. It’s been that sort of season.”
By Bill Savage, Heckler reader and baseball expert