Stolen Bases

It was pretty cool.

After watching Jacoby Ellsbury steal home, I stood up and clapped along with the fans at Fenway, but it was more because they were then ahead of the dreaded Yankees than Ellsbury actually stealing home. I’ve seen replays of stealing home, but I’ve never seen it live (on TV or in person). I thought it was cool. A couple things about it before I get to the actual post. One, did anyone else laugh at the awkward trip/slide of Ellsbury? People have kind of bypassed that, but he looked like he thought he was going to get in standing before realizing he had to dive. In the meantime, he just kind of tripped into home. Two, why did the announcers (I think it was Miller) keep blaming Posada? He needs to be paying attention to the pitch and not Ellsbury in the off chance he might steal home. And how was he supposed to come out to get the pitch? Drew did back up, but Drew could have easily thrown a lazy swing to hit Posada for catcher’s interference. Posada couldn’t do anything else. Sorry, but that was all Pettite. You just don’t expect someone to steal home these days. Anyway, on to the post.

Stolen bases have been around since the beginning of the game, but they weren’t exactly in the form they are now. The first modern stolen base was in 1865 by Eddie Cuthbert, but that wasn’t the only way to get a stolen base. In those days, a stolen base was simply added to the “total bases” category (not its own) and could be credited when one took the extra base on a hit. Say you are on first and the batter hits it into right. When you take third on the single, it counts as a steal because you only had to move one base. It wasn’t until 1877 that stolen bases even received any statistical recognition. In 1887, the stolen base finally received its own column in the box score. The modern stolen base rules were finally implemented in 1898.

From the beginning of the game to Babe Ruth, stealing bases was an essential strategy that was perfected by guys like Ty Cobb, Max Carey, and Honus Wagner. When Babe Ruth came-a-callin’, the game changed into a power sport focused on the home run. The stolen base wouldn’t really reappear until the late 1950’s when rules favoring pitchers began to force teams to find any way possible to score. Before that, Dom DiMaggio was famous for leading the AL in 1950 with 15 stolen bases. Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills took the lead in the 1960’s, and Lou Brock took over in the following decade. Stolen base king Rickey Henderson came in during the 1980’s, and Vince Coleman was his heir to the throne. Then came the 1990’s and the massive spikes in home runs, making the stolen base seemingly unnecessary. Lately after the steroid scandal, many wonder if the stolen base will make a comeback, and while I think it will to an extent, I don’t see it becoming a baseball-wide strategy, especially with sabermetrics essentially discrediting it.

As for career leaders in the category, we know Rickey Henderson is the leader, smashing the competition by almost 500 steals. Kenny Lofton is technically the active leader with 622, and oddly enough, Barry Bonds is second at 514. While they are still “active”, the actual active leader is Juan Pierre at 430. I imagine Carl Crawford (308) and Jose Reyes (294) will blow past him eventually, though Pierre did nab 40 last season (really?).

As for the almighty steal of home, Ty Cobb holds the record with 54. Max Carey holds the NL record with 33. 11 players have stolen home twice in one game, but unbelievably, neither Cobb nor Carey ever did it. No active player even has 10, and Paul Molitor is the most recent to have 10. Why? Well, a few places have speculated that there are two main reasons. The first is the turn away from steals all together, and the second is that modern pitchers don’t really go to the windup very often with a man on third. They used to almost as a rule (allowing more steals of home), but you rarely see it anymore. Personally, I don’t think I’d do it with Ellsbury on third, but that’s just hindsight.

But what about a rarer feat — stealing all the bases in one go? Ty Cobb did it a major-league record 4 times, and Honus Wagner did it an NL-record 3 times. Eric Young on June 30, 1996 was the last to do such a thing.

Fun fact: Rickey Henderson is not the single-season leader with 130 stolen bases … technically. Hugh Nichol stole 138 in 1887, but those were not all strict steals in the sense that we know them today. Remember the pre-1898 rules.


One Response to “Stolen Bases”

  1. dadlak Says:

    Add Jayson Werth to the short list of players who stole all three bases in one trip around.

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