May 17, 2007

Baseball's lost art of larceny: Philadelphia Daily News writer Paul Hagen talks with Rickey Henderson and Maury Wills about the loss of the stolen base and the effect of playing for the three-run homer.

posted by wfrazerjr to baseball at 01:14 PM - 49 comments

It's too bad the stolen base has kind of died out. Most catchers today are in lineups due to their ability to hit (even though many struggle to do even that). It seems very few are adept at throwing runners out who attempt to steal. But pitchers get so rattled by base-stealers. Dave Roberts absolutely killed the Yankees a few years ago in the playoffs, going in to pinch run, then stealing bases at will. He was unstoppable, the Yankees knew it, and he (along with Ortiz) changed that series around. Stealing bases is just one more fundamental of the game that's not stressed anymore (along with bunting, hitting behind runners, etc). The story is right; everyone (no, not Ichiro) wants to be a power hitter nowadays.

posted by dyams at 02:02 PM on May 17

everyone (no, not Ichiro) wants to be a power hitter nowadays. Don't you remember the commercials with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz? "Chicks dig the long-ball!"

posted by yay-yo at 02:08 PM on May 17

I think it's just a long-term phase. More power is being demanded out of the catcher position, which means that catchers will become bulkier, which means that caught-stealing percentages will drop, which means that the next generation of general managers will say "Hey, we have an eighty-five percent chance of getting into scoring position if we attempt a steal—that's so much better than risking a worthless fly ball! Why didn't we think of this before?" Well, that's my theory anyway, and I'm sticking to it until I or somebody else comes up with something better. So not for very long, anyway.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 02:52 PM on May 17

I like watching my son's middle school games. If you like base stealing, that's the place to be. I'd say on average, between the two teams, there are about 12,946 stolen bases a game. That might have to do with the fact that the pitchers use Bugs Bunny wind ups and the catchers need a running start to get the ball to 2nd base. But they sure do have fun.

posted by THX-1138 at 03:07 PM on May 17

Maybe now the art of basestealing will return to his former glory but the power hitter rules because the fans like the look of a long homerun. Maury Wills was one of the most exciting players to come along in generations. He would get on and you could feel it in the air, what's next, second then third and sometimes home. Walk, steal, steal, steal run. Brock was exciting as was Henderson but they were different kinds of players. Wills made opposing teams think and do things that changed there game plans. The Giants watered and sanded down the area surrounding first base to stop Wills but it still didn't stop him. There are a couple of managers in todays game and run, the Angels come to mind, and this game and the way it is played seems to me to be a cycle. Basestealing will come back when the managers go back to the basics. Stealing helps the hitters because it takes the pitchers and catchers minds away from what they are trying to do that being get the batter outl.....

posted by The Old Man at 03:19 PM on May 17

I have to hand it to you, Old Man. You have, by far some of the best comments around. I would love if you had a site where you could tell all of your stories. The little details that you add (He would get on and you could feel it in the air) are just glorious. Makes me miss playing the game with a passion.

posted by BornIcon at 04:20 PM on May 17

I love the small ball game.Baseball is the subtlest of sports,with many quiet stratagems occuring all the time.Its a battle of wits with a little luck thrown in.Unfortunately the fans infatuation with the long ball has dimished this aspect.I believe the National League is more in tune, not only because of the lack of the DH.

posted by sickleguy at 05:36 PM on May 17

Everyone used to talk about how Hank Aarons record would NEVER be broken. Now it seems that Rickey's recordS may never be broken.

posted by yay-yo at 05:48 PM on May 17

Even as a non-baseball fan, I have noticed the lack of stolen bases and bunting, which more than just adding strategic options to the game, keeps players on their toes, and keeps games interesting. Variety, I say, variety!

posted by worldcup2002 at 06:01 PM on May 17

In my view, blaming the fans is bunk. Fans like winning. Fans like excitement. Fans like baseball. There is as much sound and involvement at the ballpark during an extended rally as there is when the long ball hitter is up. The emphasis on the long ball and the movement away from stealing starts in the front office. By the way, don't overestimate the value of a steal. The cost of being caught stealing is huge: it creates an out AND wipes out a hit or walk. No batter can do that. When you add the custom of "protecting the runner" by having the batter swing at almost anything when the runner is going, you have to be careful about using the steal.

posted by hexagram at 07:55 PM on May 17

By the way, don't overestimate the value of a steal. The cost of being caught stealing is huge: it creates an out AND wipes out a hit or walk. No batter can do that. Well, a batter could hit into the double- (or even rarer, triple-) play. For example: Ron Wright, on April 14 2002, had probably the worst game of his major league career. He struck out, hit into a double play, and hit into a triple play, in his 3 AB that game. Actually, it was his ONLY game in his major league career, meaning he retires as the worst hitter in MLB history as he created 6 outs in only 3 AB. Let's see some slow-footed base stealer do that!

posted by grum@work at 10:41 PM on May 17

Wow, that's like hitting for the negative cycle.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:48 PM on May 17

Triple Play: Groundout: P-SS/Forceout at 2B; Sierra out at Hm/SS-C-3B-P; Wright out at 2B/P-2B
Wow. He grounds to the pitcher, who throws to second to force Olerud. Sierra obviously wasn't going on contact, decides to go, and gets caught in a rundown. Wright, for whatever reason, can't pick up second during the rundown and gets thrown out. (But how about Kenny Rogers on the play? Two assists and one put-out! The irony here is that his best World Series chance was done in by pitcher's errors.) In any case, Wright's DP later in the game advanced Sierra to third, so Wright was "just doing his job and moving the runner over". Good man!

posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:00 PM on May 17

I grew up watching Lou Brock and then watched a young Vince Coleman steal at will. I miss it.

posted by budman13 at 11:52 PM on May 17

Henderson, Wills, and Lopes are I'd expect all quality instructors. But once you get past them who else is teaching base stealing, and at what level of the game? "Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, a big and beautiful baseball palace. Especially big. The fences were distant and the night air was heavy in Chavez Ravine. Home runs became harder to come by." Heavy night air yes, but only 405 to dead center. A band box compared to other stadiums.

posted by Newbie Walker at 02:38 AM on May 18

I think the reason stealing bases has kind of disappeared is due to the way kids are brought up through the game, especially with coaching. Kids are drilled on hitting, for the most part. It's what they love to do and what attracts them to the game. As they progress through various leagues, it's the guys who can hit who stand out and find themselves in starting lineups. It's not all that different from pitchers. With pitching, it's the guys who throw in the mid-to-upper 90s who attract the attention from coaches and scouts. The emphasis of the game has changed, and when fans are all of a sudden faced with a player who can run and make things happen, they look at such a player as almost an abnormality. Joe Torre, with the lineup he is provided most years, almost never even considers moving runners in any way, other than by a batted ball. Which hitter does he give up (if talking about a bunt/sacrifice)? Which bat do you risk taking out of someones hands by attempting, and possibly failing, with a stolen base? Like was mentioned, a big part of the blame has to fall on the McGwire/Sosa crap, the "juiced" balls of a few years back, etc.

posted by dyams at 07:15 AM on May 18

There have been 20 seasons -- not 20 players, 20 seasons -- in which a player has stolen 100 or more bases. Seven of those seasons have come since the designated hitter, three in the American League (all Rickey Henderson). When you talk about the shortage of 100 SB seasons, you're not talking about the disapperance of the stolen base, you're talking about the absence of superstar base stealers. Between 1891 and 1962 there were a grand total of zero 100 SB seasons. I don't buy the designated hitter excuse or the three-run homer excuse. There are two sentences in the article that I think underscore the reasoning behind a dropoff in stolen bases: "As a person who loves the stolen base, I would have been a home run hitter if I'd had the choice." That's Maury Wills speaking. Barry Bonds stole 52 bases in 1990, but he didn't want to be a stolen base guy, he wanted to be a home run guy. When Alex Sanchez gets busted for steroids, it's easy to see on what side of the game ballplayers naturally want to be. the sabermetricians are missing the fact that just the threat of a stolen base can change the game This sentence, almost verbatim, popped into my head as I started reading the article. The new method of managing by the numbers is not, in my opinion, properly calculating the real cost/benefit of base stealing.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 08:13 AM on May 18

One other thought: I can't help but wonder if baseball is actively trying to kill the stolen base. Throwing over to first slows the game down. A lot.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 08:25 AM on May 18

One other thought: I can't help but wonder if baseball is actively trying to kill the stolen base. Throwing over to first slows the game down. A lot. I see where you're coming from. I'm not quite ready to call it a conspiracy, but the league is always trying to make the game move along faster.

posted by yay-yo at 08:51 AM on May 18

It does slow down the game, but as a fan, it's always thrilling to see one of your guys successfully steal a base. Maybe what the game needs is a new stolen base star? When I was a kid we all wanted to be Ricky Henderson.

posted by drezdn at 09:48 AM on May 18

When I was a kid we all wanted to be Ricky Henderson. Really? I like Henderson as much as the next guy, but we played a lot of baseball growing up, and I don't remember one of my buddies wanting to be a pesky base stealer. Granted, Henderson could drive the ball, too, but the type of guys we all wanted to be like were the power, high-profile, long-ball hitters. I also happen to be 6-4, 250, so stealing bases was never going to really be my forte. But even when I was growing, though I was one of the bigger guys, I liked the idea of being able to drive the ball, hitting homers, or possibly stand-up doubles. While the smaller guys without the power were tearing themselves up having to slide and risk injury, I often didn't have to deal with those problems. Stealing bases does put guys at risk of injury more often, especially with the ridiculous popularity of the head-first slide. Staying healthy at whatever cost is the real priority.

posted by dyams at 10:07 AM on May 18

I also happen to be 6-4, 250 dyams, with your size, football should've been your calling. You're a beast my friend.

posted by BornIcon at 12:05 PM on May 18

Dyams, it was a bit more of my brother's thing (5'8"), but he could hit balls a block over when we played baseball. I think Henderson's cockiness appealed to him. He also loved Ozzie Smith.

posted by drezdn at 01:03 PM on May 18

He also loved Ozzie Smith. The Wizard of Oz. He was so endearing to the fans because of his personality, the way he played all out and the way he would come out and do his back flips. Great player.

posted by BornIcon at 01:21 PM on May 18

Well, for those of you who miss the stolen base and associated "small ball", there's good news. Just tune into the Angels (of Anaheim!). The team is built for speed and strong pitching. They've got the best games of small ball around. Stealing, bunting, squeezing and stretching the bags. It's really a lot of fun for real fans who understand the game's strategy. And, don't blame the catchers for lack of put-outs. Almost all of the stolen bases today come at the expense of the slow and deliberate pitcher. The bag is usually stolen before the catcher touches the ball.

posted by Toad8572 at 01:38 PM on May 18

I used to love watching Henderson smack a leadoff homer (especially when he was a Yankee). The guy was just a flat-out bitch to defend against.

posted by dyams at 01:42 PM on May 18

I used to love watching Henderson smack a leadoff homer (especially when he was a Yankee). The guy was just a flat-out bitch to defend against. And now he's with the Mets, showing speedy guys like Jose Reyes, Endy Chavez and Carlos Beltran the tricks of the trade. Rickey believes that if anyone can break his stolen base record, that would be Reyes. That cat can flat-out run.

posted by BornIcon at 01:57 PM on May 18

Ozzie Smith did back flips?

posted by YukonGold at 02:57 PM on May 18

Yes.

posted by bperk at 03:07 PM on May 18

Welcome to Baseball!

posted by qbert72 at 03:45 PM on May 18

Yes. No way. That's photoshop in action if I ever saw it.

posted by YukonGold at 07:52 PM on May 18

No photoshop, YukonGold, I've seen it in game telecasts a number of times. It was his trademark entrance when he came on the field, and it never failed to draw a roar from the crowd. I find it interesting this season that the Red Sox are giving Lugo, at the top of the order, and Crisp, when he hits second, the green light to steal. It would appear that they would take the bat out of Ortiz's hands if Crisp is successful in a steal, but it does not seem to be the case yet. One of the theories expressed by team members is that the threat of Crisp stealing while Ortiz is at bat causes some loss of concentration on the pitcher's part, thus making it more likely that he will make a mistake to Ortiz.

posted by Howard_T at 08:48 PM on May 18

posted by yerfatma at 06:59 AM on May 19

"causes some loss of concentration on the pitcher's part, thus making it more likely that he will make a mistake to Ortiz." I am not a baseball guy, but even I know losing concentration when pitching to Ortiz is not a good thing to have happen.

posted by Cave_Man at 07:16 AM on May 19

Baseball is always going to be a slow type of game because you never know what is going to happen game to game. 1-0, 9-1. 12-8 day to day team to team. Even when Ruth and the boys played in the 20's it could have been a rather slow day. Basestealing is a part of the game that can cause the game to speed up and not just running. Last year, the Angel and Dodgers were playing a game and the Angels shortstop was on third with a runner on first and Vidi at the plate. The Dodgers pitcherl, Billingsley, with one of the slowest moves to the plate, started his move to the plate and Cabrea broke towards home and beat the throw and scored with one of the best hitters in baseball at the plate. The crowd went wild, everyone was jumping up and down including the Angels players and Vidi just sat at the plate and smiled. Excitement that is what it is all about. Yes, I remember, the Dodgers with Wills a lot of 1-0 2-1, 3-2 games with the only offense being Wills a bunt single, steal second, steal third and then score on a ground out or fly out but still even then there was so much excitement in the air you could feel the game in your bones. High scoring games are fun for the fun sometimes but when it is close and you maybe depending on a stolen base and sac fly to win, that's what makes it baseball. A better man than me once stated "the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a pitched ball with a piece of wood" and you know a more truer statement has never been uttered. In what sport can you fail 70% of the time a be a all-star and make millions of dollars a year for playing a kids game.......

posted by The Old Man at 11:34 AM on May 19

Crafy, Can you show me how to post a quote or statement on this site. It seems that maybe my skills as a computer individual aren't quite what I would like them to be. It says to give a link or whatever and I can't get it to post on the site. thank old man

posted by The Old Man at 12:25 PM on May 19

I may be naive, but I think that the attendance figures for a franchise at the time of whatever offensive philosophy their management has in place will ultimately determine it's success or failure. Babe Ruth was the antidote for The Great War and the Sox scandal. Attendance had been decreasing and Ray Chapman's death made the ball easier to see and hit. The home run is a better lure for the casual fan who hopefully will hang around to learn to appeciate the triple, stolen base, and double play. Waiting for a three run homer brings the late 50s and The Earl of Baltimore to mind. The Birds also had great pitching ,defense ,(Blair, B Robby, Belanger, Johnson) and overall team speed. I often wonder if the late 50s were a backlash against the changes Jackie Robinson had brought to the game. One step forward , 2 steps back. Love the game first, team second.

posted by moongraham at 01:37 PM on May 19

Stolen bases may distract the pitcher, but they mess up the hitter at the plate far more. Hitters often end up have to take pitches they should be swinging at, and as a result end up behind and then swing at pitches they would have otherwise taken. The result is that batters who are at the plate during a stolen base attempt end up with lower batting averages and much less slugging percentages (though a higher on-base percentage) than they would otherwise have. The reality is that over baseball history there is a negative correlation between stolen bases and run scoring . Stolen bases may be exciting, but only about 25 players in history have added at least 5 wins to their teams with stolen bases over their careers. Stolen bases have fallen in popularity because they don't win baseball games The exception is the steal of home, which is far rarer than it should be.

posted by spira at 09:41 PM on May 20

By the way, the first post in this post is a good example of how facts are transformed into legends: dyams wrote that Dave Roberts absolutely killed the Yankees a few years ago in the playoffs, going in to pinch run, then stealing bases at will. He was unstoppable, the Yankees knew it. It's a great story, but has very little connection left with what actually happened. Dave Roberts stole one base against the Yankees in the playoffs, and it was a very close play at second (though the call was correct). Because it is looked back at as a pivotal play (which it was, but only as much as about 7 other plays without which Roberts' steal wouldn't have meant anything), it somehow has grown to Roberts "stealing bases at will"

posted by spira at 02:57 AM on May 21

Spira do you have anywhere that you could link to to back your statements up?

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 05:41 AM on May 21

Spira do you have anywhere that you could link to to back your statements up? I'm too lazy to find a reference, but the numbers I've seen say you currently have to have a success rate > 70% to make it worthwhile.

posted by yerfatma at 07:53 AM on May 21

Spira is right. Roberts stole only one base in that series. However, it was a big steal and series changing. Also, people seem to believe that the threat of Roberts stealing a base was enough to mess up Gordon's concentration in Game 5.

posted by bperk at 09:57 AM on May 21

I don't know that this is such a big deal. Unless you think of the 1880s as The Good Old Days.

posted by yerfatma at 11:41 AM on May 21

By the way, the first post in this post is a good example of how facts are transformed into legends No it's not. That's an example of dyams either misspeaking or being confused. There's no big movement of fans believing roberts stole more than that base. The fact that it was one steal is a big part of the story and not easily forgotten. Because it is looked back at as a pivotal play (which it was, but only as much as about 7 other plays without which Roberts' steal wouldn't have meant anything) Try as you might, you can't minimize that steal. Take it away, sox lose. Because there were 2 other plays that surrounded the steal doesn't make it any less important.

posted by justgary at 12:23 PM on May 21

Obviously, no, it doesn't make it any less important. Nothing ever makes anything else less important unless there are only 2 factors of importance involved. But the fact is, the Sox don't win if: Kevin Millar doesn't walk in the 5th Bill Mueller doesn't walk in the 5th Orlando Cabrera doesn't single in the 5th to drive in a run Manny Ramirez doesn't walk in the fifth David Ortiz doesn't single in 2 runs in the 5th Kevin Millar doesn't walk in the 9th Bill Mueller doesn't single in the 9th Keith Foulke doesn't pitch 2.2 innings of scoreless ball Alan Embree pitches 1.1 inning of scoreless ball Curt Leskanic doesn't pitch 1.1 innings of scoreless ball David Ortiz doesn't homer to end the game in the 12th And every one of these events listed above was more important to the victory than Roberts' steal. So why does everybody talk about Roberts' steal? Because it was incredibly dramatic. The Red Sox were down to the last 3 outs, about to be swept by the Yankees in the Championship Series the year after blowing the Championship Series to the Yankees in a 7th game, and they were up against Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game. When Millar lead off the inning with a walk, everybody in the stadium knew that Dave Roberts was going to pinch-run and try to steal. Roberts was the only player on the Red Sox bench capable of stealing a base. The Yankees knew very well that Roberts was going to steal. They were determined to stop him. And they came extremely close to doing so. Jeter made a terrific tag when Roberts slid into second base, and no one in the ballpark was sure what the call was going to be until the umpire declared that Roberts was safe. The Sox, as everybody knows, went on to win the ALCS and the World Series. Was Roberts steal dramatic? Hell, yes Was Roberts steal momentous? Absolutely. Was Roberts' steal one of the two most memorable events of the game, along with Ortiz's game winning home run? Of course. Was Roberts steal important? Of course. Was Roberts steal the most important play of the game? Not even close. If you examine every pitch and every swing in the game, it's not going to be one of the top 20 events in the game. When something is dramatic, people's memories of that event change over time. Interview any old ballplayer about his greatest moments, and it's almost guaranteed that he'll exaggerate the details. Not because he's lying, but because that's how he remembers events happening. dyams is not misspeaking. That's about as likely an explanation as his being taken over by an alien. And he's not confused. He's being human. He's telling it the way that he remembers it. I didn't claim that there was a mass movement of people remembering that he stole more than one base; that's nothing more than a straw man. What I said is that when dramatic events become legends, the details end up exaggerated. Because that's that way the human brain works, and also why human brains often don't work very well when precise knowledge is required. Humans, unfortunately, are overconfident about the reliability of their memories, which is why I made my comment. And that has some very negative effects in our society, such as innocent people going to jail because of over reliance on eyewitness testimony in trials. Ying Yang - You can see the correlations of stolen bases and other stats to runs at http://danagonistes.blogspot.com/2005/01/mathematician-at-ballpark.html The values of stolen bases during players careers comes from the 2007 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

posted by spira at 02:58 AM on May 22

And every one of these events listed above was more important to the victory than Roberts' steal. I fail to see your logic in what's more important. I hear you saying what's more important, but I'm missing anything to back it up. Kevin Millar doesn't walk in the 9th Bill Mueller doesn't single in the 9th David Ortiz doesn't homer to end the game in the 12th If Roberts is thrown out at second millar's walk is wasted. If Robert's is thrown out Mueller's single doesn't mean anything. If Roberts is thrown out we never get to the 12th. How is one more important than the other? They depend on each other. Take one away and the others don't matter. Looking at your list now, it seems to me that Ortiz's home isn't as important as the steal. The steal was part of tying the game. Roberts thrown out, game over. But take away Ortiz's home run and the game continues. Maybe the next hitter hits a home run, maybe the sox win it in the 13th inning. I didn't claim that there was a mass movement of people remembering that he stole more than one base; that's nothing more than a straw man. If you're using this as an example of how legends are created, fine. If you're saying that his steal has/will become a legend, I disagree. If you're using dyams as an example of roberts' steal becoming a legend, then that's your strawman. The story that's going to be remembered by thousands of fans is that of Roberts stealing one very important base. That's historically accurate.

posted by justgary at 03:21 AM on May 22

If a batter is hurt because he is asked to take pitches for the basestealer than I am sorry , he has no business being in the major leagues. Jr. Gilliam batted behind Maury Wills for years allowing him to become the basestealer he was and his stats don't follow the idea that it hurts the hitter batting behind a basestealer. Case in point, the Angels SS Cabaera is hit close to 300 last year and the Angels leadoff hitters stole over 50 bases combined and if my memory serves me correct when he was playing for Boston he hit over 300 batting second. The opposite would seem to be in effect that if the pitcher was worried about the baserunner than he wasn't paying enough attention to the player at the plate and his pitches would than be rushed. You can't have it both ways--The greatest basestealers in history, Wills, Cobb and Brock drove the pitchers crazy on the bases allowing the players to hit behind them better pitches to hit. More fastballs less curves and changeups.....

posted by The Old Man at 11:01 AM on May 22

If a batter is hurt because he is asked to take pitches for the basestealer than I am sorry , he has no business being in the major leagues. Except batting averages correlate negatively with strikes against, so even major league hitters are hurt by having to take strikes. It's not a question of who's man enough to take one for the team, it's a question of whether the chance of moving from first to second is worth the possible cost.

posted by yerfatma at 11:26 AM on May 22

yerfatma, you have been out in the sun to much, major leaguer hurt by taking a strike. I have watch players from Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Williams, Kaline, Aaron, Yaz, the list goes on and on and in all the years I have been to baseball games since 1924 I have never seen a hitter hurt by taking a pitch no matter what the situation. And to take one for the team, means to get hit by a pitch. The last time I figured out a batting it was hits per number of at bats: 3 hits with 10 at bats = .300 not pitches taken...

posted by The Old Man at 05:26 PM on June 09

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.