Monday, July 8, 2013

The Most Steals of Home Plate

Getty Images
I came across an answer to the question of Who is the all-time leader of steals of home plate when reading The Baseball Fan's Bucket List: 162 Things You Must Do, See, Get, and Experience Before You Die by Robert and Jenna Santelli. Now whenever I think of stealing home I think of Jackie Robinson stealing home during Game One of the 1955 World Series and catcher Yogi Berra jumping up in protest when the umpire called Robinson safe. Now unfortunately the statistic of steals of home is not an official statistic but I decided I look online to see what I could find.

The Baseball Fan's bucket list states that Ty Cobb is the all-time leader with 50. Baseball Almanac has Ty Cobb in the lead with 54 stolen bases of home. Here is the list as compiled by Baseball Almanac (for players with 10 or more stolen bases of home plate):

Stealing Home Plate Ten Times in a Career
Ty Cobb (1905-1928) 54
Max Carey (1910-1925) 33
George Burns (1911-1925) or (1914-1929) 28
Honus Wagner (1897-1917) 27
Sherry Magee (1904-1919) 23
Frank Schulte (1914-1918) 23
Johnny Evers (1902-1929) 21
George Sisler (1915-1930) 20
Frankie Frisch (1919-1937) 19
Jackie Robinson (1947-1956) 19
Jim Sheckard (1897-1913) 18
Tris Speaker (1907-1928) 18
Joe Tinker (1902-1916) 18
Rod Carew (1967-1985) 17
Eddie Collins (1906-1930) 17
Larry Doyle (1907-1912) 17
Tommy Leach (1898-1918) 16
Ben Chapman (1933-1946) 15
Fred Clarke (1894-1915) 15
Lou Gehrig (1923-1939) 15
Bobby Byrne (1907-1917) 14
Fritz Maisel (1913-1918) 14
Fred Merkle (1907-1926) 14
Vic Saier (1911-1929) 14
Heinie Zimmerman (1907-1919) 13
Donie Bush (1908-1923) 12
Sam Rice (1915-1934) 12
Shano Collins (1910-1925) 11
Harry Hooper (1909-1925) 11
George Moriarty (1903-1916) 11
Braggo Roth (1914-1921) 11
Buck Herzog (1908-1920) 11
Jimmy Johnston (1911-1926) 10
Rabbit Maranville (1912-1935) 10
Paul Molitor (1978-1998) 10
Babe Ruth (1914-1935) 10
Billy Werber (1930-1942) 10
Ross Youngs (1917-1926) 10

****AUTHOR'S NOTE There are two different sets of years listed for George Burns since there were two players named George Burns who played during virtually the same time. Both had a high number of stolen bases so I couldn't discern which George Burns was the one on this list. 

I added the years the players played to add perspective to the list. Out of the 38 players on the list, 32 of the players made their debut in the Dead Ball Era. Baseball Reference describes the Dead Ball Era as:
While the exact period that should be described as the Deadball Era is arguable, it is generally recognized to have stretched from the founding of the American League in 1901 to the elimination of the spitball in 1920. The Deadball Era marked the end of the sport's rapid development in the 19th Century and the beginning of relative stability in the rules and structure of the Major League game.
What I find curious is that among the speedsters like Rabbit Maranville, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, there is Babe Ruth with 10 steals of home. I guess Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb in the Cobb movie was right about Ruth: He could run okay for a fat man. =)

The remaining six players are broken down as such: Three debuted between 1920 and 1935, one in 1947 (Robinson) and two after 1965 (Carew and Molitor). Only four of the top ten in career stolen bases are on this list (Cobb, Collins, Carey and Wagner). So what does this show?

I believe that it shows that stealing home was a part of an aggressive strategy employed by managers and base-runners in an era where there wasn't a reliance on the long ball to score runs. With the rise of the long ball and the gaining popularity such Baseball philosophies as Moneyball (stolen bases are not deemed favorable in the Sabermetric principles concerning Baseball statistics and productivity) the tendency to try to steal home (and to a lesser degree all bases) has diminished in the last decades. But are these the only reasons why the stealing home has virtually disappeared? I kept looking and found another reason why.

I found an article by Dave Anderson of the New York Times entitled Why Nobody Steals Home Anymore which was published on April 16, 1989. Now given that the article is almost 25 years old, I find that it is still relevant with the game today. One statement from Whitey Herzog in the article stood out to me:
'The game has changed,'' said Whitey Herzog, the Cardinals' manager. ''You don't see big windups anymore.''
Anderson further adds:
With a base-stealing threat on third, pitchers seldom use a big rocking-chair windup as they often did years ago. Instead, they usually check the runner in coming to a stretch or a semistretch position that not only holds the runner closer to the bag but also takes less time.
This makes total sense to me. Aside from Dontrelle Willis, I can't say that I've seen a pitcher recently who utilizes a big windup a-la Juan Marichal and Bob Feller. With windups becoming shorter and more compact and with pitchers even using the stretch more and more, the opportunities to steal home have shrunk. To think about it, the last steal of home I remember was Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home on Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees in 2009.

Though there seems to be a renaissance in base stealing throughout the majors. Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton stole a total of 155 bases during the 2012 season evoking memories of the last stolen base glory era of Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Willie Wilson and Vince Coleman. I believe that with the concerted effort of MLB to curtail the use of PED's in the sport and the subequent diminishing of power numbers to the Pre-Steroid Era levels, teams are trying to find ways to score runs via small ball techniques. While I believe that stolen bases in general will continue to rise league-wise. it remains to be seen whether or not a return to stealing home becomes the norm or stays a rarity.

Sisco Kid

On a final note, I leave you with footage of the above referenced stolen base of home by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series. Enjoy.