Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rickey Henderson Passes Lou Brock With His 119th Stolen Base August 27, 1982

On this day in Baseball history August 27, 1982: Oakland A's speedster Rickey Henderson steals second base on a pitchout against Milwaukee Brewers starter Doc Medich to pass Lou Brock on the single season stolen base list. Brock set his career high of 118 stolen bases in 1974. By the time the game was over, Henderson would steal four bases giving him 122 for the season. Rickey would finish the season with 130 stolen bases.

And here is where things get a little murky.

I grew up thinking that with Rickey Henderson's 119th stolen base, he became the single season stolen base leader. Getting a total of 130 steals for the 1982 season would be the benchmark that many players would have a hard time matching let alone eclipsing. Now, I'm going to ask that you go to either the page for the Single Season Stolen Base Record or the Baseball page for the Single Season Stolen Base Record. Who do you see listed at number 1 on that list. In case you don't want to check out the links, here are a few screenshots

Ok. Still don't believe what you see? Here's one more screenshot, this one from the Baseball Single Season Stolen Base list:

Some of you out there are thinking to yourselves: Who the hell is Hugh Nicol. High Nicol played for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the old American Association (AA). The AA played alongside the National League from 1882-1891 before merging with the National League. Four National League franchises have roots in the old AA: Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The article American Association remembered: MLB celebrates impact of the 'Beer and Whiskey League' by Mark Sheldon from dated May 2, 2007 states the following which might clarify things a bit:
Only the Cubs and Braves have been continuously in the National League since its 1876 founding. The Reds, Cardinals and Pirates remain NL Central Division foes and have one of sport's longest-lasting rivalries. The Dodgers, who were formed in 1884 as the Atlantics, also started in the American Association. Like the Reds, Brooklyn joined the National League for the 1890 season.

"All of these teams have their roots in the American Association," Nemec said. "Really, the National League actually has stronger roots in the American Association in some ways than it does National League roots."

Eventually, the American Association was recognized as a full-fledged Major League and all of its players' statistics and career highlights are counted accordingly in the annals of Major League history.
So there in is the A-HA!!! moment. The AA and their statistics are recognized by MLB as being accumulated as a Major League. In addition to the AA, the Federal League (1914-1915), the Players League (1890) and the Union Association (1884) are all recognized as being a Major League. The question I have is when were the statistics of the AA formally recognized by MLB.

I sent a tweet to Mr. John Thorn who is the official historian for MLB. Here is what he said:
My other question to Mr. Thorn was concerning the treatment of the AA's statistics as being "Pre-Modern" in the context of today's "Modern" stats:

That makes perfect sense. I'm sure there will be fans that will dispute this and say that Rickey Henderson is the single season stolen bases record holder and not Hugh Nicol who played for the American Association back in the 1880's. If so, then what can you do. Based on MLB's position in terms of its history and the fact MLB has Rickey as number two on the list behind Hugh Nicol then who am I to argue that.

Many thanks to Mr. Thorn for his actually getting back to me. There are many Baseball historians and experts on Twitter whom I have asked questions of and never gotten a response, let alone numerous prompt responses. Definitely give him a follow @thorn_john.

On an aside, if you want to know more of the "Beer and Whiskey" league that was the American Association, I recommend you pick up the book: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn. It is quite the entertaining book and provides amazing insight to the early years of organized Baseball. I think you all will like it.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Rickey Henderson's career statistics at Baseball
- Click Here to access the article MLB's 200,000th game: How it was determined by John Thorn from dated September 23, 2011