News Columns & Blogs

It's OK to steal

* I was watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs this afternoon (yea!), and the broadcasters started talking about former Cub and Cardinal Lou Brock, acquired by St. Louis in a trade with the Cubs in 1964 for right-handed pitcher Ernie Broglio. It’s one of theLou Brock steals his 105th base against San Diego in 1974, breaking Maury Wills' single-season record.greatest trades in Cardinals history and, thus, one of the worst for the Cubs.

Any discussion of Brock – who by the way will be 72 this year – makes me think of his ability to steal a base. He pilfered 938 of them during his 19-year career, including a then-record 118 at the age of 35 in 1974. Can you imagine a 35-year-old stealing 118 bases?

Rickey Henderson eventually broke both the single-season and career stolen base records held by Brock, but the former Cardinal still ranks second all-time in both categories.

The stolen base isn’t as much a part of the game of baseball as it used to be, but there are signs that the running game is making a comeback. So far during the 2011 season, there has been an average of 0.65 stolen bases per game, the highest since an 0.76 mark in 1999.

The strongest evidence that there was a Steroids Era in Major League Baseball rests with the numbers.

The seasons from 1980 through 1992 produced the most stolen bases in the game’s history. But when the ball started flying out of the ballpark with great regularity, the base paths got quieter. Only once from 1999-2008 did a season produce less than one home run per game (0.99 in 2005). But through the early part of the 2011 season there have been only 0.84 homers per game, which if it holds would be the lowest per-game average since 1992, when 0.65 homers were hit per game.

Stolen bases, obviously, decreased with all of the added home runs. Teams didn’t need to rely on taking extra bases to score runs, they could wait on a two- or three-run homer.

I like the home run as much as anyone, but it’s nice to see stolen bases becoming a bigger part of the game. It’s not like it was in the 1980s, when almost every team in baseball was running wild. But it’s better.

A player hasn’t stolen 80 bases since 1988, when Rickey Henderson swiped 93 for the New York Yankees and Vince Coleman stole 81 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Jose Reyes (78 in 2007), Scott Podsednik (70 in 2004) and Jacoby Ellsbury (70 in 2009) are the only players with 70 or more stolen bases since 2000.

No players are on pace for that many steals in 2011, but there are already 14 players who have 10 or more stolen bases.

The current big leaguer with the most career steals is Chicago White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre, with 533. That ranks No. 30 all-time. Boston’s Carl Crawford is next on the active-player stolen base list with 414.

Stealing a base has been a dying art, but there are small signs that it is again becoming a point of emphasis. That’s good, because I always felt a sense of anticipation when Brock reached first base. I felt the same during the Whitey Herzog era in St. Louis. Herzog built his team around speed to fit the stadium in which the Cardinals played. Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Lonnie Smith were all great sprinters who happened to be good baseball players, too.

Those fast St. Louis teams rank among my all-time favorites.

The Cardinals of today steal about a base a week. Running is not Tony La Russa’s thing; the Cardinals have had only one player reach 20 stolen bases since 2004 – Cesar Izturis swiped 24 in 2008.

  Comments