Over the course of sports activities historical past there are some excessive statistical outliers. From Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 48.5 minutes a sport within the 1961-62 season (there are solely 48 minutes in an NBA sport), to Wayne Gretzky, who had so many assists that he could be the NHL’s profession factors chief even when he had by no means scored a purpose, sure stars have put information up to now out of attain that discussing them can appear pointless.
Rickey Henderson, the well-traveled vagabond who incessantly discovered his means again to Oakland, was that means with stolen bases. And because the fashionable Twitter account Tremendous 70s Sports activities famous on Thursday, Henderson started Might 12, 1982 because the MLB chief in steals — with 35.
It’s a quantity that seems extra absurd the longer you take a look at it. Final 12 months solely two gamers managed that many stolen bases all season. In 2019, solely 5 gamers received there. Henderson, who in 1982 was on his solution to report 130 steals in 172 makes an attempt, was averaging greater than a steal per sport in mid-Might. It was a tempo so relentless that it throws off the curve for another stolen base dialogue.
When you can regulate your base-stealing expectations again to the fashionable actuality, although, Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners is off to a powerful begin in his rookie season. He and the Mariners will open a collection in opposition to the first-place Mets at Citi Area beginning Friday night time, and with a significant league-leading 10 steals in 11 makes an attempt, Rodríguez, 21, is on tempo to be the primary participant with 50 or extra in a season since Dee Unusual-Gordon had 60 in 2017.
Might Rodríguez be the way forward for baseball, as he boldly steered earlier than this season? Completely. Might he be the torchbearer for Henderson and the sport’s different nice stolen base threats? Not if he retains up his latest scorching streak on the plate.
Rodríguez’s transition to the majors was initially very tough. After a loss on April 29, he was hitting .211 with a .550 on-base plus slugging proportion. He had mitigated these poor outcomes a bit with defensive effort and by being aggressive on the basepaths: By 19 video games, he had a significant league-leading 9 stolen bases. Since then, his extremely regarded skills on the plate have come round, with an .835 OPS in 12 video games — however he has stolen just one extra base.
It’s far too quickly to inform how issues will play out for a younger participant like Rodríguez. However within the present setting, it isn’t shocking for a participant who can hit, notably one who can hit for energy like Rodríguez, to deal with that reasonably than discovering methods to fabricate offense via stealing bases.
Within the Eighties, pitchers’ nightmares had been stuffed with the picture of Tim Raines, Vince Coleman or Henderson taking an extended lead off first base. However lately, even the gamers with the mix of pace and know-how to steal in big numbers have gone one other means. From Mike Trout’s bulking as much as deal with his energy to Trea Turner’s making an attempt to guard his physique from put on and tear, the sport’s greatest base stealers have walked away from what was once a extremely marketable ability.
Total, groups are averaging 0.49 steals a sport this season, which is a light uptick from final 12 months but additionally could be the fourth season in a row by which the typical is under 0.5. That’s down from a contemporary peak of 0.85 a sport in 1987 — the period of Raines, Coleman and Henderson. Over the course of the season, that seemingly small fraction can add up. Final season the Kansas Metropolis Royals led MLB with 124 steals; in 1987, the typical group stole 138 and Coleman’s Cardinals paced the majors with 248.
Main League Baseball has recognized the shortage of steals as an issue. A participant taking off for second, sending a jolt via the group, makes for a extra compelling sport than a number of solo house runs and a dozen strikeouts. So MLB, because it experiments on the minor league stage, has prioritized discovering methods to encourage working like limiting the variety of occasions a pitcher can step off the rubber in a single league and requiring pitchers to step off the rubber earlier than making an attempt a pickoff in one other.
Regardless of that, it might typically really feel as if there’ll by no means be one other José Reyes, not to mention one other Henderson. As we wait to see if MLB’s initiatives could make a dent, it’s value remembering that there’s an ebb and movement to statistics in baseball and that we’re not really on the nadir of stolen bases.
There have been solely six seasons by which the most important league common was under 0.3 steals a sport, and all six got here between 1949 and 1956. In 1957, the Washington Senators set a very doubtful report, stealing solely 13 bases as a group over the course of 154 video games. Making issues worse, they had been caught making an attempt to steal 38 occasions.
A 12 months later, Henderson was born in Chicago and would go on to steal a report 1,406 bases.
And it was hardly simply Henderson. The resurgence of stolen bases after that low level within the Nineteen Fifties occurred surprisingly rapidly. In 1958, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants led the majors with solely 31 steals. By 1962, Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers was altering the sport — and setting a brand new trendy report — with 104.
Steals turned so frequent that in 1976, 10 gamers had 50 or extra in the identical season, and the typical variety of steals topped 0.7 a sport — a determine it will attain in 22 consecutive seasons.
In that spirit, a return to stealing bases could appear unlikely proper now, however all it will presumably take is a participant eager to do it and a group not telling him to cease. The resurgence may blossom from there.
Ought to that occur, Henderson won’t must lose sleep about his information.
If Rodríguez, or anybody else, will get to 50 in a season, they might repeat that feat for a span of 28 consecutive seasons and nonetheless be six wanting tying Henderson. It is not unattainable, in fact, however just like the feats of Chamberlain and Gretzky, it is a report so outlandish that it is best to not spend an excessive amount of time pondering whether or not anybody may threaten it.