This past summer, I read the recent Howard Bryant biography of Rickey Henderson. It got me thinking about how much I miss the stolen base in modern, analytics-driven baseball. While not advocating a return to the Willie Keeler “hit ‘em where they ain’t” era, I just think that a steal attempt is one of the most exciting plays on a baseball diamond—and boy howdy does the game ever need some more non-K/BB/HR excitement.
More specifically, I’ve always wanted to see a steal of home in the flesh—to experience those few glorious seconds of unbridled enthusiasm and possibility. I came close once—with Eddie Rosario coaxing what turned out to be a game-winning balk from halfway down the 3B line. But I’ve never seen a runner break from third base and head home.
On July 19, 1962, Vic Power charged from third and slid across the dish before the horsehide sphere made contact with his person. It was the first theft of the final base in Minnesota Twins franchise history.
Historically-speaking, one Tyrus Raymond Cobb was the king of stealing home (54 times in his career). Of course, that was during the Dead Ball Era—when skipping bases with the umpire’s back turned was common practice. A bit later in MLB history, Jackie Robinson’s free-wheeling dashes (19 successful in all) towards home became iconic...
Despite being known for sluggers (Killebrew, Oliva, etc.) the Twins became ground zero for the thieving business when Rod Carew swiped the irregular pentagon seven times (one of which is pictured in the header image) in 1969.
Sadly, the stolen base reached its zenith in the 1980s—Henderson, Vince Coleman, & Tim Raines, among others—before gradually declining into the endangered species it finds itself today. A steal of home is an anachronism in a league where decisions are often made by probabilities and percentages.
The relatively recent history of Twins plate larcenies reflect this gradual—then sudden—decline...
(Disclaimer: I was not able to determine how many of these were “straight” steals of home as opposed to back-ends of double steals or the like)
- ‘90: Greg Gagne, Brian Harper
- ‘92: Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack
- ‘95: Scott Leius, Scott Stahoviak
- ‘96: Chuck Knoblauch, Jeff Reboulet
- ‘97: Rich Becker
- ‘98: Paul Molitor
- ‘99: Jacque Jones
- 2000: Denny Hocking
- 2001: Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones
- 2002: Torii Hunter
- 2013: Clete Thomas
Truth be told, whether those were straight steals or not it isn’t a huge sample size. This isn’t just endangered species territory —this is Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot-level rare.
It is highly unlikely I’ll ever peep a steal of home with my own two optical globes. But after nearly witnessing a J.A. Happ no-hitter and seeing a triple play last year, I’ll never say never. Perhaps the upcoming increase in base size will embolden some runner to make a mad dash for safety.
Any bets on who the next Minnesota Twin to successfully pilfer the plate might be? Though Buxton would be the chalk pick, I’d consider Nick Gordon and
Jake Cave (oops—guess not) as candidates. I’m surprised Billy Hamilton didn’t try it this past September—but did he ever actually make it to the third sack as a Twin (ba dum tss)?!