Tuesday March 14, 2017
The Disappearing Art of the Steal
Luis Aparicio was the only player in the 1950s to have a 50+ stolen-base season.
Over the weekend I got lost in baseball stats, as I often do, and this time around it was single-season stolen base totals.
First, I noticed that we haven't had any blow-out years in a while (brilliant, Erik). Then, related, I noticed the number of 50+ SB seasons is way, way down. Then I noticed the 2000s have nothing on the '30s, '40s and '50s.
I'd always heard that once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he changed the staid way of baseball—going base to base, being risk averse—and made everything jazzier and thrilling. Apparently not. Or at least not in the numbers. The '50s were our most stolen-base-less decade.
Jackie led the league twice in stolen bases, in '47 and '49, but with 29 and 37 SBs respectively. Career, he had 197, good for a five-way tie for 356th all time. It really wasn't until Aparicio in '59, and Wills in '62, that things began to rev up and go-go.
Some good trivia questions come to mind from this mix.
- For every decade since 1900, which player had the highest single-season stolen base mark? (Answer: That entire third column; good luck on the '30s and '40s.)
- Who was the only player to have the single-season high two decades in a row? (Answer: You'd thinking Rickey or Lou but it's Ty Cobb, which also makes sense.)
- Since the Henderson/Raines/Coleman heyday of the 1980s, which two players have had the highest single-season stolen base total? (Answer: Marquis Grisson and Jose Reyes with 78 each.)
But the most startling bit of trivia for me is the stolen base champ of the 1930s: Ben Chapman. That's the guy in this clip. Not Jackie or Eddie Stanky. The other guy:
Believe it or not, he had more stolen bases in his career than Jackie, too: 287. Who knew?