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Posted: Wednesday September 10, 2008 6:06PM; Updated: Thursday September 11, 2008 3:23PM

Stolen thoughts

More from Rickey Henderson and Jimmy Rollins on the art of the steal

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Rickey Henderson
In 1982, Rickey Henderson set a new major league record with 130 solen bases.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

By Chris Ballard

Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Ballard sat down with Rickey Henderson, baseball's single-season and career stolen base king, and Jimmy Rollins, one of the game's most proficient active base stealers, to find out what it takes to become a master thief. To read Ballard's story on baseball's new era of base stealers and their possible impact on October, click here.

Rickey Henderson

On the philosophy behind running:

"People say I stole a lot of bases. I stole the bases for a reason. I crossed the plate. If I steal a base and my hitter couldn't get me in, then you got to take me out to dinner. You got to do something, because I stole that base, I busted my butt. I need a dinner. I'm giving you a chance to get yourself an RBI. You can't get me in from third base with less than two outs? Oh no, you got to take me out to dinner! Or I'm going to order dinner on you."

On being a Moneyball player before there was Moneyball:

"I was about how could I get on base 400% of the time. [Editor's note: We assume Rickey means 40%, though you never know with Rickey]. They called me Run Man. That's what I wanted the most. I wanted to score. I could go 0-for-4, but if I have two runs scored, I did my job.

"I was walking and they couldn't pitch to me and I wasn't going out of the strike zone. I thought maybe if I walk, I get two bases. But I if get a double I only got a chance for one. If I hit a home run, then I wasn't getting no bases. So I was dictating on getting two bases."

On developing his slide:

"I started going headfirst after learning from a guy in Triple-A named Mike Rodriguez. I wanted to know how to dive into the base because I was getting strawberries on my knees and strawberries on my ass [from sliding].

"I started going headfirst but when I started going headfirst I was pounding my body, I was hitting the ground so hard. I was thinking about headfirst versus feetfirst and wondering which would save my body. With headfirst I worried about pounding my shoulders and my hands and with feet-first I would worry about my knees and my legs. I felt that running was more important to me, with my legs, so I started going headfirst.

"I got my [low-to-the-ground] technique from airplanes...I was on a plane and asleep and the plane bounced and when we landed we bounced and it woke me up. Then the next flight I had the same pilot and the plane went down so smooth. So I asked the pilot why and he said when you land a plane smooth, you get the plane elevated to the lowest position you can and then you smooth it in. Same with sliding. Gravity is saying how far up you are when you dive. If you dive when you're running straight up then you have a long distance to get to the ground. But the closer you get to the ground the less time it will take."

On sliding through the bag:

"I was hitting the dirt so smooth, so fast, when I hit the dirt, there wasn't no hesitation. It was like a skid mark, like you throw a rock on the water and skid off it. So when I hit the ground, if you didn't have the tag down, I was by you no matter if the ball beat me, I was by you. That was what made the close plays go my way, I think. There wasn't that hesitation, that they got a chance to put it down. They had to put it down quick. Sometimes I had to hold on or I got tagged out by oversliding the base."

On picking up a pitcher's cues:

"You analyze and try to pick out something. Certain guys, they can see a guy do a certain thing with their glove and know what pitch is coming. I couldn't do that. But I can get on first base and I can tell you by his move if that pitcher is going to first base or home plate every time. Now I see it and I tell guys, 'Wow you could have been down there.'

"On a pickoff, people say, 'The pitcher's got a great move.' Why am I going to worry about his move? If he's got a great move to home plate, then I slow down. But if he's got a great move to first base, I could care less. He could have the best move in America, you couldn't get me at first base."

On his habit of dancing off first base like, as one former teammate put it, a "laughing puma":

"If you're drawing attention, you're giving your hitter a better pitch to hit. If you're always faking then they don't know if or when you're going to go. When you're not faking, then you tense up. Then someone's going to read you. I say always keep moving.

"You got to creep, creep. You got to play games with them. You got to make them know you're back there. Once they know you're back there, they gonna panic and a lot of time they gonna give that hitter a great pitch to hit."

[A sidenote: When I asked Davey Lopes, the Phillies baserunning coach, about this philosophy, he had a decidedly different view. His response: "C'mon man, this is the professional leagues, not Little League. People are going to think you're some kind of fool over there."]

On the chances of another hat trick --stealing second, third and home in the same game -- which hasn't happened since 1996, when Eric Young pulled if off:

"Nah, they don't try to steal home anymore. Pitchers don't go into the windup anymore. Home base was mainly windup. You see guys see steal home base, it wasn't from the stretch."

On what would happen if he raced Jose Reyes:

"I'm quicker than him first to second. I'm quicker than all of them out there. My first two, three steps are too explosive. My first four steps, I'd be where he's almost taking off and just start running. I'd have already stolen it.

"If there were a pitcher out there on the mound and we had to read them and take off, he'd have no chance. No chance."

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