The 10 most famous steals in baseball history (cont.)
5. The Double Steal (Recommended by several people)
It's too recent to be sure just where Johnny Damon's double steal will rank in baseball history, but it was remarkable to see. And it was pretty important. This, of course, happened in the 2009 World Series, Game 4, with the score tied 4-4 in the ninth inning. The Yankees led the Series two games to one, so everything was very much up in the air.
There were two outs in the top of the ninth against Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge when Damon put together an epic at-bat, fouling off a bunch of pitches before stroking a line drive to left for a single.
Then it happened. With Mark Teixeira at the plate, Damon stole second and then, realizing that nobody was covering third base, popped up from his slide and took third. Two steals on one pitch. It completely spooked Lidge, who, to be honest, got spooked a lot that year. He promptly hit Teixeira with a pitch. A-Rod crushed a double. Jorge Posada hit a two-run single. And the Yankees won and took a 3-1 lead in the Series, more or less crushing Philadelphia's hopes.
4. Reggie's First Mr. October Move (Recommended by @richarddeitsch)
In the decisive Game 5 of the 1972 American League Championship Series, Detroit was leading Oakland 1-0 in the second inning. It was early in the game, but it was still tense. With two outs, Oakland's Reggie Jackson was on third and Mike Epstein was on first. And as Gene Tenace struck out, the A's tried the double steal. Detroit catcher Bill Freehan threw to second and Epstein beat the throw. Then Detroit shortstop Dick McAulliffe fired home, but Reggie made a spectacular slide and scored. Unfortunately, in making the slide, Reggie also blew out his left hamstring. He ended up on crutches and did not play the rest of the postseason. The A's, of course, won the game and the World Series.
One great little tidbit from that game comes from Dayn Perry's upcoming book on Reggie Jackson. Detroit was managed by a guy by the name of Billy Martin. After the game, Jackson and Martin met and Martin apparently said, "You showed me a lot of class. I like guys like you."
3. Rickey Henderson's 939th steal (Recommended by countless people).
This is the one that broke Lou Brock's record for most stolen bases in a career. It is remembered mainly for two reasons. One is that it happened on May Day 1991, which just so happened to be the same day that Nolan Ryan threw his seventh no-hitter (striking out 16 Blue Jays in the process). So, naturally, Rickey's steal was only the second-biggest baseball story of the day.
The second reason, of course, was the speech, where after setting the record, Henderson was handed a microphone and said to the crowd, "Lou Brock was the symbol of great base-stealing. But today I am the greatest of alltime. Thank you."
2. The Dave Roberts steal (Recommended by countless people)
This whole project, of course, was inspired by Dave Roberts and began with a question: Was Roberts' steal REALLY one of the 10 most famous of alltime? After all, it doesn't really have the same kind of drama as the other steals on the list and a few that did not make it, such as Maury Wills' record-breaking 97th steal in 1962, Jose Canseco's steal to complete the first 40-40 season in 1988 or that May day in 1969 when Rod Carew walked against Detroit's Mickey Lolich, then stole second, third and home with Harmon Killebrew batting.
I mean, let's face it. The Red Sox were already down to the Yankees 3-games-to-0 in the American League Championship Series. No team had ever come back from 3-0. Roberts did not score the winning run. A million things still had to happen for Boston to pull off the miracle comeback. So why is this stolen base so famous?
I think it's based on a couple of things. One, I think Roberts' steal reminded baseball fans about the power of the stolen base. The stolen base has had an up and down history in baseball -- sometimes it's in vogue and sometimes it's not. Nobody stole in the 1940s; everyone did in the 1970s.
Some managers think it's a big part of baseball, and others would be more than happy to have it outlawed. When Kevin Millar stepped to the plate against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, with the Yankees leading 4-3, the series was OVER. Absolutely over. Everybody knew it. You might find a Red Sox fan who will insist that he or she still had hope. That fan is either (A) insanely optimistic or (B) lying.
And even after Millar drew the walk, the Series was still over. This was Mariano Rivera. Except then Dave Roberts came into the game as a pinch-runner, and suddenly there was just a little buzz.
And yes, when Roberts stole second, something changed. That's the second thing: Baseball, like all sports, has this wonderful element of destiny attached to it. That's not to say that any team is really destined to win, but sometimes teams BELIEVE they are destined. And that belief can mean something. There came a time when the 1980 U.S. hockey team BELIEVED that it could beat the Soviets. There came a time when U.S. Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner BELIEVED that he could defeat the unbeatable Russian. There came a time when Buster Douglas BELIEVED that he would beat Mike Tyson.
And when Dave Roberts stole second, and Bill Mueller drove him home to tie the game, the Red Sox BELIEVED that they could win that game. And once they won that game, they BELIEVED that they could win the next. And once they won that game, and the game after that, they BELIEVED that there was no chance that they were going to lose Game 7.
Yes, it's just a stolen base. And there will always be plenty of people who will think it's overrated. I doubt that any of those people are Red Sox fans, though.
1. Jackie (Recommended by countless people).
You know what interests me most about Jackie Robinson's steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series? It's not whether he's safe or out (he looks out to me no matter how many times it's shown, though there are photographs that suggest that his toe may have slid under the tag).
No, what interests me is this: watch Yogi Berra. OK, now, I have seen recreations of the play, and in recreations Whitey Ford always pitches off the rubber as Jackie steals home. It's always a pitch to the plate. Even here in the video, it is suggested that Ford is pitching off the rubber. But if you watch Berra, he very clearly steps up into the box and prevents Brooklyn's Frank Kellert from swinging the bat (though it looks like he would like to swing).
I have looked around a little bit to find proof that Ford did not pitch that ball, that he indeed stepped off the rubber and threw home, and I seem to find mixed evidence. Shirley Povich's story in the Washington Post the next day said Robinson "made it too, catching Ford languishing in his long windup. When the pitch came to Berra, it was too late." So that says, pretty clearly, that it was a pitch. But Arthur Daley's column in the Times says that Ford did, in fact, toss the ball home, suggesting that he stepped off the rubber.
Anyway, if that's indeed a pitch from Ford, then Berra very clearly interfered with Kellert. I'm assuming that it was not a pitch. But I will admit, it's just so strange to see Kellert looking like he wants to swing the bat and not getting out of the box until the last second.
Three other interesting tidbits, at least to me:
One, Billy Martin tried to steal home earlier in the game but was caught.
Two, people tend to forget that the steal of home did not have much effect on the game. The Dodgers trailed by two runs when Robinson stole home -- even Robinson admitted that it was probably a foolhardy risk on his part to try that steal, down by two runs in the eighth. He made it, but the Yankees still won the game 6-5, lifted by Joe Collins' two homers.
Three, there was a great Yogi-ism after that game, but one I don't think I've heard before. Yogi was enraged by the call, and remains enraged by the call over half a century later. Still, I don't think he could have said it any better than he did after the game.
"It was a close play," Yogi told reporters, "but I had him easy."
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