Where does Roberts' ALCS theft rank among greatest steals ever?
Unlike home runs, there are not many famous stolen bases in baseball history
Stolen bases have fluctuated in popularity and perception of importance
Rickey Henderson, Dave Roberts and Jackie Robinson had famous steals
There really are not that many famous stolen bases in baseball history. In honor of former big leaguer Dave Roberts, who announced on Monday that he has been diagnosed with lymphoma, I posed the following question on Twitter: What are the 10 most famous stolen bases in baseball history? I got something like 500 responses, and about 498 of those suggested the same three stolen bases. I'm sure you can figure out those three without thinking too hard. They will be the top three on the list.
But there are not many other successful stolen bases that come to mind (many will remember that Babe Ruth was caught stealing to end the 1926 World Series). I suppose in the end this is because stolen bases, unlike home runs, are so rarely DECISIVE. Even the Dave Roberts steal, which you know will be on the list, was only a setup to the Bill Mueller single that scored him. It's easy to come up with the most famous home runs in baseball history. I'm going to see if I can come up with 10 famous home runs in 10 seconds (not necessarily the MOST famous, just famous):
Bobby Thomson's The Giants Win The Pennant
Sorry, took me 23 seconds. Oh well. Point is, famous home runs come a lot easier because home runs are conclusive, they empty the bases, they complete the scoring. A big stolen base, most of the time, is like an important defensive rebound or a great fourth-down completion that keeps a drive alive. Hugely important. But not especially memorable.
Still, by stretching just a little bit -- along with a whole lot of Twitter friend help -- I did come up with 10 great stolen bases. True, a couple of them are fictional. But, hey, we have to do what we have to do.
10. The Paradise Steal (As recommended by @Made_Dad)
There are quite a few famous baseball scenes in popular music. There's Springsteen's washed-up high school pitcher who "could throw that speedball by ya," in Glory Days. There are Simon and Garfunkel wondering where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, and Rodgers and Hammerstein telling us that Bloody Mary's skin is as tender as DiMaggio's glove in South Pacific. There's Sinatra singing about how there used to be a ballpark here, and Terry Cashman singing about Willie, Mickey and the Duke. And numerous others.
But let's be honest: Many baseball lyrics tend to revolve around sex -- you know, the whole getting to first base, second base and so on. And the classic of the genre is Meatloaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light, where Yankees announcer and legend Phil Rizzuto offers a little baseball play-by-play for Mr. Loaf's erotic efforts in the car by the lake. Loaf manages to steal third ("What a jump he's got!" Rizzuto called). However, his attempt to steal home is blunted by the girl's perfect block of the plate ("Stop right there!/I gotta know right now!/Before we go any further/Do you love me?")
9. Chico Ruiz in '64 (As recommended by @KeithOlbermann).
In some ways, I'm stunned that this stolen base isn't more famous; Keith was the only person to recommend it. I suspect this is because Ruiz's steal helped destroy a team but did not lift his own team to glory.
Anyway, you probably know the play. This was 1964, and the miracle Phillies were less than two weeks away from one of the more stunning pennants in baseball history. The Phillies and Jim Bunning had beaten the Dodgers 3-2 on a Sunday to take a 6 1/2-game lead with less than two weeks left to play. Unless my math is off -- and it probably is off -- the Phillies had a magic number of seven over Cincinnati and St. Louis. The thing was all but over.
Then, on Monday, Sept. 21, the Phillies played the Reds. The game was scoreless into the sixth when 25-year-old rookie Chico Ruiz singled with one out. He went to third on Vada Pinson's single, but Pinson was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. So, man on third, two outs, and Frank Robinson at the plate. There probably has been a more ridiculous situation to try to steal home, but none immediately come to mind. Stealing home with Frank Robinson at the plate?
But sure enough, with Art Mahaffey on the mound, Ruiz broke for the plate. Mahaffey was so flustered, his throw was wide and skipped past catcher Clay Dalrymple. Ruiz's run held up as the Reds won 1-0. And the Phillies promptly fell apart, losing their next nine games, and getting themselves eliminated before the season even ended. But it wasn't the Reds who caught them. It was the Cardinals.
One other interesting tidbit: It was actually the second time in three days that the Phillies lost a game on a steal of home. On Saturday, the Phillies lost to the Dodgers in 16 innings, the winning run scoring on Willie Davis' steal of home with Ron Fairly at the plate. The rare walkoff steal of home.
8. Run like Hayes, Hit Like Mays (Recommended by several people)
A lot of people also recommended Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez's steal of home in The Sandlot, but if I'm going to pick a movie steal it has to be Willie Mays Hayes' steal of second in the ninth inning of the climactic game in Major League, setting up Jake Taylor's world-famous called shot bunt. It was sort of Dave Roberts before Dave Roberts.
7. Brummer Stunner (Recommended by several people)
On Aug. 22, 1982, the St. Louis Cardinals were two games up on Philadelphia in the NL East and the Cardinals were winning games in the most ridiculous ways. They would hit only 67 home runs as a team that year. But with Whitey Herzog pushing hard, they ran with wild abandon. That Sunday, the Cardinals were playing the Giants. In the 12th inning, the bases were loaded with Glenn Brummer, a rookie third-string catcher, on third base.
The fun part about it all is that, based on his postgame comments, Brummer did not know he was going to try to steal home until he actually was doing it. Giants lefty Gary Lavelle was on the mound, and he paid absolutely no attention to Brummer on third base. Well, why would he? Lavelle had a bit of a high leg kick, and on the first three pitches Brummer kept edging down the line, a little more each time, and he could not help but notice that Lavelle never once looked his way.
And on the fourth pitch, without even thinking about it, Brummer took off for home as Lavelle began the windup. He scored -- one of only four stolen bases in his career. "No one would have ever thought I would steal home in the major leagues... including me," Brummer said.
The UPI lead was a classic: "If major league baseball gave an annual award for 'chutzpah,' rookie Glenn Brummer would easily win this year's trophy, and it would be made of solid brass."
6. Stealing First (Recommended by @NameTheBats and others)
Germany Schaefer was a gutsy little second baseman for numerous teams in the early part of the 20th century, and in Lawrence Ritter's classic The Glory of Their Times, Davy Jones tells of a time when Schaefer was on first and a runner was on third. There was a call for the double steal. Unfortunately, the catcher did not throw. So, Schaefer stole first base back, then tried the double steal again on the next pitch -- it worked the second time. The story may or may not have happened as Jones remembered, but it is true that in 1920 -- one year after Schaefer died -- a rule was put in that outlawed running the bases backward.
MLB Truth & Rumors