But pitching wasn't very good during the run-happy 1987 season either, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that year produced the most steals per game (1.70) since the live-ball era began in '20.
So, what gives? Angel second baseman Harold Reynolds, who had 246 career steals at week's end, says that while pitchers are struggling to get outs, they are much improved in one area—preventing stolen bases. Reynolds cites three reasons: 1) more pitchers are using the slide-step delivery, whereby a shortened stride to the plate is used to quicken delivery time; 2) pitchers throw to first base more often to keep the runner close; and 3) more pitchouts are being called.
"I'd never heard of the slide step before 1988. Now everyone has one," says Reynolds. "It's tough for a base runner to get a beat on a pitcher's rhythm. You have to wait in the count, and by that time the ball has been hit. Also, managers are more in control of the running game than ever, offensively and defensively, calling pitches and not giving the green light—I didn't get it once last year [when he played for the Orioles]—in which case, if you get caught stealing, you're in trouble."
Red Sox centerfielder Otis Nixon says, "The days of the 100-steal man are over. Sixty or 70 will lead the league." The National League's top base thief, the Expos' Marquis Grissom, stole 207 bases in the last three years but didn't get his first this season until April 19 (he had 12 through Sunday). He has been slowed by injuries and a hitting slump, as has Henderson of the A's, but no one has run wild so far in '94. The American and National League leaders were Kenny Lofton of the Indians (21 steals) and Deion Sanders of the Braves (17), respectively.
"Every manager tells his pitchers, if they can't hold runners on, they won't be here," says Miller. "When I came to the National League in '86, if a pitcher was slow to the plate, everyone ran."
Miller says he recently watched a tape of a game from six years ago and timed the pitchers' deliveries to home plate. He clocked a few as slow as 1.9 to 2.1 seconds. Nowadays, with the slide step, 1.5 is considered slow. "Every team in the league can throw someone at you with a 1.1 or a 1.2," he says. "If a guy's that quick, why run?"
Most first base coaches carry stopwatches during games to time the opposing pitcher's delivery. If it's more than 1.5 seconds, they tell the runner to go, but there aren't many 1.5's around anymore.
"I think the slide step is the reason that more homers are being hit," says the White Sox' Raines, who ranks fourth on the alltime stolen-base list. "Pitchers alter their delivery to use it. Plus they're throwing more fastballs."
White Sox catcher Mike LaValliere has his own explanation of why fewer bases are being swiped. "All the catchers got together in the off-season and worked a deal with the shoe companies," he says. "We had every player's spikes cut down slightly, so no one is quite as fast."