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T. Nicholas Dawidoff
October 06, 1986
In the annals of basestealing, certain names are paramount: Ty Cobb stole 96 in 1915; Maury Wills beat him with 104 in 1962; and Lou Brock topped them both with 118 in 1974. Today, Tim Raines, Vince Coleman and, of course, Rickey Henderson, who had a record 130 steals in '82, stand out. The name George Washington Case probably doesn't come to anybody's mind, but he might well have been the best base stealer of all.
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October 06, 1986

Meet George Case, The Best Base Stealer That You've Never Heard Of

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The only race Case ever lost was a 100-yard dash against the world-record holder, Jesse Owens, in 1946. Cleveland owner Bill Veeck suited Owens up in a baseball uniform, and the 30-year-old Case lost to the 32-year-old Olympic gold medalist by half a stride in a race across the Indians' outfield.

While the racing hoopla netted a good deal of extra money for team owners, it also made opposing teams more wary than ever of Case the base stealer. "Everybody was looking for me to run every time I got on base," says Case. He compensated by scrutinizing his opponents for weaknesses. He routinely stole pitch-out signals from opposing catchers. In those days of superior throwing backstops, Case was bothered only by the cunning, strong-armed Paul Richards of the Tigers. He can't think of a single pitcher whose pickoff move gave him any trouble. He got an especially good jump against the Red Sox because Boston first baseman Jimmie Foxx never bothered to apply a tag on pickoff throws from the pitcher. "He'd just throw the ball back," says Case. Eventually Case was grudgingly given limited baserunning freedom because "my managers, Bucky Harris and Ossie Bluege, realized I was their best weapon. I got green lights most other runners didn't have," he says.

But all of the running and training took its toll on Case's 6-foot, 183-pound frame. He once hurt his ankle demonstrating his sliding technique for movie cameras, and hamstring pulls were an added annoyance. After his shoulder problem was repaired he ruptured a disk in 1946, and his back rapidly worsened. By 1947, when he couldn't bend to tie his shoelaces, it was time to retire.

Today Case runs only through the memories of his contemporaries. To a man they insist he would have stolen 100 bases with ease had he been given the chance. Says former opponent Johnny Pesky, "George was a pretty runner, so graceful. He could really dance."

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