Thank you for an excellent article (It's a Game of Pinches, June 30) by Ron Fimrite. It's about time that the base stealers in the American League West got some credit. Fimrite makes a good point in the story: "The six teams in the AL West have stolen nearly as many bases this season as the entire National League."
You failed to mention some of the great base runners in the division.
Last year the Texas Rangers stole 113 bases, and in Dave Nelson, Len Randle, Toby Harrah and Cesar Tovar, they have a pretty good group of runners. Nelson has more lifetime steals than Mickey Rivers of California or Reggie Jackson, Bill North and the assorted "designated runners" on Oakland's squad. Nelson was among the league leaders when he was injured.
Your article was interesting, but after I read it I had to check the newspaper to make sure Oakland was still ahead of California in the AL West. You made California sound like the best team that had ever played the game. Last week the Angels were in sixth place, 14 games out of first and eight games under .500.
I enjoyed the article about base stealing, but you give Billy Martin credit for a quote about the hitting abilities of the California Angels when in fact it was our Spaceman, Bill Lee of the Boston Red Sox, who said, "They could take batting practice in a hotel lobby and not break anything." Not being satisfied with his little joke, the Spaceman then proceeded to shut out the Angels.
?Spaceman did use the phrase, but two weeks or so after Martin coined it in Texas in early May.—ED.
Thanks to Ron Fimrite for recognizing a task that is becoming a necessity for every ball club. Base stealing is probably the most independent maneuver in baseball, which makes Lou Brock's single-season record of 118 stolen bases even more remarkable. Today speed is the name of the game, and to be able to "take" a base when everybody in the ball park knows you're going to is a tribute in itself.
Since a steal of second base, after a single, is, from the standpoint of total bases, equivalent to a double, we propose adding stolen bases to total bases, and using this new figure to calculate the ratio between total bases and official at bats.
The following example demonstrates the possible use of this innovation. As of June 19 Willie Horton of the Tigers, a power hitter with little speed as evidenced by his zero stolen bases, had 106 total bases in 232 official at bats for a slugging percentage of .457. In contrast, Mickey Rivers of the Angels, a master base stealer with 35 and possessing limited power, had 98 total bases in 261 official at bats for a slugging percentage of .375. A comparison of the two slugging percentages would seem to indicate Horton's greater value to the team; however, if one adds stolen bases to total bases, Horton's "slugging percentage" remains the same, while Rivers, with an adjusted total bases of 133, would have an even greater "slugging percentage" of .510.
You missed one point—the balk. There have been more balks called this year than I remember in all previous years together. It is not reasonable to believe that pitchers are performing differently. The fact is that in the past the umpires called only the most flagrant cases. This year they are following the letter of the rule. The pitchers are so jittery about the prospect of having a balk called that they are extra cautious, and as a result the runners get a better jump. Or maybe with a steal imminent, the pitcher gets so jittery on seeing a runner dancing around with a long lead that he gets momentarily confused and commits a balk.