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For the record, the count on Atlanta's Earl Craig Williams Jr. was 2 and 2, one out, nobody on, bottom of the seventh, Atlanta leading Pittsburgh 4-1 at County Stadium as Jim Rooker looked in for the sign. On the next delivery, a curve inside, Williams hit a sharp grounder to Shortstop Frank Taveras, who rifled the ball to Willie Stargell in plenty of time. Two out, 6-3 if you're scoring. The game was not halted and nobody rushed out to present Williams with anything. Nevertheless, the Braves' journeyman catcher had just broken the alltime major league record for not stealing bases. The record previously had been held by another much-traveled catcher, Russ Nixon, and Williams had been slowly but steadily chipping away at it ever since he broke into the majors in 1970.
In his 12-year career between 1957 and 1968, Nixon had 2,504 at bats without stealing a single base, more than any player in the history of modern baseball. Williams' final time up against the Pirates last Tuesday—his fourth at bat of the night—gave him 2,505. The record that Nixon had held for eight years now belonged to him.
"What record?" he asked, scratching his head. "Most times grounding out to shortstop?" Learning the details, he was jubilant. "All right" he shouted. "I'm in the record books again!" Williams was referring to his 1971 National League Rookie of the Year Award. "I knew there was a reason why I never stole!"
Russ Nixon, who is now the first-base coach for Cincinnati, went into a mild state of shock when told that his mark had been shattered. (This was partly because he had had no idea that he was a world-record holder in anything.) "Holy cow," he kept saying.
Before 1898 a runner was credited with a steal even if he just took an extra base on a hit—going from first to third on a single, for instance. In those days, therefore, it was much harder not to steal bases. In fact, a player who didn't steal bases usually found himself playing for the Whippleville Wafers. Though the steal is generally regarded as a straightforward offensive weapon, Herman A. ( Germany) Schaefer, a onetime teammate of Ty Cobb, once tried a bit of subtlety. On second base and with a teammate on third, Schaefer lit out at full speed back to first, attempting to upset the catcher and pitcher and hoping his teammate could score in the confusion. It was shortly made illegal to run the bases in reverse order.
Ranking behind Williams (the only active player in the Top Ten) and Nixon in the Stealless Sweepstakes are, with their at bats (one must keep in mind that these figures do not include the number of times a batter reached base on a walk, a sacrifice, hit by pitch, etc. and then did not steal a base): Aaron Robinson (1,839), Al Ferrara (1,382), Bob Schmidt (1,305), Coco Laboy (1,247), Richie Scheinblum (1,218), Jack Hiatt (1,142), Chuck Essegian (1,018) and Manny Jimenez (1,003). ABC Monday Night Baseball commentator Bob Uecker, who played six years in the majors, ranks 14th with 731 at bats and no steals. Honorable mentions go to Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart, who had 3,408 consecutive at bats before stealing a base and making himself ineligible for the record, and to Gus Triandos—3,907 at bats, one steal.
Maury Wills, who was one of the worst at not stealing bases, once said, "It's just as important to know when not to go as it is to know when to go." If Wills' theory can be applied to non-stealing, one thing can be said about Earl Williams: he knows when not to go.
Does Williams have any advice for young players setting out to break his record? Of course. "You gotta work on getting a bad jump," he says.