basestealing aficionado like Podsednik for a teammate has helped, too. Before
each game Holliday checks in for a scouting report on the night's pitcher. That
Holliday is a studious hitter doesn't hurt either, as it allows him to
anticipate situations. Is it a breaking ball count? Does a reliever use a
changeup as his out pitch? "It's a calculated risk for me," says
Holliday. "I usually don't go unless I have at least a couple of variables
in my favor."
One advantage he
has is that he rarely sees a slide-step, though that may change as his
basestealing reputation grows. As it is, some pitchers seem to forget he's even
on base. Against the Reds last month, Holliday reached base in the seventh
inning with the Rockies down two runs. Knowing that the pitcher, former
teammate Jeremy Affeldt, is slow to the plate, Holliday stole second. Not that
Affeldt appeared to notice. "The very next pitch I got kind of a big lead,
and I realized he wasn't looking at me," says Holliday. "So I started
to hop and he still wasn't looking, so I just took off." Holliday made it
to third with ease and, moments later, scored on a wild pitch. And with that,
the biggest guy on the field had just manufactured a run with his feet.
"Who would have thought, right?" says Holliday with a laugh.
As surprising as
Holliday's basestealing is, there are players for whom their inability to swipe
bags is equally confounding, fast men who can look inexplicably slow. For
example, Victorino, so fleet his nickname is the Flyin' Hawaiian, only stole
four bases in 462 plate appearances in 2006, his first full year in the majors.
(He's since learned the trade from Lopes.) This season Ryan Theriot of the Cubs
has swiped 21, but he's been nabbed 13 times. "That's how stealing bases
gets a bad knock," says Lopes. "To me, if a guy steals 20 times and
gets thrown out 12, you just shut him down."
is Twins centerfielder Carlos Gomez. While with the Mets as a reserve
outfielder in 2007, he was renowned for being the only player on the team
faster than Reyes. Yet handed a starting job by the Twins in 2008, Gomez had 29
stolen bases through Sunday but had been caught 10 times, or nine more than
Holliday. "It's not about speed," explains Henderson. "I was never
the fastest, but I was the quickest. Bo Jackson was faster than me, but I was
that sentiment. "You hear guys say, 'He's at full speed at two steps.' But
nobody does that. Usain Bolt, the guy who just won the Olympics, he isn't at
full speed at two steps. If a guy's at full speed at two steps, then he's slow.
You follow me?"
Rather, a runner
who can read a pitcher merely provides the illusion of hitting top speed early.
What has really happened is that he's picked up on an indicator and taken off
before the pitcher starts to deliver. By the time anyone looks over, he's in
Of course, that's
if everything works out. Sometimes a player messes up a read or gets a bad jump
and all the preparation and technique in the world are useless. Then the art of
basestealing becomes much simpler. "Then," says Rollins, nicely summing
up the essence of the craft, "it's all about how fast can I get my ass from
here on down to there."
The following are
the best (minimum: 200 stolen bases) and worst (minimum: 100 stolen bases)
career thieves among active players.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]