Fast Runners, Faster Runs
By Ben Gellman, Broadcasting Assistant
“Speed kills/Coming down the mountain/Speed kills/Coming down the street.” –Bush, “Speed Kills”
Few things in baseball are quite so exciting as a baserunner exploding for 90 feet of sheer adrenaline to steal a base, or a center fielder sprinting like a gazelle to snare a fly ball that common decency demands must be beyond his grasp. The crowd rises to its feet and an audible rush of anticipation blows through the air. Even the tiniest fractions of seconds can determine the difference between a hero and a goat.
Speedsters can hold the outcome of games in the balance. Today, I’m taking a look at the greatest of all time to swipe a bag, and some of the best in the game at thievery right now.
The discussion of great base-stealers has to start with Rickey Henderson, who terrorized pitchers from 1979 all the way until 2002 with his prowess on the paths. Henderson stole 33 bases in 89 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 1979. Seriously. For context, only 13 players stole more bases in a full season in 2010. Henderson never looked back, swiping a round 100 bases in 1980 and earning the first of ten All-Star appearances. In his fourth season, Henderson set a new single-season record for steals with 130, a record that stands to this day. He finished his career with 1406 stolen bases, nearly 500 more than his nearest competitor. He also owns the career record for runs, with 2295.
Lou Brock was as good a thief as anyone before Rickey came along. He got off to a slow start, not really flourishing until traded from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. He ripped off 703 stolen bases between the trade and the end of the 1974 season, and was elected to the Hall of Fame after setting the record for steals at 938 before Henderson could break it.
Though he may have been overshadowed by Henderson, Kenny Lofton deserves a place among the great base-stealers of all time. After a trade from the Houston Astros to the Cleveland Indians following a cup of coffee in 1991, Lofton bloomed, swiping an average of 51 bases per season for the next nine years. He was named to six All-Star squads, and earned four straight Gold Glove awards for his nimble defense in center field. He’s been teaching members of the Cleveland Indians some of his techniques, so watch out for the Tribe on the basepaths!
Today’s best base thieves continue to give pitchers fits. Juan Pierre of the Chicago White Sox and Michael Bourn of the Houston Astros are threats to steal every time they reach base, and swiped a combined 120 in 2010. Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox and Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins both supplement their swift strides with sweet swings, as they’re very capable of popping the ball out of the yard. And Texas fans should be excited with speedy shortstop Elvis Andrus, who stole 32 bases in 2010 and will look to up that number in 2011.
And Hickory fans can look forward to a speedster of their own in 2011, as lightning bug middle infielder Leury Garcia may be back to build on his impressive 47 steals as a Crawdad in 2010.