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In baseball, a stolen base occurs when a baserunner successfully advances to the next base while the pitcher is delivering the ball to home plate. In baseball statistics, stolen bases are denoted by SB. If the catcher thwarts the stolen base by throwing the runner out, the event is recorded as caught stealing (CS).
The stolen base (or its attempt) is one of the more exciting plays in baseball. It has a feeling of free-spiritedness and daring, as the runner forgoes the safer course of staying at his base until the batter hits the ball. Successful base-stealing requires not just simple running speed, but also good base-running instincts, quickness, and split-second timing.
In the 19th century, stolen bases were credited when a baserunner reached an extra base on a base hit from another player. For example if a runner on first base reached third base on a single, it would count as a steal. A Scottish-born outfielder named Hugh Nicol was once credited with 138 stolen bases (many, but not all, of which would have counted under modern rules) in one year. Modern steal rules were implemented in 1898, and steals are now only credited when a runner successfully takes an extra base while the ball is being pitched. In addition, if the situation of the game is such that the steal is of little use (usually late innings with a large difference in score), and the catcher does not attempt to throw out the runner, the runner is not credited with a steal, and the base is attributed to defensive indifference.
Base stealing was popular in the game's early decades, with speedsters such as Ty Cobb and Clyde Milan stealing nearly 100 bases in a season. But the tactic fell into relative disuse after Babe Ruth introduced the era of the home run -- in 1955, for example, no one in baseball stole more than 25 bases. Base-stealing was brought back to prominence primarily by Maury Wills, who broke Cobb's single-season record by stealing 104 bases in 1962. Wills' record was broken in turn by Lou Brock in 1974, and Rickey Henderson in 1982.
Rickey Henderson is the most prolific base stealer in Major League Baseball history, with 1,406 over his career. This total is 468 more than the runner-up (Lou Brock, who has 938) and, as of the end of the 2004 season, an astonishing 824 more than the next-highest active player (Kenny Lofton). Henderson also holds the modern record for steals in one season, with 130 in 1982.
There are only two players in Major League Baseball history with at least twelve seasons of fifty or more stolen bases: Lou Brock (12) and Rickey Henderson (13). Interestingly, Lou Brock's twelve seasons were ALL consecutive, whereas Rickey Henderson "only" had seven of his thirteen 50+ steal seasons consecutively. At the end of the 1983 season, Rickey Henderson had become the first and only player to have 2 consecutive seasons (1982 & 1983) with more than 100 stolen bases. Four years later, Vince Coleman broke that unbelievable record when he stole more than 100 bases for 3 consecutive seasons (1985, 1986 & 1987).
Technique and StrategyEdit
A base-stealing runner must begin running as soon as the pitcher has committed himself to throwing a pitch to home plate, neither sooner nor later. If he begins to run too soon, the pitcher may throw to a base rather than to home — in this case, the runner is picked off, and will most likely be tagged out. Before the pitch, the runner will often take a lead-off, walking several steps away from the base as a head start for his next advance. In some cases, the pitcher may hold the runner on by throwing to the base several times before pitching, in the hope of dissuading the runner from too big a lead-off. This action can also result in the runner being tagged out in a pick-off. Another popular strategy is for the runner to attempt a steal while the hitter is instructed to swing at the pitch if it is at all hittable. This hit-and-run play can give the runner a good head start to take an extra base on the hit. But if the hitter fails to hit the ball, the hit-and-run becomes a pure steal attempt, and the runner may be thrown out. Another risk of the hit-and-run is that a caught line-drive could result in an easy double play.
A second and lessor known technique is the "delayed" steal. This technique, famously practiced by Eddie Stanky of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is where the runner does not break immediately for second when the pitcher commits to the plate. Instead the runner takes two or three large shuffles off of the base when the pitchers goes to the plate. This keys the middle infielders and the catcher to let their guard down, as it appears the runner is not stealing, but only getting a good secondary lead in case the ball is hit. In reality the delayed stealer is closing distance with second base. When the ball crosses the plate the runner breaks for second base, and is essentially stealing the base on the middle infielders who have not covered second base. Addtionally, the catcher is not ready to come out of his crouch and cannot throw to second until an infielder gets there. The delayed steal is a deceptive technique that is sometimes executed by even slow runners and many times results in a catcher throwing into centerfield. The technique is rarely seen at the Major League level but is used effectively by multiple college programs.
Second base is the base most often stolen, as it is farthest from home plate and thus a longer throw from the catcher is required to prevent it. Third base is more difficult to steal, but this is still commonly done. It is possible for a player to steal home base, but this requires great daring and aggressiveness as the ball will almost certainly arrive at home plate before the runner. Ty Cobb holds the records for most steals of home in a single season (8) as well as for a career (54). Jackie Robinson was also renowned for the thrilling feat of stealing home. In more recent decades, a pure steal of home is hardly ever attempted, although home base is still occasionally stolen during a "delayed double steal," in which a runner on first base attempts to steal second while the runner on third base breaks for home as soon as the catcher throws to second base.
It is sometimes thought that first base can be stolen by the batter, because he can run to first base if the catcher fails to catch a third strike. But such a play (if the batter is successful) is not recorded as a stolen base, but as a strikeout plus a passed ball or wild pitch. In baseball's earlier decades, a runner on second base could steal first base, perhaps with the intention of drawing a throw which might allow a runner on third to score. But modern rules forbid going backwards on the basepaths once a base has been legally reached, so there is currently no legal way to steal first base.
Base stealing is an important characteristic of a particular style of baseball, sometimes called "small ball." A team playing with this style emphasizes doing little things (including as risky running plays like base-stealing) to advance runners and score runs, often relying on pitching and defense to keep games close. The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960's, led by pitcher Sandy Koufax and speedy shortstop Maury Wills, were a successful example of this style. The antithesis of this would be a team that relies on power hitting. The Baltimore Orioles of the 1970's, led by manager Earl Weaver, were an example of such a "slugging" team that aspires to score most of its runs by a three-run homer. Oftentimes the "small ball" model is associated with the National League, while power hitting is seen as more associated with the American League. However, some of the more successful American League teams of recent memory, including the 2005 Chicago White Sox and the 2002 Anaheim Angels, have experienced their success in part as a result of playing "small ball," advancing runners through means such as the stolen base and the related hit and run play. Successful teams often combine both styles, with a speedy runner or two complementing hitters with power.