Over the course of sports activities historical past there are some excessive statistical outliers. From Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 48.5 minutes a sport within the 1961-62 season (there are solely 48 minutes in an N.B.A. sport), to Wayne Gretzky, who had so many assists that he can be the N.H.L.’s profession factors chief even when he had by no means scored a purpose, sure stars have put information thus far out of attain that discussing them can appear pointless.
Rickey Henderson, the well-traveled vagabond who ceaselessly discovered his manner again to Oakland, was that manner with stolen bases. And because the widespread Twitter account Tremendous 70s Sports activities noted on Thursday, Henderson started Might 12, 1982 because the M.L.B. chief in steals — with 35.
It’s a quantity that seems extra absurd the longer you have a look at it. Final yr solely two gamers managed that many stolen bases all season. In 2019, solely 5 gamers acquired there. Henderson, who in 1982 was on his solution to a report 130 steals in 172 makes an attempt, was averaging greater than a steal per sport in mid-Might. It was a tempo so relentless that it throws off the curve for another stolen base dialogue.
Should you can modify your base-stealing expectations again to the fashionable actuality, although, Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners is off to a powerful begin in his rookie season. He and the Mariners will open a sequence towards the first-place Mets at Citi Discipline beginning Friday night time, and with a serious league-leading 10 steals in 11 makes an attempt, Rodríguez, 21, is on tempo to be the primary participant with 50 or extra in a season since Dee Unusual-Gordon had 60 in 2017.
Might Rodríguez be the way forward for baseball, as he boldly urged earlier than this season? Completely. Might he be the torchbearer for Henderson and the sport’s different nice stolen base threats? Not if he retains up his current sizzling streak on the plate.
Rodríguez’s transition to the majors was initially very tough. After a loss on April 29, he was hitting .211 with a .550 on-base plus slugging proportion. He had mitigated these poor outcomes a bit with defensive effort and by being aggressive on the basepaths: By 19 video games, he had a serious league-leading 9 stolen bases. Since then, his extremely regarded abilities on the plate have come round, with an .835 O.P.S. in 12 video games — however he has stolen just one extra base.
It’s far too quickly to inform how issues will play out for a younger participant like Rodríguez. However within the present surroundings, it isn’t shocking for a participant who can hit, significantly one who can hit for energy like Rodríguez, to deal with that fairly than discovering methods to fabricate offense via stealing bases.
Within the Eighties, pitchers’ nightmares have been crammed with the picture of Tim Raines, Vince Coleman or Henderson taking an extended lead off first base. However in recent times, even the gamers with the mix of pace and know-how to steal in big numbers have gone one other manner. From Mike Trout’s bulking as much as deal with his energy to Trea Turner’s making an attempt to guard his physique from put on and tear, the sport’s finest base stealers have walked away from what was a extremely marketable talent.
General, groups are averaging 0.49 steals a sport this season, which is a gentle uptick from final yr but additionally can be the fourth season in a row wherein the typical is under 0.5. That’s down from a contemporary peak of 0.85 a sport in 1987 — the period of Raines, Coleman and Henderson. Over the course of the season, that seemingly small fraction can add up. Final season the Kansas Metropolis Royals led M.L.B. with 124 steals; in 1987, the common crew stole 138.
Main League Baseball has recognized this as an issue. A participant taking off for second, sending a jolt via the gang, makes for a extra compelling sport than a number of solo house runs and a dozen strikeouts. So M.L.B., because it experiments on the minor league degree, has prioritized discovering methods to encourage working like limiting the variety of occasions a pitcher can step off the rubber in a single league and requiring pitchers to step off the rubber earlier than making an attempt a pickoff in one other.
Regardless of that, it might probably generally really feel as if there’ll by no means be one other José Reyes, not to mention one other Henderson. As we wait to see if M.L.B.’s initiatives could make a dent, it’s price remembering that there’s an ebb and movement to statistics in baseball and that we aren’t truly on the nadir of stolen bases.
There have been solely six seasons wherein the main league common was under 0.3 steals a sport, and all six got here between 1949 and 1956. In 1957, the Washington Senators set a really doubtful report, stealing solely 13 bases as a crew over the course of 154 video games. Making issues worse, they have been caught making an attempt to steal 38 occasions.
A yr later, Henderson was born in Chicago and would go on to steal a report 1,406 bases.
And it was hardly simply Henderson. The resurgence of stolen bases after that low level within the Nineteen Fifties occurred surprisingly shortly. In 1958, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants led the majors with solely 31 steals. By 1962, Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers was altering the sport — and setting a brand new fashionable report — with 104.
Steals grew to become so frequent that in 1976, 10 gamers had 50 or extra in the identical season, and the typical variety of steals topped 0.7 a sport — a determine it might attain in 22 consecutive seasons.
In that spirit, a return to stealing bases could seem unlikely proper now, however all it might presumably take is a participant desirous to do it and a crew not telling him to cease. The resurgence might blossom from there.
Ought to that occur, Henderson won’t have to lose sleep about his information.
If Rodríguez, or anybody else, will get to 50 in a season, they might repeat that feat for a span of 28 consecutive seasons and nonetheless be six in need of tying Henderson. It’s not inconceivable, after all, however just like the feats of Chamberlain and Gretzky, it’s a report so outlandish that it’s best to not spend an excessive amount of time pondering whether or not anybody might threaten it.