I feel the need, the need for speed
When I see Willie Mays Hays put on another pair of batting gloves, I get excited and it makes me wish there was someone like that in real life. If I wasn’t spoiled by Henderson and Raines and other people of that elk, I would not even know that it was possible to steal that many bases. However, because of what I have seen, I know it is possible and I know how much a stolen base can affect the outcome of the game.
Over the past 4 decades the stolen base has become obsolete. There are many reasons for this, but at the end of the day none of them are good reasons and the stolen base needs to be brought back as a part of the game.
For the last 3 decades we have seen the avg. league leader (both leagues combined) in steals drop dramatically. In the 80’s, the avg. league leader each year was at 87 steals, the 90’s at 62.95, and the 2000’s are at 58.45. Currently, there is not a single active player in the top 20 for career steals. The active leader currently has 563 steals (Juan Pierre), compared to the all-time leader who has 1406 and the closest active player to Juan has 431. I am starting to believe that Henderson’s record will go up there with Ripken’s streak and Ryan’s strikeout total as baseball records that will never be broken. Currently, the active leader under the age of 30 has 386 steals (Reyes).
Television once told me, “chicks dig the long ball”. As great of a commercial as that was, part of that holds true for why I believe the stolen base has slowly been finding its way out of baseball. The 3-run home run has become the way to win a game. Fundamentals have gone out the door and that starts all the way at little league. Kids imitate what they see. They see home run after home run on TV, yet the stolen base is never shown on a highlight reel. Stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, etc have all become a way of the past. Some will blame it on steroids. I see that point, but even in the boom of the steroid era there were on avg. more stolen bases per year in the 90’s then there were in the 2000’s. If coaches at every level are more concerned with the home run then they are with teaching fundamentals of the game, the stolen base may never come back.
I will say that over time batters are not the only ones who have gotten bigger, stronger and faster. Pitchers and Catchers are the same way. That extra strength and speed they have on their pitches and throws does make it a little harder to steal against. With that being said, the league leader in base runners thrown out has not really wavered since the 70’s (avg of both leagues). Since 1975, the avg. league leader each year throws out 49.9% of all base runners. That is a top % of 52.09 in the late 70’s to a low of 48.71% avg for the 90’s. These numbers show that it is not the strength and speed of the pitcher that is causing the stolen base to disappear.
My only hope that the stolen base comes back is that the modern day manager gets back to coaching fundamentals. I am starting to see this more and more now that players from the 70’s and early 80’s are now becoming managers and coaches. Those coaches are all having success and I hope that other coaches see that success and start to copy it so we, as the fan, can enjoy the stolen base once again.