Joe Posnanski
Tuesday May 4th, 2010

There really are not that many famous stolen bases in baseball history. In honor of former big leaguer Dave Roberts, who announced on Monday that he has been diagnosed with lymphoma, I posed the following question on Twitter: What are the 10 most famous stolen bases in baseball history? I got something like 500 responses, and about 498 of those suggested the same three stolen bases. I'm sure you can figure out those three without thinking too hard. They will be the top three on the list.

But there are not many other successful stolen bases that come to mind (many will remember that Babe Ruth was caught stealing to end the 1926 World Series). I suppose in the end this is because stolen bases, unlike home runs, are so rarely DECISIVE. Even the Dave Roberts steal, which you know will be on the list, was only a setup to the Bill Mueller single that scored him. It's easy to come up with the most famous home runs in baseball history. I'm going to see if I can come up with 10 famous home runs in 10 seconds (not necessarily the MOST famous, just famous):

Bobby Thomson's The Giants Win The Pennant Bill Mazeroski's home run in the 1960 World Series Joe Carter's smash off Wild Thing in the 1993 World Series Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series Gabby Hartnett's Homer in the Gloamin' in 1938 Carlton Fisk off the Fisk Pole in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series Tony Perez off a Bill Lee bloop pitch in Game 7 in '75 Bucky Dent against the Red Sox in '78 Hank Aaron's 715th in 1974 Reggie Jackson's third in one World Series game in 1977

Sorry, took me 23 seconds. Oh well. Point is, famous home runs come a lot easier because home runs are conclusive, they empty the bases, they complete the scoring. A big stolen base, most of the time, is like an important defensive rebound or a great fourth-down completion that keeps a drive alive. Hugely important. But not especially memorable.

Still, by stretching just a little bit -- along with a whole lot of Twitter friend help -- I did come up with 10 great stolen bases. True, a couple of them are fictional. But, hey, we have to do what we have to do.

10. The Paradise Steal (As recommended by @Made_Dad)

There are quite a few famous baseball scenes in popular music. There's Springsteen's washed-up high school pitcher who "could throw that speedball by ya," in Glory Days. There are Simon and Garfunkel wondering where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, and Rodgers and Hammerstein telling us that Bloody Mary's skin is as tender as DiMaggio's glove in South Pacific. There's Sinatra singing about how there used to be a ballpark here, and Terry Cashman singing about Willie, Mickey and the Duke. And numerous others.

But let's be honest: Many baseball lyrics tend to revolve around sex -- you know, the whole getting to first base, second base and so on. And the classic of the genre is Meatloaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light, where Yankees announcer and legend Phil Rizzuto offers a little baseball play-by-play for Mr. Loaf's erotic efforts in the car by the lake. Loaf manages to steal third ("What a jump he's got!" Rizzuto called). However, his attempt to steal home is blunted by the girl's perfect block of the plate ("Stop right there!/I gotta know right now!/Before we go any further/Do you love me?")

9. Chico Ruiz in '64 (As recommended by @KeithOlbermann).

In some ways, I'm stunned that this stolen base isn't more famous; Keith was the only person to recommend it. I suspect this is because Ruiz's steal helped destroy a team but did not lift his own team to glory.

Anyway, you probably know the play. This was 1964, and the miracle Phillies were less than two weeks away from one of the more stunning pennants in baseball history. The Phillies and Jim Bunning had beaten the Dodgers 3-2 on a Sunday to take a 6 1/2-game lead with less than two weeks left to play. Unless my math is off -- and it probably is off -- the Phillies had a magic number of seven over Cincinnati and St. Louis. The thing was all but over.

Then, on Monday, Sept. 21, the Phillies played the Reds. The game was scoreless into the sixth when 25-year-old rookie Chico Ruiz singled with one out. He went to third on Vada Pinson's single, but Pinson was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. So, man on third, two outs, and Frank Robinson at the plate. There probably has been a more ridiculous situation to try to steal home, but none immediately come to mind. Stealing home with Frank Robinson at the plate?

But sure enough, with Art Mahaffey on the mound, Ruiz broke for the plate. Mahaffey was so flustered, his throw was wide and skipped past catcher Clay Dalrymple. Ruiz's run held up as the Reds won 1-0. And the Phillies promptly fell apart, losing their next nine games, and getting themselves eliminated before the season even ended. But it wasn't the Reds who caught them. It was the Cardinals.

One other interesting tidbit: It was actually the second time in three days that the Phillies lost a game on a steal of home. On Saturday, the Phillies lost to the Dodgers in 16 innings, the winning run scoring on Willie Davis' steal of home with Ron Fairly at the plate. The rare walkoff steal of home.

8. Run like Hayes, Hit Like Mays (Recommended by several people)

A lot of people also recommended Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez's steal of home in The Sandlot, but if I'm going to pick a movie steal it has to be Willie Mays Hayes' steal of second in the ninth inning of the climactic game in Major League, setting up Jake Taylor's world-famous called shot bunt. It was sort of Dave Roberts before Dave Roberts.

7. Brummer Stunner (Recommended by several people)

On Aug. 22, 1982, the St. Louis Cardinals were two games up on Philadelphia in the NL East and the Cardinals were winning games in the most ridiculous ways. They would hit only 67 home runs as a team that year. But with Whitey Herzog pushing hard, they ran with wild abandon. That Sunday, the Cardinals were playing the Giants. In the 12th inning, the bases were loaded with Glenn Brummer, a rookie third-string catcher, on third base.

The fun part about it all is that, based on his postgame comments, Brummer did not know he was going to try to steal home until he actually was doing it. Giants lefty Gary Lavelle was on the mound, and he paid absolutely no attention to Brummer on third base. Well, why would he? Lavelle had a bit of a high leg kick, and on the first three pitches Brummer kept edging down the line, a little more each time, and he could not help but notice that Lavelle never once looked his way.

And on the fourth pitch, without even thinking about it, Brummer took off for home as Lavelle began the windup. He scored -- one of only four stolen bases in his career. "No one would have ever thought I would steal home in the major leagues... including me," Brummer said.

The UPI lead was a classic: "If major league baseball gave an annual award for 'chutzpah,' rookie Glenn Brummer would easily win this year's trophy, and it would be made of solid brass."

6. Stealing First (Recommended by @NameTheBats and others)

Germany Schaefer was a gutsy little second baseman for numerous teams in the early part of the 20th century, and in Lawrence Ritter's classic The Glory of Their Times, Davy Jones tells of a time when Schaefer was on first and a runner was on third. There was a call for the double steal. Unfortunately, the catcher did not throw. So, Schaefer stole first base back, then tried the double steal again on the next pitch -- it worked the second time. The story may or may not have happened as Jones remembered, but it is true that in 1920 -- one year after Schaefer died -- a rule was put in that outlawed running the bases backward.

5. The Double Steal (Recommended by several people)

It's too recent to be sure just where Johnny Damon's double steal will rank in baseball history, but it was remarkable to see. And it was pretty important. This, of course, happened in the 2009 World Series, Game 4, with the score tied 4-4 in the ninth inning. The Yankees led the Series two games to one, so everything was very much up in the air.

There were two outs in the top of the ninth against Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge when Damon put together an epic at-bat, fouling off a bunch of pitches before stroking a line drive to left for a single.

Then it happened. With Mark Teixeira at the plate, Damon stole second and then, realizing that nobody was covering third base, popped up from his slide and took third. Two steals on one pitch. It completely spooked Lidge, who, to be honest, got spooked a lot that year. He promptly hit Teixeira with a pitch. A-Rod crushed a double. Jorge Posada hit a two-run single. And the Yankees won and took a 3-1 lead in the Series, more or less crushing Philadelphia's hopes.

4. Reggie's First Mr. October Move (Recommended by @richarddeitsch)

In the decisive Game 5 of the 1972 American League Championship Series, Detroit was leading Oakland 1-0 in the second inning. It was early in the game, but it was still tense. With two outs, Oakland's Reggie Jackson was on third and Mike Epstein was on first. And as Gene Tenace struck out, the A's tried the double steal. Detroit catcher Bill Freehan threw to second and Epstein beat the throw. Then Detroit shortstop Dick McAulliffe fired home, but Reggie made a spectacular slide and scored. Unfortunately, in making the slide, Reggie also blew out his left hamstring. He ended up on crutches and did not play the rest of the postseason. The A's, of course, won the game and the World Series.

One great little tidbit from that game comes from Dayn Perry's upcoming book on Reggie Jackson. Detroit was managed by a guy by the name of Billy Martin. After the game, Jackson and Martin met and Martin apparently said, "You showed me a lot of class. I like guys like you."

3. Rickey Henderson's 939th steal (Recommended by countless people).

This is the one that broke Lou Brock's record for most stolen bases in a career. It is remembered mainly for two reasons. One is that it happened on May Day 1991, which just so happened to be the same day that Nolan Ryan threw his seventh no-hitter (striking out 16 Blue Jays in the process). So, naturally, Rickey's steal was only the second-biggest baseball story of the day.

The second reason, of course, was the speech, where after setting the record, Henderson was handed a microphone and said to the crowd, "Lou Brock was the symbol of great base-stealing. But today I am the greatest of alltime. Thank you."

2. The Dave Roberts steal (Recommended by countless people)

This whole project, of course, was inspired by Dave Roberts and began with a question: Was Roberts' steal REALLY one of the 10 most famous of alltime? After all, it doesn't really have the same kind of drama as the other steals on the list and a few that did not make it, such as Maury Wills' record-breaking 97th steal in 1962, Jose Canseco's steal to complete the first 40-40 season in 1988 or that May day in 1969 when Rod Carew walked against Detroit's Mickey Lolich, then stole second, third and home with Harmon Killebrew batting.

I mean, let's face it. The Red Sox were already down to the Yankees 3-games-to-0 in the American League Championship Series. No team had ever come back from 3-0. Roberts did not score the winning run. A million things still had to happen for Boston to pull off the miracle comeback. So why is this stolen base so famous?

I think it's based on a couple of things. One, I think Roberts' steal reminded baseball fans about the power of the stolen base. The stolen base has had an up and down history in baseball -- sometimes it's in vogue and sometimes it's not. Nobody stole in the 1940s; everyone did in the 1970s.

Some managers think it's a big part of baseball, and others would be more than happy to have it outlawed. When Kevin Millar stepped to the plate against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, with the Yankees leading 4-3, the series was OVER. Absolutely over. Everybody knew it. You might find a Red Sox fan who will insist that he or she still had hope. That fan is either (A) insanely optimistic or (B) lying.

And even after Millar drew the walk, the Series was still over. This was Mariano Rivera. Except then Dave Roberts came into the game as a pinch-runner, and suddenly there was just a little buzz.

And yes, when Roberts stole second, something changed. That's the second thing: Baseball, like all sports, has this wonderful element of destiny attached to it. That's not to say that any team is really destined to win, but sometimes teams BELIEVE they are destined. And that belief can mean something. There came a time when the 1980 U.S. hockey team BELIEVED that it could beat the Soviets. There came a time when U.S. Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner BELIEVED that he could defeat the unbeatable Russian. There came a time when Buster Douglas BELIEVED that he would beat Mike Tyson.

And when Dave Roberts stole second, and Bill Mueller drove him home to tie the game, the Red Sox BELIEVED that they could win that game. And once they won that game, they BELIEVED that they could win the next. And once they won that game, and the game after that, they BELIEVED that there was no chance that they were going to lose Game 7.

Yes, it's just a stolen base. And there will always be plenty of people who will think it's overrated. I doubt that any of those people are Red Sox fans, though.

1. Jackie (Recommended by countless people).

You know what interests me most about Jackie Robinson's steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series? It's not whether he's safe or out (he looks out to me no matter how many times it's shown, though there are photographs that suggest that his toe may have slid under the tag).

No, what interests me is this: watch Yogi Berra. OK, now, I have seen recreations of the play, and in recreations Whitey Ford always pitches off the rubber as Jackie steals home. It's always a pitch to the plate. Even here in the video, it is suggested that Ford is pitching off the rubber. But if you watch Berra, he very clearly steps up into the box and prevents Brooklyn's Frank Kellert from swinging the bat (though it looks like he would like to swing).

I have looked around a little bit to find proof that Ford did not pitch that ball, that he indeed stepped off the rubber and threw home, and I seem to find mixed evidence. Shirley Povich's story in the Washington Post the next day said Robinson "made it too, catching Ford languishing in his long windup. When the pitch came to Berra, it was too late." So that says, pretty clearly, that it was a pitch. But Arthur Daley's column in the Times says that Ford did, in fact, toss the ball home, suggesting that he stepped off the rubber.

Anyway, if that's indeed a pitch from Ford, then Berra very clearly interfered with Kellert. I'm assuming that it was not a pitch. But I will admit, it's just so strange to see Kellert looking like he wants to swing the bat and not getting out of the box until the last second.

Three other interesting tidbits, at least to me:

• One, Billy Martin tried to steal home earlier in the game but was caught.

• Two, people tend to forget that the steal of home did not have much effect on the game. The Dodgers trailed by two runs when Robinson stole home -- even Robinson admitted that it was probably a foolhardy risk on his part to try that steal, down by two runs in the eighth. He made it, but the Yankees still won the game 6-5, lifted by Joe Collins' two homers.

• Three, there was a great Yogi-ism after that game, but one I don't think I've heard before. Yogi was enraged by the call, and remains enraged by the call over half a century later. Still, I don't think he could have said it any better than he did after the game.

"It was a close play," Yogi told reporters, "but I had him easy."

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