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Thursday, November 29, 2012

RetroSimba: The real story on Lou Brock and his steals of home

Imbroglio!

This blog entry is dedicated to setting the record straight regarding Lou Brock and his two steals of home.

Unfortunately, some reports, including a book produced by ESPN and an article in the digital archives of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), state Brock never stole home during his big-league career. Those reports are inaccurate.

Brock stole home twice on the front end of double steals. He did it first with the Cubs on May 24, 1964, against the Reds at Cincinnati. He repeated the feat with the Cardinals on Aug. 6, 1970, against the Mets at St. Louis.

But the incorrect reports about Brock never stealing home are prevalent on Internet search engines such as Google.

“ESPN: The Mighty Book of Sports Knowledge” (2009, Ballantine) has an item about Lou Gehrig stealing home 15 times during his career with the Yankees. The book, edited by Steve Wulf, incorrectly concludes, “Although that’s nowhere near the record of 54 set by Ty Cobb, it is 15 more than the total of Lou Brock.”

A research article on the same topic by Raymond J. Gonzalez in the SABR archives incorrectly reports, “The recent disclosure that Lou Brock had never stolen home … came as quite a surprise. Modern players are still stealing home … but Brock … has never done it.”

Possibly adding to the misinformation is a 2009 Sports Illustrated article. Ted Keith of SI.com wrote, “Only four of the 1,406 steals by career leader Rickey Henderson were straight steals of home, and that’s four more than Lou Brock (938), the man whose record Henderson broke, had in his Hall of Fame career.”

It’s true that neither of Brock’s steals of home were so-called “straight steals,” meaning his wasn’t the lone steal on the play. But the Sports Illustrated piece leaves the false impression Brock never stole home. The fact those thefts were on double steals (each time, a runner swiped second while Brock stole home) doesn’t diminish or erase the accomplishment.

Repoz Posted: November 29, 2012 at 06:47 AM | 41 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cardinals, history

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   1. Bhaakon Posted: November 29, 2012 at 07:01 AM (#4312137)
It’s true that neither of Brock’s steals of home were so-called “straight steals,” meaning his wasn’t the lone steal on the play. But the Sports Illustrated piece leaves the false impression Brock never stole home. The fact those thefts were on double steals (each time, a runner swiped second while Brock stole home) doesn’t diminish or erase the accomplishment.


Yes, yes it does. It's not a particularly important stat, nor a slander against Brock, but taking home on a double steal is closer to scoring on a sacrifice fly or bunt than to a straight steal of home. In my admittedly subjective opinion, the two plays aren't even comparable.
   2. BDC Posted: November 29, 2012 at 10:26 AM (#4312207)
My offhand reaction is that the straight steal of home is a stunt, at least after about the 1930s. It may have added a little value, and certainly some respect for their skills, to a few later players (Pete Reiser, Jackie Robinson, Rod Carew) who got very good at the specific technique involved; but something that even Rickey Henderson played only long enough to accomplish four times is, basically, nothing.
   3. BDC Posted: November 29, 2012 at 10:35 AM (#4312215)
And I should say that I agree with Bhaakon. The last credited steal of home I saw was Elvis Andrus on the front end of a double steal in Game Two of the 2010 ALCS. I didn't think to myself: wow, what nerve and what technique; I thought, wow, that was clever of Wash to call that play, the Yankees were asleep …
   4. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: November 29, 2012 at 11:25 AM (#4312261)
The Angels do the double steal (second/home thing) like 3-5 times a year. I'm on my phone now, but I'll look later. Aybar, Izturis and even Trout did it this year I think.
   5. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: November 29, 2012 at 11:26 AM (#4312263)
Also, I'm always surprised when they call it a "steal of home". Seems an overstatement.
   6. KJOK Posted: November 29, 2012 at 11:54 AM (#4312308)
My offhand reaction is that the straight steal of home is a stunt, at least after about the 1930s.

Not sure that is true - see:
Stealing a Run - Hardball Times
   7. Downtown Bookie Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:10 PM (#4312328)
My personal favorite memory of a straight steal of home: this game, July 24, 1970, Mets vs Dodgers at Shea (I was watching live on WOR, Channel 9 in New York). Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the tenth, Tommie Agee steals home to give the Mets a walk-off victory. The lasting image of that play is catcher Tom Haller, batter Cleon Jones, and umpire Shag Crawford all ending up in a tangled heap as Agee slides across the plate.

As to then versus now, back in the day pitchers (as I recall) practically always pitched from a full windup with a runner on third base (except if there was also a runner on first with second base empty). Once it became the norm for pitchers to throw from the stretch with a man on third, attempted straight steals of home became much more scarce.

At least, that's how it seems to me, without the benefit of research.

DB

EDIT: Here's the image
   8. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:20 PM (#4312343)
I'd call it the back end of a double steal, rather than the front end. The steal of second occurs first, thats the front end.

   9. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:21 PM (#4312344)
The lasting image of that play is catcher Tom Haller, batter Cleon Jones, and umpire Shag Crawford all ending up in a tangled heap as Agee slides across the plate.

The unbelievably awesome part of that image is the ump signaling safe while in the pileup.
   10. SoSH U at work Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM (#4312363)
It's not a particularly important stat, nor a slander against Brock, but taking home on a double steal is closer to scoring on a sacrifice fly or bunt than to a straight steal of home.


Well, it's not the same aesthetically or in degree of difficulty as the straight steal of home, which I think is what you're getting at. But I wouldn't really call it akin to those other plays since you're trading an out for a base in those examples.

   11. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM (#4312372)
Harper's steal of home off Hamels was one of the highlights of the 2012 season. Does it count as a straight steal if it's done during a pickoff attempt at another base?
   12. Tippecanoe Posted: November 29, 2012 at 12:43 PM (#4312377)
Backup catcher Glenn Brummer's game-winning straight steal of home with 2-out in the bottom of the 12th inning, Aug. 22 1982, is at least the equivalent of the Agee play. It epitomized Whitey-ball, and happened in the dog days of a successful pennant chase.
   13. Bourbon Samurai Posted: November 29, 2012 at 01:48 PM (#4312464)
My offhand reaction is that the straight steal of home is a stunt, at least after about the 1930s.


It was super awesome when Bryce Harper did it...but the Nats still lost that game like 7-1
   14. SoSH U at work Posted: November 29, 2012 at 01:57 PM (#4312474)
My offhand reaction is that the straight steal of home is a stunt, at least after about the 1930s.


It's very hard to pull off in today's game anyway, because so few pitchers will go from the windup with a runner on third (hell, most relievers don't throw from the windup at all), so there are few situations where you can get an adequate jump.


   15. Papa Squid Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:18 PM (#4312500)
One of my fondest memories of the 2012 season is Brett Lawrie trying a straight steal of home... with the bases loaded... and Jose Bautista at the plate. What in the world was he thinking?!?
   16. Willie Mayspedester Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:25 PM (#4312514)
I was at this game.

Orlando Cabrera stole home off of Chad Billingsley who was in the windup and got so confused when Cabrera went for it he nearly balked. I think the pitch was a ball also. Very memorable play if you were there.

EDIT:

Description from http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/stealing-a-run/

Orlando Cabrera

Date: July 2, 2006
Opposing pitcher: Chad Billingsley
Base state: Runner on third
Outs: 2
Leverage index: 1.28
Win value: 0.08
Break-even point: 31 percent

The situation: Cabrera reached third after his double and an error by J.D. Drew in right field allowed the Angels to take a 1-0 lead. With Vladimir Guerrero at the plate, Cabrera recognized that Billingsley was pitching from the windup and not paying him enough attention. On the second pitch, Cabrera stole home without a throw.

The reactions:
"After the first pitch, Orlando openly told me, 'This guy's doing something that's giving me a chance, so please get out of the way. I always look to the third base coach. I saw Orlando, he said a word or two in Spanish. His hand gesture was really enough."
—Vladimir Guerrero
"When he goes into his windup, he has this routine where he steps back and looks down. I guess Cabrera picked it up because as soon as he put his head down, Cabrera took off. And by the time he picked his head up, Cabrera was already starting to slide. So we didn't really have a chance."
—Russell Martin
Both quotes courtesy of ESPN

DOUBLE EDIT: According to Martin there wasn't a pitch.
   17. bjhanke Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:33 PM (#4312530)
I got to see all of Brock's career, and I have no memory of his stealing home, although the idea that I might have missed all of two is hardly a big deal. What I DO remember is Lou stealing third base a LOT. Don't know they numbers, but I suspect he has one of the largest numbers of third base steals ever. - Brock Hanke
   18. Steve Treder Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:36 PM (#4312532)
Backup catcher Glenn Brummer's game-winning straight steal of home with 2-out in the bottom of the 12th inning, Aug. 22 1982, is at least the equivalent of the Agee play. It epitomized Whitey-ball, and happened in the dog days of a successful pennant chase.

Except that the ump blew the call. There were two strikes on the batter (David Green), and the pitch upon which Brummer stole home was a strike, right down the middle, before Brummer touched the plate, inning over, no run scores. But the ever-incompetent Dave Pallone, looking at Brummer instead of the pitch, failed to register any call on the pitch.

   19. Tippecanoe Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:45 PM (#4312552)
That isn's how I remember it, and I refuse to have my fondest memories sullied by such talk. Besides, it is wildly implausible that David Green would ever strike out.
   20. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:53 PM (#4312569)
Very memorable play if you were there.


This is true of any steal of home. I was at Fenway when Billy Hatcher stole home and I remember seeing him break from third and realizing what was happening it all was incredibly exciting. My friends I was with and I pretty much missed the next inning and a half because we kept looking at each other saying "Billy Hatcher stole home, holy crap".
   21. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:55 PM (#4312574)
failed to register any call on the pitch.

That is how they call a ball, eh.
   22. Steve Treder Posted: November 29, 2012 at 02:59 PM (#4312583)
That is how they call a ball, eh.

Yes, except that a ball doesn't customarily pass directly through the strike zone.
   23. The District Attorney Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM (#4312586)
My offhand reaction is that the straight steal of home is a stunt, at least after about the 1930s.
Hey, with two outs, you don't need a very high success rate at all to justify an attempt. It might well be an under-utilized strategy, although it's hard to tell what the success rate would be if the defense grew to expect it.
   24. SoSH U at work Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:10 PM (#4312597)

It might well be an under-utilized strategy, although it's hard to tell what the success rate would be if the defense grew to expect it.


The conditions just aren't there to try it very often. You can't go with a righthanded pitcher on the mound who throws from the stretch. You can possibly go with a lefty in the stretch who's paying attention to the guy at first, though you're probably just as likely to get him to balk than to beat a throw to the plate. It generally requires someone throwing from the windup (ideally, a lefty), and that situation doesn't come up nearly as much as it once did (with more guys throwing from the stretch in that situation, and more innings being worked by perma-stretch throwing relievers).

   25. Willie Mayspedester Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:14 PM (#4312604)
The play I saw Billingsley was a rookie if I remember correctly and he's obviously a righty. He didn't know what to do.
   26. TR_Sullivan Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:20 PM (#4312607)
After covering the Rangers for 24 years - but hardly every game - the last time I remember a straight attempt to steal home was Cecil Espy against Roger Clemens back in 1990. He was out.
   27. SoSH U at work Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:32 PM (#4312614)
The play I saw Billingsley was a rookie if I remember correctly and he's obviously a righty. He didn't know what to do.


Yeah, but he wasn't going on the pitch (and it sounds like Billingsley was set to go into the windup). He was stealing on Billingsley having his head in his ass.

You can straight steal on a righthanded pitcher who's throwing from the windup, but it's slightly easier to do it against a lefty because he'll have his back to you as you make your break. A righty should see it earlier, and be able to adjust a little (speed up his release, fastball isntead of curve, inside rather than outside, etc.)
   28. Bhaakon Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:46 PM (#4312625)
Well, it's not the same aesthetically or in degree of difficulty as the straight steal of home, which I think is what you're getting at. But I wouldn't really call it akin to those other plays since you're trading an out for a base in those examples.


Scoring on a hit and run, then. Like you say, my point is more about degree of difficulty and sheer brazenness of the play than any kind of statistical measure of run value.
   29. Chris Fluit Posted: November 29, 2012 at 03:47 PM (#4312626)
My favorite steal of home was Aaron Hill off of Andy Pettitte. The lefty Pettitte is rightly famous for his ability to pick runners off of first base. But with his back turned to third, Pettitte is prone to forget about the guy who's closer to home. The Blue Jays picked up on this and sent Hill home on a straight steal. It was a thing of beauty.
   30. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: November 29, 2012 at 04:41 PM (#4312674)
I got to see all of Brock's career, and I have no memory of his stealing home, although the idea that I might have missed all of two is hardly a big deal. What I DO remember is Lou stealing third base a LOT. Don't know they numbers, but I suspect he has one of the largest numbers of third base steals ever. - Brock Hanke

BB-Ref has Brock stealing third successfully 79 times, against 42 CS.

Rickey Henderson (the only other person I looked at) was 322-69. Jeepers, as my grandpa would say.
   31. RJ in TO Posted: November 29, 2012 at 04:52 PM (#4312691)
One of my fondest memories of the 2012 season is Brett Lawrie trying a straight steal of home... with the bases loaded... and Jose Bautista at the plate. What in the world was he thinking?!?

He was thinking "I bet this will make RJ in TO's head explode".

He was very nearly right.
   32. Perry Posted: November 29, 2012 at 05:28 PM (#4312728)
Yes, except that a ball doesn't customarily pass directly through the strike zone.


There's video online (with a Mike Shannon call!). Pallone did forget to call the pitch, jumping into position to call the tag play before the ball arrived. But the Giants' catcher also jumped out of position before the ball arrived. The pitch to me looks outside anyway, although it was close, but it would have been tough to call it a strike with the catcher jumping out like that.
   33. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: November 29, 2012 at 05:51 PM (#4312753)
Link to video?
   34. Perry Posted: November 29, 2012 at 05:55 PM (#4312762)
http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=17820271
   35. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: November 29, 2012 at 06:09 PM (#4312781)
I don't see how even a game winning home run can top a game winning steal of home.

That was Earl Torgeson of the Tigers stealing home on the Yanks' Bob Turley, and everyone in Briggs Stadium knew it was coming. Turley was still using his slow and belabored double pump windup, and the play at the plate wasn't even particularly close. About a year after that, Turley joined Don Larsen in switching to the no-windup pitch, and until injuries derailed him in 1959, he became one of their best pitchers of the 50's.
   36. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: November 29, 2012 at 06:56 PM (#4312824)
Thanks for the link. That is totally a ball, but I agree that Pallone couldn't judge since he had jumped into position for the tag play.
   37. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: November 29, 2012 at 07:22 PM (#4312844)
Jacoby Ellsbury also had a straight steal on Andy Pettite.

This is the one I remember, 2009? or so.. It's played quite prominently on an ESPN ad for baseball telecasts in Aus. Not sure you get the same ad over there. This was a straight steal right?
   38. BDC Posted: November 29, 2012 at 08:32 PM (#4312872)
The conditions just aren't there to try it very often

Traditionally too, you need a RHB at the plate, to screen the catcher as much as possible. Though IIRC the steal of home by Cecil Espy, which I saw on TV, featured a LHB. But that's indicative: if I can remember "somebody's famous steal of home," it's reached almost the status of a dropkick field goal :)
   39. Nasty Nate Posted: November 29, 2012 at 08:43 PM (#4312881)
This is the one I remember, 2009? or so.. It's played quite prominently on an ESPN ad for baseball telecasts in Aus. Not sure you get the same ad over there. This was a straight steal right?


Yes straight steal. JD Drew was the batter and looked on as if he was watching his accountant prepare his tax return.
   40. GIANTlhbASS Posted: November 30, 2012 at 03:00 AM (#4313114)
Add Mike Sweeney to the list of those who stole home off Pettitte: August 14, 2002.

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