The 2004 Mets are on pace to do something that only eight other major league clubs (that we know of) have ever done: steal bases at an 80 percent clip. I say “that we know of,” of course, because for many years, nobody was writing down when men were getting caught.
Why not? Because America was a happier, more optimistic place back then. We weren’t all about negativity and failure in those days–no sir! Well, that’s one theory anyway.
The party line on steals in these parts is that they are overrated as an offensive weapon–you all know that. When a team gets up over an 80 percent success rate, though, even the most heart-hardened theft-cynic begins to contemplate granting absolution to the thieves. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan is often cited for his base-stealing acumen. Morgan stole right at about that rate for his career. These clubs are, then, his equivalent on the team level–or something like that.
Here, then, is a review of the nine-most efficient base-stealing teams of all-time, except for that time we don’t know about. (Given that most of the teams are from recent times, it’s probably safe to assume that we have our most likely suspects). Thanks to Michael Wolverton for his research input.
- 1994 Orioles (84.15%)
69 SB, 13 CS
W-L: 63-49, 2nd place in the American League East
Workhorse: Brady Anderson, 31 for 32
Sidekick: Mark McLemore, 20 for 25
Not With the Program: Rafael Palmeiro, 7 for 10
Surprise: Chris Hoiles, 2 for 2
Palmeiro’s record certainly wasn’t terrible, but he had been 22 for 25 the year before and a performance along those lines would have put this club’s percentage over the moon. Apart from this season, Hoiles was a career 3 for 10. Three-quarters of the steals came from two men, Anderson and McLemore.
- 1995 Blue Jays (82.42%)
75 SB, 16 CS
W-L: 56-88, 5th place in the American League East
Workhorse: Roberto Alomar, 30 for 33
Sidekicks: Paul Molitor, 12 for 12; Joe Carter, 12 for 13
Not With the Program: Alex Gonzalez, 4 for 8
Wise to Sit it Out: Ed Sprague
Molitor and Carter were both in the midst of excellent two-season runs when this occurred. Between late ’93 and ’95, Molitor stole 36 straight bases without getting caught. He was nailed in his first attempt of 1996. Carter was a combined 23 for 24 in the two strike years. Also on hand, but not much in the stealing mood, was Devon White. He didn’t hurt the cause with an 11 for 13 showing, but something more along the lines of the 74 bases he stole at a 90 percent clip in the teams’ two earlier Championship seasons would have really put them over the top. Sprague was 6 for 18 lifetime and didn’t try any stealing in ’95. A player who hadn’t found his base-legs yet was rookie Shawn Green who went 1 for 3. He would later prove to be a proficient sack nabster.
- 1975 Reds (82.35%)
168 SB, 36 CS
W-L: 108-54, World Champions
Workhorse: Joe Morgan, 67 for 77
Sidekick: Dave Concepcion, 33 for 39
Not with the program: Tony Perez, 1 for 3
Surprises: Johnny Bench, 11 for 11, Pete Rose, 0 for 1
This is your go-to team if you’d like to toss out the strike seasons of ’94 and ’95, which many do. Some don’t even admit that they ever even happened. Even extrapolating for the lost games, neither of the first two teams on this list would have stolen 100 bases. It’s one thing to be extremely successful when ever-so-carefully picking ones’ spots. It’s another when stealing more than once every game like these Reds did. In addition to his perfect record in ’75, Bench was 13 for 15 in 1976. For the rest of his career, though, stealing was a 50-50 proposition. This was the only year of Rose’s career that he did not steal a base. (In fact, he stole second, third and home in one inning in 1980.) He was on first base 241 times in 1975, playing in every game, but only tried one theft. Perez went nuts the next year and stole 10 bases in 15 attempts. Concepcion was even better in 1974 when he went 41 for 47.
- 1962 Dodgers (82.16%)
198 SB, 43 CS
W-L: 102-63, 2nd place
Workhorse: Maury Wills, 104 for 117
Sidekick: Willie Davis, 32 for 39
Not With the Program: Larry Burright, 4 for 7
Surprise: Johnny Roseboro, 12 for 15
Apart from Wills, the Dodgers stole at a 75.8 percent rate–which is not all that bad. Not only was this Wills’ most prolific season in volume, it was also the one in which he was the least catchable. These were his five best seasons:
1962: .889 1960: .806 1964: .757 1965: .752 1967: .744
Like Bench, catcher Roseboro was an even shot to get caught throughout the rest of his career. Burright was punished for his sins by being shipped off the Mets.
- 2004 Mets (81.58%)
62 SB, 14 CS
W-L: 47-48, 4th place in the National League East
Workhorse: Kazuo Matsui, 13 for 16
Sidekick: Mike Cameron, 12 for 15
Not With the Program: Cliff Floyd, 3 for 5
Surprise: Shane Spencer, 6 for 6
The Mets do not truly have a workhorse basestealer like these other teams. This is, then, nearly a total team effort, save for Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile and Jason Phillips, none of whom have–correctly–attempted any steals this year. Spencer qualifies for the surprise role since he was 7 for 18 previously in his career. His departed buddy, Karim Garcia, was also a surprising 3 for 3 after coming into the year with a 7 for 20 slate. Ty Wigginton (6 for 7) is off to a very nice 20 for 24 start to his base-stealing career. Jose Reyes (7 for 8) is also 20 for 24 in the early going of his big league baseball life. Matsui should feel right at home in this high-percentage stealing environment, being a career 81-percent man himself. In his Japanese career, he was 306 for 376.
Admittedly, their hold on this list is very tenuous. If they get nailed in their next two tries, they’re out of the top nine and below 80 percent.
- 1980 Kansas City Royals (81.14%)
185 SB, 43 CS
W-L: 97-65, American League Champions
Workhorse: Willie Wilson, 79 for 89
Sidekick: Amos Otis, 16 for 17
Not With the Program: Rusty Torres, 1 for 4
Surprise: Willie Aikens, 1 for 1
Aikens picked the right year to be perfect. He was 2 for 6 in the rest of his famously lead-footed career. The League’s Most Valuable Player, George Brett, pulled the team average down a bit with his 15 for 21 performance. This was Torres’ swansong in a career that saw him go 13 for 33 in steal attempts. John Wathan also kicked in a 17 for 20 effort from the catcher’s spot. He would steal more later in his career, but never again so proficiently. Wilson would never again come close to 79 steals, but this was his second-best success rate behind 1984’s 47/5. In the Wise-to-Sit-It-Out Department was Clint Hurdle, a career 1 for 7 trudger who attempted no swipes in 1980.
- 2001 Seattle Mariners (80.56%)
174 SB, 42 CS
W-L: 116-46, American League West Champions
Workhorse: Ichiro Suzuki, 56 for 70
Sidekicks: Mike Cameron, 34 for 39; Mark McLemore, 39 for 46
Not With the Program: Bret Boone, 5 for 10
Surprise: John Olerud, 3 for 4
Ichiro’s success rate–while an acceptable 80 percent–was actually lower than that of Cameron’s and McLemore’s. The interesting thing about Boone is that two years later, he logged a career-best 16 for 19 in the swiping biz. Olerud rates a mention here even though his average was below that of the team’s because, apart from 2001, he was a depressing 8 for 21. Also on hand with an 11 for 12 showing was Stan Javier, closing out a fantastic base stealing career in which he nabbed 83 percent of the bases he went after. Three men appear as key members of two different teams on this list and all three were on this Mariners team: McLemore, Cameron and Javier.
- 1992 Philadelphia Phillies (80.38%)
127 SB, 31 CS
W-L: 70-92, last in the National League East
Workhorse: Lenny Dykstra, 30 for 35
Sidekick: Mariano Duncan, 23 for 26; Stan Javier, 17 for 18
Not With the Program: John Kruk, 3 for 8
Definitely not qualifying for surprise status is catcher Darren Daulton, an extremely judicious base stealer throughout his career. While his 11 steals (in 13 attempts) in ’92 was a career high, it was at a fairly typical success rate as he finished 50 for 60 lifetime. We may now consider Kruk to be an amorphous blob, but he did steal in two-thirds of his attempts throughout his career. That’s why his poor ’92 showing qualifies as the team’s surprise. Dykstra only played 85 games that year.
- 1993 Montreal Expos (80.28%)
228 SB, 56 CS
W-L: 94-68, 2nd in the National League East
Workhorse: Marquis Grissom, 53 for 63
Sidekick: Delino DeShields, 43 for 53
Not With the Program: Oreste Marrero, 1 for 4
Surprise: Lou Frazier, 17 for 19
These Expos had eight players in double figures in steals and all but one of them–Moises Alou–were successful at least 80 percent of the time. Grissom finished second in the league in steals that year to the incomparable Chuck Carr. Frazier is listed as the surprise player because he came out of nowhere and went back there so fast. He has been out of the majors for six years now and I wonder how many people remember him. In ’93, he was a 28-year-old rookie. Over the course of five seasons, he totaled about a full season’s worth of plate appearances and attempted 67 steals, getting caught only nine times. He had Spook Jacobs-type power though, and wasn’t long for the major league world.