These numbers no longer hold any meaning to baseball fans. We’ve spent year glorifying Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs, and then we marveled when it came crashing down at the hands of Mark McGwire. Shortly afterwards, we had our first inkling of our oncoming resentment when the record fell just a few short years later to Barry Bonds and his incredible 72. Our suspicions were justified when not only was Bonds implicated in the BALCO scandal, but failed to prevent him from pursuing and eventually breaking the most coveted record in sport, the 755 home runs hit by Hank Aaron for an entire career.
Hollow numbers, put up on a pedestal by hollow heroes that have stripped the dignity from the game and left fans searching for something else, anything to believe in.
How about I offer these numbers as something to believe in:
For those unfamiliar with these stats, these are two statistics that will feature prominently during this summer’s Hall of Fame inductions. These represent the single season and career stolen base records set by Rickey Henderson. Henderson may not have been the most likable player to ever play the game, but he accomplished things that definitely set him apart from other players of his generation and cemented his enshrinement in baseball’s hallowed halls.
But this isn’t about touting Rickey Henderson as a role model or labeling him in any way in regards to steroids or any drugs for that matter. Instead, I want to call attention to the stolen base, which by my proposition, should rightfully replace the home run as the most exciting play in the game! If we are to tout individual accomplishments of any kind, the stolen base represents the last true one-on-one battle in the game today.
Think about it, we’ve seen two fantastic feats in the stolen base category over the course of the last few weeks that have showcased just how increasingly important the stolen base has become. First, we had Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home against the Yankees, which proved to be a turning point in that game. Then, not a week later, we had Carl Crawford turn heads when he torched Jason Varitek and the Red Sox for six stolen bases in one game, tying the Major League record.
To put things into a little more perspective, it is still completely unlikely that Crawford will break Henderson’s single season record. At his current pace, where he’s stolen 22 bases over the course of 33 games, Crawford would fall short, but still stealing an amazing 108 bases. In fairness, even Joe Maddon’s not likely to let him run with the abandon that would be required to do so, but it is still intriguing nonetheless.
But as home runs become less of a focal point in the game, the stolen base is working its way back. Teams that have been typically stalwarts on the base paths are now taking notice and running with more vigor, stretching themselves at opportune times to generate runs, something that was lost on the game for years in the American League. And players are remembering what it was like to use their feet again too. Bobby Abreu, who hasn’t stolen 30 bases since 2006 when he was traded from Philadelphia to New York during midseason, has gone back to being a fantasy sports threat again by rediscovering the stolen base, having swiped 12 bases thus far on the season. Even Albert Pujols, perhaps the most feared slugger in the game, has openly declared that he wants to steal more bases this season.
So what does this mean for us fans? This means that we have something else to stand and cheer for, something that has merit and integrity built into it. No don’t have to glorify a stat that was inflated by selfish money grovelers looking to increase their paycheck. Now we can rediscover something that is earned through sweat, determination, and gamesmanship, exactly what the game was built on.
So join me in starting the revolution, let’s replace the longball with the stolen base, and steal back the dignity of the game!