The need for speed…
Baseball is in a state of transition. There’s no doubt about it. The days when we would watch massive sluggers hitting tape measure blasts… while batting seventh in some cases, no less… will become much more rare. And in that respect, it restores the value of true sluggers. Bulked up baseball and PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) Era is becoming a thing of the past, and more than anything, I hope that means it will be safe to steal bases again.
Take a moment to look through the seasonal stolen base leaders during what may have been the “fastest” decade in the history of the game – the 1980s. Maybe I am partial because that’s the decade I grew up and consequently fell in love with baseball. Either way, there was a more complete brand of baseball that all started with speedy men at the top of the order that not only stole bases in mass quantities, but knew how to run the bases.
When a team is constantly relying on a 3-run homer to get themselves back in the game, with little or no other means of manufacturing runs, then that is a team that will live and die by that sword. I wouldn’t presume to say that is what is working against the Braves (who’ve hit just 118 homers going into Friday), but if there was ever a time to unleash “small ball” on the big stage, that time would be now.
Atlanta brought up speed merchant Josh Anderson late last month after a fantastic season with the Triple-A Richmond club (.314 with 42 steals in 121 games). This is a kid who sets a goal of 50 steals at the beginning of each season. Want to take a guess who the last Brave to steal 50 was? That would be Otis Nixon, setting the franchise record with 72 in 1991. The Braves have had just one player not named Nixon to steal more than 40 bases in the last 17 years. That coming in Rafael Furcal‘s ROY season of 2000.
It didn’t take Anderson long to start climbing the team leader-board in steals. With five already, he trails only Gregor Blanco‘s team-high 11 and Kelly Johnson‘s 10 for third on the team. How about a little more food for thought: The Braves have stolen 46 bases as a team this season… that would be one less than Anderson’s combined total of 47 entering Friday.
While I am not saying that speed will be a cure-all for the offensive struggles and all around ineptitudes that the Braves suffered through all season long. But a fusion of excitement that could get some pitchers distracted, put a few more men in scoring position and add a little bit of pressure to the opposition wouldn’t be a bad thing. And a team doesn’t have to have Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock or Tim Raines to accomplish this. Think how many times that just a run here or there would have made a difference in the one run ballgames.
The model that sticks out in my mind would be the Cardinals of the 80s. It was a team that took speed and the concept of manufacturing runs and turned it into a high art. It seems like everyone but Jack “The Ripper” Clark was capable of stealing 30 bags on that team. It also seemed like the defense of those St. Louis Clubs was second only to their speed in the all around game. I don’t think I am alone in suggesting that a return to this style could help rejuvinate and instantly change the way peoeple look at playing the game. If just one team proves successful in this venture, you will see no less than half a dozen copy-cat attempts in the 3 years to follow.
Come to think a little more about that decade, and it was full of guys like Brett Butler, Willie McGee, Willie Wilson, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Dave Collins, Gary Pettis, Juan Samuel and even a young Ryne Sandberg who were stealing 40+ bases. And those are just the guys I am thinking of off the top of my head. Then there was this guy named Vince Coleman who took stealing to a higher level still.
On the other hand, you had Dale Murphy leading the league with 36 and 37 home runs. These days, the 40 stolen base club is far more exclusive than the 30 home run club. Maybe that will start to turn around. I’d love to see it. How about you?
Till next time,