(Hello on National Blueberry Day. I grew up in a family that required the children to toil at "u-pick-'em" farms. I wasn't a fan. But to this day, I know the best time to pick/buy certain fruits and vegetables. Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, corn, tomatoes, apples, in that order. It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 259th in a series):
Sometimes Twitter gives me a little nudge when writing posts. I have had this card sitting in my scan folder for more than a year with a plan to write about it. Then, the card was brought up yesterday and that was my cue.
To me, this card represents the center of the stolen base era. It is not the most notable stolen base moment. It doesn't show Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock or Tim Raines. Heck, the achievement Topps is celebrating in the 1981 set isn't even a record anymore.
But it gives you a snapshot of just how prevalent the stolen base was from the 1960s through the 1980s. Two players on the same team, Ron LeFlore and Rodney Scott, combined to steal a whopping 160 bases in 1980. It was a record for two teammates. In fact, the Expos actually set a record for three teammates stealing the most bases as Andre Dawson had 34 that year, bringing the total to 194.
The card back gives you a few more details. But it doesn't mention that of Rodney Scott's 63 stolen bases, an amazing 24 of them were of third base.
LeFlore lasted just one season with the Expos. The following year, rookie Tim Raines stole 71 bases in 88 games for Montreal. Scott stole another 30, giving the pair 101 stolen bases in just two-thirds of a season because of the strike.
The year after that, 1982, Rickey Henderson stole a record 130 bases for the A's. And in 1985, the Cardinals broke the record set by LeFlore and Scott as Vince Coleman stole 110 bases and Willie McGee 56 for 166 total bases. They also shattered the Expos' trio record as Andy Van Slyke stole 34 bases for 200 total for three teammates.
The wild thing about the Cardinals that year was Ozzie Smith and Tom Herr each stole 31 bases as well (the Expos' fourth-place base stealer in 1980 was Tony Bernazard with nine), which gives you an idea of how much running was going on in baseball at that time.
It was a different world. Here are the stolen base leaders for 1980 according to Topps:
Some very impressive totals there, especially for the best of the best.
Just out of curiosity, I arranged this year's stolen base leaders in the format that Topps used then. Here they are at this point in the season:
Maybin, Angels, 25
Dyson, Mariners, 20
Andrus, Rangers, 20
DeShields, Rangers, 18
Altuve, Astros, 18
Buxton, Twins, 16
Cain, Royals, 15
Betts, Red Sox, 15
Davis, Athletics, 14
Merrifield, Royals 14
Turner, Nationals, 35
Hamilton, Reds, 34
Gordon, Marlins, 31
Nunez, Giants, 17
Villar, Brewers, 16
Broxton, Brewers, 16
Peraza, Reds, 15
Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, 13
Pollock, Diamondbacks, 11
Owings, Diamondbacks, 11
Inciarte, Braves, 11
Taylor, Dodgers, 11
The very top base stealers this year (Turner, Hamilton, Gordon) can probably stack up with the base stealers from back in the day (although Turner is injured and won't be back for awhile). But you can tell that baseball's heart isn't in the stolen base like it once was.
I admit it gets a little annoying listening to people like Harold Reynolds go on and on about stolen base technique. It's like he's stuck in the past.
But then I trot out a baseball card from 36 years ago and remember the way the game once was and I'm no better.
I don't necessarily wish the stolen base would come back full force. But I do know that I'm getting a bit tired of every run scoring on a home run. The stolen base -- if players would steal just a little more often -- would add a little more flavor to the game.
And maybe you could get a cool record breaker card out of it, too.
Although Topps doesn't really do that anymore either.