Men of Steal – Players with 100 or More Stolen Bases in a Season

Baseball Roundtable would like to devote this post to MLB’s Men of Steal – at least those who excelled (and accelerated) on the base paths to the tune of 100 or more steals in a season since 1900. 

Round Number Relevance

Since 1900, there have been eight seasons of 60 or more home runs – and eight campaigns of 100 or more stolen bases.

Why 100 or more steals?  Just an arbitrary decision, but it’s both a nice round number and one that made sense once I started looking into which MLB players could meet the “century” standard.

Why since 1900?  In baseball’s early years, the definition of a stolen base was significantly different than in the modern era.  At times, players were awarded a stolen base not just for what we now consider a “steal,” but also in such instances as moving up a base on a fly out, advancing more than one base on a hit and advancing on an error. Under those rules, stolen bases were considerably more prevalent.  In 1887, for example, the 16 major league (National League and American Association) teams averaged 397 stolen bases, with the American Association Saint Louis Browns swiping an MLB-high 581 bases in 135 games. (No team recorded fewer than 221 steals.) As for individual stolen base statistics –  in 1887, six players stole 100 or more bases, led by the Cincinnati Red Stockings’ (American Association) Hugh Nicol’s 138.  I’ll provide a list of those early 100+ steal players at the end of this post, but the bulk of this article will focus on post-1899. Note: Baseball rules on stolen base statistics generally aligned with modern rules in 1898.

There have been only four players to reach 100 steals in a season since 1900: Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Vince Coleman (three times) and Rickey Henderson (three times). From BBRT’s perspective Wills is the single-season “Man of Steal,” while Henderson is the career superhero when it comes to wreaking havoc on the base paths.

100Seasons

Let’s take a look at the “thieves of the century (mark).”

Maury Wills, Dodgers

1962 – 104 stolen bases

WillsIn 1962, Maury Wills had what BBRT considers the most dominant single-season performance on the base paths ever. The 29-year-old Dodgers’ shortstop stole 104 bases to lead the National League – and all of MLB.  He added a .299 average, 130 runs scored, a league-topping ten triples, six home runs, 48 RBI and a Gold Glove to earn the National MVP award. Just how dominant was Wills as a base runner?

  • His 104 steals were more than every other team in MLB (there were 20 teams at the time) – marking the only season in MLB history where a player has “out-stolen” every other squad.
  • His 104 swipes were 37 above the MLB team average – one of just three seasons in which a player with 100 or more steals has outpaced the overall MLB team average.
  • He exceeded the stolen base total of the next best stealer (the Dodgers’ Willie Davis) more than three times over, topping Davis by 72 steals.
  • He stole as many bases as the number-two through number-five National League base stealers combined – Willie Davis (32); Vada Pinson (26); Julian Javier (26); Tony Taylor (20).
  • His 88.9 percent success rate was the third-best in MLB – and is the highest success rate ever in a 100+ stolen base campaign.
  • He was the first player to steal 100 bases in a season under modern rules.
  • He stole 0.63 bases per game played that season.

Team

Rickey Henderson, Outfield, A’s

1980 – 100 stolen bases

1982 – 130 stolen bases

1983 – 108 stolen bases

HendoRickey Henderson is easily BBRT’s career “Man of Steal.”  MLB’s all-time stolen base leader (1,406), by a margin of 463 bags swiped, reached 100 or more steals in three seasons.  He led his league in thefts 12 times (in 25 seasons) – the final time in 1998 at the age of 39.  He topped forty steals in a season in 17 times (reaching 75 or more stolen bases in seven seasons and fifty or more in 14 campaigns). He also stole over 30 bases in a season in four difference decades (from 33 stolen bases as a 20-year-old in 1979 to 31 as 41-year-old in 2000).

 

Speed & Power

Rickey Henderson was the most powerful of all the 100+ base stealers – and the only player to reach triple digits in steals and double-digits in home runs in the same season. Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982, while also hitting ten home runs.

Henderson hit 297 home runs in a 25-season MLB career. Totals for the other 100+ stolen base season players: Lou Brock – 149 home runs (19 seasons); Vince Coleman – 28 home runs (13 seasons); Maury Wills – 20 home runs (14 seasons).

Henderson topped 20 home runs in a season four times in his career, Lou Brock had one 20+ home run campaign. Maury Wills and Vince Coleman never hit more than six in any season.

Rickey Henderson’s 100 steals in 1980:

  • Reflected a 79.4 percent success rate;
  • Led the second-most prolific base stealer – the Expos’ Ron LeFlore – by three thefts;
  • Were more steals than ten of the other 25 MLB teams;
  • Were just nine shy of the MLB team average of 119;
  • Represented 0.63 steals per game Henderson played.

Henderson’s 130 steals in 1982:

  • Reflected a 75.6 percent success rate;
  • Led the second-most prolific base stealer – the Expos’ Tim Raines – by 52 thefts;
  • Were more than ten of the other 25 MLB teams;
  • Compared to an MLB team average of 122;
  • Represented 0.87 steals per game Henderson played.

Henderson’s 108 stolen bases in 1983:

  • Reflected an 85.0 percent success rate;
  • Led the second-most prolific base stealer – the Expos’ Tim Raines – by 18 thefts;
  • Were more than eight of the other 25 MLB teams;
  • Compared to an MLB team average of 128;
  • Amounted to 0.74 stolen bases per game played.

You Can’t Steal First Base

Rickey Henderson’s on-base percentage of .420 in 1980 is the highest-ever in a 100+ stolen base season (since 1900). He is the only one of the four featured post-1899 century mark base grabbers to achieve a .400 OBP in a 100-steal year – also reaching .414 in 1983. The lowest on-base percentage among these 100+ stolen base campaigns goes to Vince Coleman at .301 in 1986 (.232 batting average).  Lou Brock posted the highest batting average in a post-1899 100+ stolen base season at .306, when he stole 118 bases in 1974. The only other player on this list to reach 300 in his 100+ SB campaign was Rickey Henderson at .303 in 1980. 

Henderson, considered MLB’s best-ever lead-off man, finished his MLB career (1979-2003) with a .279 average (3,055 hits), 297 home runs, 1,115 RBI and an MLB-high 2,295 runs scored.  Inducted into the Hall of fame in 2009, Henderson was a ten-time All Star, a one-time Gold Glover and the 1990 American League MVP  (when he hit .325, with 28 home runs, 61 RBI, a league-topping 119 runs scored and a league-leading 65 steals).  In addition to his even dozen stolen base titles, Henderson led his league in runs scored, five times, hits once and walks four times. He hit .300 or better eight times, poled 20 or more home runs in four seasons and holds the record for lead-off home runs with 81. Although they say you should never walk a player who can turn a base on balls into a double, Henderson is second only to Barry Bonds in career walks – drawing 2,190 free passes, topping 100 walks in five seasons and leading the league in walks four times.

Next

 

Vince Coleman, Outfield, Cardinals

1985 – 110 steals

1986 – 107 steals

1987 – 109 steals

colemanThere was never any doubt about Vince Coleman’s ability to steal a base. Before he made it to the Cardinals as a 22-year-old rookie in 1985, Coleman had pilfered 289 bases in 328 minor league games.  In 1985, he translated a 110-stseal season into the NL Rookie of the Year Award. (He hit .267, with one home run, 40 RBI and 107 runs scored.)  In that campaign, Coleman became the first MLB rookie to steal at least 100 bags.

Let’s take a deeper dive.

Vince Coleman’s 110 steals in 1985:

  • Led the second most prolific base stealer – the A’s Ricky Henderson – by 30 steals;
  • Reflected an 81.5 percent success rate;
  • Were more than 12 of MLB’s of the other 25 MLB teams;
  • Compared to an MLB team average of 119;
  • Represented 0.73 stolen bases per game season.

Vince Coleman is the only player to steal 100 or more bases as a rookie, and the only player (since 1900) to steal 100 or more sacks in three consecutive seasons (his first three.)

Vince Coleman’s 107 steals in 1986:

  • Led MLB’s second-most prolific base stealer – the A’s Rickey Henderson – by 20 steals;
  • Reflected an 88.4 percent success rate – fourth-best in MLB;
  • Were more than nine of MLB’s other 26 teams;
  • Compared to an MLB team average of 127 steals;
  • Represented 0.69 stolen bases per game Coleman played.

Coleman’s 109 steals in 1987:

  • Led MLB’s second-most prolific base stealer – the Mariners’ Harold Reynolds –  by 49 bags;
  • Reflected an 83.2 percent success rate;
  • Were more than four of MLB’s other 25 teams;
  • Compared to an MLB team average of 138 steals;
  • Represented 0.72 stolen bases per game Coleman.

Vince Coleman is the only player to have a 100 stolen base season with zero home runs in that campaign. In 1986, Coleman hit .232, with no home runs in 600 at bats, while swiping 107 bases.

Coleman played 13 MLB seasons (1985-1997), finishing with a .260 average, 28 home runs, 346 RBI, 849 runs scored and 752 stolen bases (sixth all-time).  He led the NL in steals his first six seasons and topped 40 steals in a seasons eight times. He was a two-time All Star and the 1985 NL Rookie of the Year.

Success

Just as a point of reference: The current career mark for successful base stealing among players with at least 100 stolen bases is Chase Utley (151 steals/87.79% success rate); Carlos Beltran has the mark for those with at least 200 (or 300) steals with 312 steals and a 86.43% success rate; Tim Raines reigns among those with at least 400/500/600/700/800= steals with 808 steals and a 84.70% success rate; 900+ goes to Billy Hamilton (pre-1900) at 82.10% (914 stolen bases) or Rickey Henderson at 80.76% (1,406 steals). Henderson, of course, stands alone at 1,000/1,100/1,200/1,300/1,400+ steals.   Our four featured players line up like this career-wise: Vince Coleman – 80.95%; Rickey Henderson – 80.76%; Lou Brock – 75.34%; Maury Wills – 73.80%.

Lou Brock, Outfield, Cardinals

1974 -118 steals

BrockLou Brock, who led his league in steals eight times, reached the century mark in just one campaign. In 1974, at the age of 35, Brock swiped 118 bags (second-highest in a season, post-1899, all-time) for the Cardinals. That season, he hit .306, with three home runs, 48 RBI and 105 runs scored.

Lou Brock’s 118 steals in 1974:

  • Reflected a 78.1 percent success rate;
  • were double the second-most prolific base stealer’s – the Dodgers’ Davey Lopes – 59 thefts;
  • Were more than 15 of the other 23 MLB teams;
  • Exceeded the MLB team average of 104;
  • Represented 0.77 stolen bases per game Brock played.

 Brock, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, played 19 MLB seasons (1961-1979) and finished with a .293 average, 3,023 hits, 149 home runs, 900 RBI, 1,610  runs scored and 938 stolen bases (second all-time). He was an All Star in five seasons, led the NL in stolen bases eight times, doubles once, triples once and runs scored twice.  He hit over .300 in nine seasons and stole forty or more bases 13 times (12 consecutive seasons from 1965-1976).

__________________________________________________

Pre-1900 Players with 100 or More Steals in a Season

Billy Hamilton, Outfield, Phillies

Hamilton gets a full write up because he was pretty much acknowledged as the top best runner of his era. Known as “Sliding Billy,” Hamilton stole 100 or more bases – under the statistical rules of the time  – four times. He led his league (American Association and National League) in steals five times in 14 major league seasons (1888-1901).

1889 – Billy Hamilton’s 111 steals (for the American Association Kansas City Cowboys):

  • Were 12 more than the second-most prolific base stealer – the Phillies’ (NL) Jim Fogarty;
  • Compared to an MLB (National League and American Association) team average of 301 steals. Every team stole at least 203 bases;
  • Represented 0.81 steals per game Hamilton played.

1890 – Billy Hamilton’s 102 steals (for the Phillies):

  • Were five more than the second-most prolific MLB base stealer – the Boston Reds’ (Players League) Harry Stovey;
  • Compared to an MLB (National League, American Association, Players League) average of 275 thefts;
  • Represented 0.83 steals per game Hamilton played.

1891 – Billy Hamilton’s 111 steals (Phillies):

  • Were five more than the second-most prolific base stealer – the Boston Red’s (American Association) Tom Brown;
  • Compared to an MLB team (National League and American Association) average of 245 steals;
  • Represented 0.83 steals per game played by Hamilton.

In his final 100-steal campaign (1894), Billy Hamilton led MLB with 198 runs scored (in just 132 games played), 100 stolen bases, 128 walks and a .521 on base percentage. He hit .403 (Hugh Duffy of the Boston Beaneaters led the NL at .440). Side note: The 1894 season saw five hitters top .400 (four of them on the Phillies). So, even at .403, Hamilton had the fifth-highest average in the league and fourth-highest on his own team.

1894 – Billy Hamilton’s 100 steals (Phillies):

  • Were 22 more than the second-most prolific base-stealer – the Baltimore Orioles’ (NL) John McGraw;
  • Compared to an MLB team (National League) average of 262;
  • Represented 0.76 steals per game Hamilton played.

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961, Billy Hamilton won a pair of batting crowns (.340 for the Phillies in 1891 and .380 for the Phillies in 1893). He also led his league in steals five times, runs scored four times, walks five times and base hits once. In 14 MLB seasons, he put up a .344 batting average, with 40 home runs, 742 RBI, 1,697 runs scored and 914 stolen bases.

Additional Pre-1900 100-Stolen-Base Seasons.

Hugh Nicol

1887 … 138 steals (led league) for Cincinnati of the American Association

1888 … 103 steals for Cincinnati of the American Association

Arlie Latham

1887 … 129 steals for Saint Louis of the American Association

1888 … 109 steals (led league) for Saint Louis of the American Association

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Charlie Comiskey

1887 … 117 steals for Saint Louis of the American Association

Pete Browning

1887 … 103 steals for Louisville of the American Associaton

John Montgomery Ward

1887 … 111 steals (led league) for the New York Giants of the National League

Jim Fogarty

1887 … 102 steals for Philadelphia of the National League

Tom Brown

1891 … 106 steals (led league) for Boston Reds of the American Association

Primary Resources: Baseball-Reference.com; The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (Gary Gillette/Pete Palmer); Society for American Baseball Research; Total Baseball (John Thorn); Baseball-Almanac.com

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