Ellsbury pulls off Hall of Fame-like steal of home
By Trevor Hayes
On Sunday night, the Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury did something that is rare in today’s game — he managed a straight steal of home off the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte. Pettitte looked devastated after it happened, and Ellsbury got a curtain call from the Fenway Park faithful after his daring dash.
The straight steal of home is rare, just like no-hitters or cycles. This season, there have been three cycles, and there were five last year. Last season there were two no-hitters. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were 15 steals of home in 2008, with just four being straight thefts. Torii Hunter’s straight steal on Sept. 18, 2008, was the last steal of home of any kind.
During the ESPN telecast, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was asked how many times he’d performed a straight steal of home. Morgan, who ranks ninth among modern-era players with 689 stolen bases, said he’d done it maybe twice in his career. (He’s done it three times.) But after one particularly close attempt, teammate Tony Perez — another future Hall of Famer — told him not to do it anymore. Morgan listened.
Because stealing home is not an official statistic, research is considered ongoing, but the untouchable leader in steals of home is Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. He stole home a staggering 54 times in his career, including 25 straight steals. Max Carey, another Hall of Famer, is second with 33.
In Major League history, 38 men have 10 or more steals of home. Of those 38, exactly half, 19, are in the Hall of Fame.
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Cobb holds the single-season record with eight during the 1912 season, whereas Pete Reiser holds the National League single-season record with seven. Carew, who stole home seven times in 1969, is the most productive home-plate thief in the post-Jackie Robinson era.
Robinson, however, may have recorded the most famous steal of home. On Sept. 28, 1955, in Game 1 of the World Series, Robinson — who made stealing home and driving pitchers nuts an art form — slid under the tag of catcher Yogi Berra during an eighth-inning attempt, cutting the Yankees’ lead to 6-5. Berra immediately began arguing with home-plate umpire Bill Summers, insisting that Robinson was out — a stance he maintains to this day. The Hall of Fame catcher lost the argument, and eventually his team lost the World Series.
The Mets’ Jose Reyes, one of today’s prolific basestealers, said he’s planning a tribute to Robinson this season. After being told Jackie stole home 19 times, Reyes couldn’t believe it, but he’s been inspired and said he wants to pilfer the plate to honor Robinson’s fearlessness on the bases.
There’s an ongoing argument in baseball about the most exciting play in the game. Some people call it the triple; others say it’s a squeeze play or the inside-the-park home run. On Sunday night, Ellsbury reminded fans that the straight steal of home should be included in that conversation.
Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.