Rod Carew’s Seven Steals of Home in 1969

In his autobiography, Carew, Rod Carew talks about how he came to be a stealer of home in 1969. Some excerpts:

I also added a new wrinkle to my baseball repertoire at Orlando in the spring of 1969: stealing home. Billy [Martin] and I talked about my being more aggressive on the bases. Although I stole a lot of bases in the minors, I had stolen only 5 and 12 in my first two seasons with the Twins. He thought the team should put more pressure on opponents than we had. He said I could use my speed to advantage in a game situation in which we needed a run and the guys weren’t hitting. I had stolen home once before in the minors.

Billy worked with me for hours on stealing home. He suggested I take a slow, walking lead, instead of the lead in which you come to a stop. How far I should lead depended on how far the third baseman was playing off the bag, and whether the pitcher took a stretch or a windup. That walking lead was essential: you’d have momentum already started toward home.

We had it timed to the split second. If a pitcher wound up–instead of pitching from a stretch–and took six beats from the time he began his windup to his release, we determined that I ought to make it home safely. We also had the batters practice getting in the catcher’s way, without being called for interference.

“As long as you give the hitter the sign and he flashes it back to you,” Billy said, “then he should know that on the next pitch you’re coming and he shouldn’t swing.” Ideally, the batter is right-handed, and he ought to be trying to protect the plate and obscure the catcher’s vision a little bit. Billy said, “And you can’t be afraid of being thrown out, because that’s going to happen occasionally. You have to do it recklessly.”

Roger Nelson was a lanky right-hander nicknamed “Spider” because of his long dangly arms. He was pitching for Kansas City in the second game of the 1969 season. I arrived at third in the fifth inning. We were losing 3-2, two outs, and Graig Nettles batting. I took a modest lead, watching the third baseman and watching the pitcher. Spider Nelson went into a bi-i-i-g windup. All arms and legs. I counted. Nettles took a pitch. I signaled that I wanted to go. Martin and Nettles got the message. When Spider went into his windmill act again, I took off. When Nelson saw what was happening and finally untangled himself, he threw high, and I slid home safely. It was my first steal of home in the major leagues. I couldn’t wait to try it again.

Ten days later, we’re playing California. I was on third in the seventh inning. The score was tied, and Hoyt Wilhelm, the old knuckleballer, was pitching. His knuckler takes all day to arrive at the plate. It looked appetizing. I flashed a sign to Billy that I thought I could go. He flashed back an okay.

Harmon [Killebrew] was at the plate. I flashed him the sign. It’s a tap on my belt buckle with my right hand. It appeared he answered by tapping his belt buckle with his right hand. Wilhelm started into the windup. I went. I was coming down the line, and I was amazed to see that Harmon was preparing to hit the pitch: if he swung, I’d end up a double down the left-field line. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye he saw me, and he held back in the nick of time. I came sliding in and beat the knuckleball home. It proved to be the winning run of the game.

Eleven days later, I stole home for the third time in April. Two weeks later I stole home again. It was really getting exciting now. Whenever I got on third, the fans were yelling, “Go, go!” The other team’s dugout was yelling, “Watch him!” “Hold him on!” Everybody was anticipating something.

In June I stole home two more times. I now had six steals of home this season. That tied the American League record held by Ty Cobb for steals of home in a season. Pete Reiser of the Dodgers set the major-league record in 1946 with seven.

In the second inning against Chicago, on July 16, I was on third when Jerry Nyman went into a windup. He just forgot I was in the game. His teammates were hollering, “Hold him on, hold him on!” Too late. I slid home with number seven.

But generally it was getting harder and harder to go now. Everyone was watching me when I got to third. Pitchers were taking a stretch now instead of winding up.

But about a month later against Seattle [the Pilots] I had the opportunity to go for number eight, the record. Skip Lockwood, a right-hander, was pitching. I got a great jump on him, and I slid by the plate as the ball popped into the catcher’s mitt.

But the umpire called me out. I couldn’t believe it. J. C. Martin was catching, and he couldn’t believe the call either (he didn’t tell me that until the next day). I think the umpire’s vision was blocked, so he automatically gave me the thumb.

That was my last good chance to steal home in 1969.”

You can buy Carew’s book, published in 1979, here at Amazon.com.

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Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 8:07 am  Comments (1)  
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Rickey Henderson and the 1980 A’s

In June 1980, Rickey Henderson, a second-year player for the Oakland A’s, said: “I came up here about this time (June 23 to be exact) a year ago [1979], all excited because I’d made it to The Show. A week here and I said, ‘Hey, this is worse than Jersey City and Double A.’ The only people who came to the park came to cheer opposing teams. The manager [Jim Marshall] didn’t care; he had just learned to accept losing. I couldn’t believe it. But after 30 games, I understood. Of those 30 games, we won four.”

The A’s had hired Billy Martin in February 1980, and Rickey said: “It used to be that once the game was over, no one wanted to think about baseball at all. Now, win or lose, we think about it and ask questions now. You have to give Martin credit for instilling that kind of enthusiasm.
“This was a team that was given up for dead a year ago, that was ignored at home and jeered on the road. Now we have some of the loudest, craziest fans anywhere. Even the players can tell you we’ve drawn more people than a team that plays in New York (the Mets).”

At the same time-June 1980-a guy from Massachusetts said: “It’s like the Fenway bleachers were in the early 70s. The bleachers are $2. For afternoon games, you sprawl out in the sun, drink beer and watch this team, and you’re converted. They run, they hustle, they do all kinds of strange things like triple steals and suicide squeezes. It’s about the only place you can go where there’s passion. I came here and heard people tell me the only way baseball could sell would be to put hot tubs in the bleachers and serve granola bars at the concession stands, but the A’s are changing all that. What happened with Wild Bill (Hagy) in Baltimore last year is happening here. All the regulars in the bleachers say they’ve been waiting for something like these guys. Billy Martin just came and lit the spark.”

On July 19, the AP reported: “Rickey Henderson stole home for the second time this season in a three-run eighth inning that gave the Oakland A’s a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians today.

[Rick] Waits (7-9) walked Jeff Cox with one out in the eighth. Henderson followed with a double to left, and Dwayne Murphy walked to load the bases. Essian followed with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Cox and moved Henderson to third.

With Armas at bat, Waits threw to the first baseman, Mike Hargrove, and appeared to have Murphy picked off at first. As soon as Waits threw, Henderson broke for home and beat Hargrove’s throw to Ron Hassey at the plate. The steal of home was the seventh by the A’s this season.”

On May 28, the A’s stole home twice in the same inning: Dwayne Murphy and Wayne Gross did it, in the first inning, apparently. The A’s had seven steals for the game.

An aside: The straight steal of home pretty much never happens anymore, and that’s been true for at least 20 years. But Rickey Henderson said, ”Billy always felt it was an easy base to steal. When a pitcher goes into a windup long enough, you can pick him. But if you’re on third, not many pitchers go into a windup anymore.” And, in 1989, the New York Times said: “Ty Cobb stole home a record 50 times in his career. Max Carey did it 33 times for the National League record. Cobb, Eddie Collins and Joe Jackson were among nine players who stole home twice in the same game. Vic Power, as the Cleveland Indians’ first baseman in 1958, was the last to do it twice in the same game. Lou Gehrig did it 15 times in his Yankee career, Babe Ruth 10 times. Twenty years ago Rod Carew, then with the Minnesota Twins, did it seven times, tying the major league season record that Pete Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers established in 1946.”

Then, on September 28, 1980, the New York Times reported: “Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A’s stole four bases today to increase his season total to 96, equaling Ty Cobb’s American League record set in 1915.

Henderson stole second base in the third inning and again in the fifth. He then stole second and third on consecutive pitches in the sixth inning to equal the record. For Henderson, it was the third time he had stolen four bases in a game this season. He has attempted to steal 122 times.”

The two preceding stories give a taste of the aggresiveness with which the A’s played in 1980. Billy Martin is most famous as a Yankee, but in 1980, he came to Oakland as spring training began and guided the A’s to an 83-79 after going 54-108 in 1979. It was a 29-game improvement that set the stage for an even better 1981 season. Overworked A’s pitchers helped prevent anything like a dynasty from developing for the early ’80s A’s, as you can learn about here, but Billy and Rickey perhaps saved the Oakland team from moving to Florida or Denver because of their dynamism.

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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