How the who stole what? (or not)
The Dec. 26 edition of Jim Caple’s CSI: Box Score (spoiler alert!) featured the only home run ever hit by Steve Christmas, who had a brief career as a catcher and first baseman with the White Sox from 1983-86. That got me reminiscing….
I played a lot of Strat-O-Matic Baseball in the late ’70s. In those days, every player card had a base-stealing rating based on his total steals for that year. They ranged from “AAA” (80+ steals, quite rare) all the way down to “E” (“drop anchor”).
When the 1979 set arrived during a cold Michigan winter, my friends and I pored over the cards, scouting for our first draft. One of the best players that year was Bobby Grich, who had smashed 30 HRs in his first big year for the Angels. We knew enough to drool over a long-ballin’, leather-slingin’ second sacker.
But 1979 was also the first year of the stolen-base renaissance: Willie Wilson (83), our hometown hero Ron LeFlore (78) and Omar Moreno (77) all topped 75 steals, matching the total of such feats over the previous dozen years. (The trend would grow the next season, as Rickey Henderson bagged 100, LeFlore 97 and Moreno 96, with 79 apiece for Wilson and Dave Collins.)
So we pre-saberist naifs keenly eyed the “steal” ratings on those ’79 S-O-M cards. My friend Dan, noting the “E” on Grich’s card and invoking his Seussian “namesake,” fired off the best one-liner of our hot stove league that year:
“The only thing he stole was Christmas!”
Maybe you have to be sixteen, but that was killer material. For not the first nor the last time, we were run from our high-school library.
Anyway, perhaps you see where I’m going with this….
Steve Christmas got behind the plate for exactly one career inning against the Angels, on Sept. 16, 1984 – his only catching duty of that year. And sure enough, Bobby Grich was not just in the lineup, he came to bat in that inning, and got on base: Thanks to a two-out steal by Gary Pettis and the presence on deck of .199-hitting Bob Boone, Grich was intentionally walked. So: Two outs, Pettis on second, Grich on first, Angels ahead by 2 in the 8th, and the SB-vulnerable Richard Dotson on the hill….
But they chose not to run. Words can barely sketch my disappointment.
Now, you might think me silly to hope for a double-steal in that situation. But Grich’s final career steal came in very similar circumstances: Fast runner on 2nd, Grich on 1st, Boone at bat, Angels ahead by 3.
Grich was notable for not stealing (27 total SB over his last 10 years), but his successors around the Baltimore keystone took it to another level. Rich Dauer, the O’s regular 2B from 1977-85, netted just 6 career steals; he’s the only second baseman in MLB history with four different swipe-free seasons of 400+ PAs. (No other 2B had more than two such years.) And Cal Ripken had zero steals in 1983, his first MVP season — joining Dick Groat as the only middle infielders to win that award without swiping a bag.
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