Home runs have ‘stolen’ an Major League Baseball force

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Whatever happened to the days when the stolen base was a major force in an offensive attack?

While home runs were being jacked out to record proportions over the last 18 years, managers were more reluctant to risk the runner being out and waste a possible two-run home run. But we’ve seen a major decline in power numbers the last two years that might warrant a skipper gambling a little more for those important runs.

When looking at teams that don’t hit for power – mostly West Coast teams, it’s surprising they wouldn’t try to make the most out of a single or walk by turning it into a double or triple with stealing a base or two. The Mariners don’t score a lot of runs, but if they were more aggressive with their runners on first, they might be in better position to score.

Of course, it takes a good base stealer to do it. Not everyone can steal a base. There is a definite art to it, but it just seems like that art hasn’t been passed down with as much emphasis lately and it kind of skipped a generation from the minor leagues all the way up the majors.

The 1980’s were rampant with speedsters as we watched both Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman top 100 steals three times each. Last season’s league leaders were Michael Bourn (52) and Juan Pierre (68).

In the 1970’s we had Lou Brock getting over 100 bags with Ron Leflore and Omar Moreno coming close. Maury Wills hit the century mark in the pitching dominated 1960’s, but then there is a trudging lull in history, a power hitting era, all the way back to Ty Cobb snagging 97 in 1915.

The San Diego Padres, with manager Bud Black, have been the most aggressive on the base paths this season with 108 steals as he tries to maximize his few opportunities to put a runner in scoring position. Their success rate has been a very good 80%, but their win rate is still one of the worst in baseball.

Black played in the era when Coleman and Henderson wreaked havoc in games and may be ahead of the curve a little bit. Many of the current managers played, or were heavily involved in the game at that time as well, so perhaps, someone is just waiting for a team to be successful to follow the winning formula.

Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals from the 1980’s should still serve as the blue print for any manager pondering a more aggressive approach on the bases. They killed with speed and stole wins regularly to three pennants and a Championship.

From a fan standpoint, there aren’t too many more exciting things in baseball than the battle between a top flight base stealer against the pitcher and catcher when everyone in the stadium knows the runner is going, and then does it.

Perhaps just watching Rickey Henderson so much in the 80’s spoiled me to the point where I think it can be recreated rather than accepting he may have been a once in a lifetime legend. But when I see catchers collectively throwing out only 26% of the runners, I have to believe a more aggressive approach to get runners in scoring position in this new, less powerful era, would be a winning move.

Hamilton Day-Break

Josh Hamilton has been having trouble with his eyesight during day games this season. In the day, he’s hitting .111 (7-for-63) with no home runs and 24 strikeouts. At night, Hamilton hits a robust .358 (69-for-193) with 13 home runs and 25 strikeouts.

After expressing that he may be having some issues with his vision, he was diagnosed with “blue eyes,” which allows more light during the day to the cornea.

Hamilton has been told it’s possible that dried up sweat from the night before forms a thin layer of film over his eyes. Between lots of eye drops and wearing sunglasses, Hamilton hopes to improve upon his day struggles.

If looking for a betting angle because of it, it’s not there. The Rangers are 16-14 in day games this season. However, the combination of Hamilton not seeing well in the day and slugging third-baseman Adrian Beltre being recently put on the disabled-list could be cause for a bet-against. The Rangers play days games at Toronto on Saturday and Sunday.

Mid-season Call Ups

We had a few top prospects get mid-season call-ups from the minors and the first casualty came last week when the Padres sent down first-baseman Anthony Rizzo after batting only .143 in 35 games. He was in a July funk that saw him go 4-for-41 (.098) and get one hit in his final 25 at-bats.

It’s a tough decision teams have to make regarding their top prospects. Most of them are having great seasons in the minors, but the call up to the big leagues can be overwhelming for some.

The team doesn’t want the player’s success to be wasted in the minors when he could be doing it in the majors, but they also want to groom him properly to be ready for the daily pressure.

Bringing up a player too soon could have a negative lasting affect that ruins the investment made in him. In Rizzo’s case, they gave up Adrian Gonzalez who is an AL MVP candidate in Boston right now.

Last week the Tampa Bay Rays finally called up one of baseball’s top prospects. Desmond Jennings, a 24-year-old outfielder, may have spent too much time in the minors for such a highly sought after prospect.

Jennings got the September call up last year and even got to play in two postseason games, but had to wait until last week to get a big league at-bat this season. He responded big, going 4-for-6 in his first two games with two doubles and a triple and it‘s likely he’s there to stay.

Dustin Ackley was the second player taken overall by the Mariners in the 2009 draft after leading North Carolina to three straight College World Series appearances. After a year-and-a-half in the minors, Seattle called him on June 17.

In just over a month of play, he’s now batting third in the lineup and hitting .297. Perhaps his college play on the large stage helped his rapid advancement, but it’s apparent he is ready to be a big league player and the team made the right move.

The Angels gave 19-year-old Mike Trout his call up to the majors quickly after winning just about every minor league award possible last season. He’s got the rare five-tool combination all teams covet, but he started out slowly his first two weeks in the majors batting .133 coming into last weekend’s series at Baltimore.

In that series, Trout had his coming of age party and proved he could play in the majors going 3-for-9 with his first home run and first stolen base. Prior to that Baltimore series, several writers were suggesting Trout was brought up too soon and could damage the progression of his career.

Vegas Star in Hall

Congratulations go out to former Las Vegas Stars second-baseman Roberto Alomar who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Alomar is the second Stars player to be inducted. Tony Gwynn played 17 games for the Stars in 1983, the first year of triple-A baseball in Las Vegas.

Although Alomar only played in Las Vegas for a little over a week in 1988 before getting called up to the Padres, we’re still proud to have been associated with just a little part of his great career and call him one ours.

In 2014 Las Vegans will be able to rejoice when home grown candidate, Greg Maddux, gets inducted as a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

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