Rickey Henderson said it the only way Rickey would on the day he stole his 939th base, passing Lou Brock for first on the All-time list: “Today, I’m the greatest of all time.” Mind you, Lou Brock was standing right next to Henderson when he proclaimed that over the PA system, but that’s besides the point. That statement showed the amount of confidence that Rickey had in his baseball abilities. He was the only player that could turn a base on balls into a triple. When Henderson reached first base, everyone in the stadium knew he was stealing, he went anyways, and more often than not, was safe with a career stolen base percentage of 81%. The top-ten list for career stolen bases looks like this:
- Rickey Henderson: 1406
- Lou Brock: 938
- Billy Hamilton: 912
- Ty Cobb: 892
- Tim Raines: 808
- Vince Coleman: 752
- Eddie Collins: 745
- Max Carey: 738
- Honus Wagner: 722
- Arlie Latham: 707
The gap between the top base stealer and the 10th best base stealer is quite appalling; the 699 difference is half of Henderson’s total, which shows you how often he was stealing bases. For a player to match this mark in a 25-year career, they would have to average about 56 stolen bases per year.
The highest ranked active player on this list is Carl Crawford, sitting in 58th place with 427 career stolen bases. In order to reach Rickey Henderson’s record, he needs to swipe 979 more bases. Crawford is currently 30 years old, so let’s say for argument’s sake that he plays ten more years. He would need to average about 97 stolen bases per season. That ain’t happening.
When thinking of elite base stealers today, three names come to mind: Jose Reyes, Michael Bourn, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Reyes currently has 367 stolen bases at the age of 28; if he plays until he is 40, he would need to average 87 stolen bases per season for the next 12 years. With his hamstring issues, I doubt that will happen. Michael Bourn has been at the top of the list of base stealers over the last three years. At the age of 28, he has 229 stolen bases and would need to average 98 swipes per year until he turned 40 to approach the record. Ellsbury is 27 years old and currently has 173 steals, meaning he would need to average 95 steals a year until he is 40 to approach Henderson’s record.
The morale of the story is that this record is not getting broken any time soon, mostly because no player was able to swipe a bag when everybody knew he was going to like Rickey Henderson. The only way Henderson was able to do that was because of his self-confidence. Nowadays, managers handcuff a lot of base stealers and throw up a red light in certain situations. The game has changed since Rickey was running all over the place, and since the game has changed, his record will be safe for a while.