While sabermetricians question the stolen base’s value, all baseball fans find the steal one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Being a former outfielder who could do little more than field, I loved stealing second (although it was usually after a HBP or walk). I studied and admired the premier thieves of the game, trying to emulate Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Lou Brock, and a prominent former Yankee. However, this is a two part list, and the “Man of Steal” won’t be in this posting. Anyways, here is the rundown. All Yankees played after the 1913 season, as they were the Highlanders until that year. FYI, Tony Womack did NOT make this list.
10. Horace Clarke- A second baseman after the dynasty of the 1950’s, Clarke is one of the few Yankees to not make the playoffs even once in ten seasons. He was still a decent player, with speed to spare. He would steal 151 bases over his career, and was only caught 58 times. Clarke makes the list over players such as Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams because of his baserunning consistency.
9. Roberto Kelly- He may be better known as the man traded for Paul O’Neill, but Kelly was productive for the Yanks. In six seasons (only four full), the Panamanian native stole 151 bags including a 42-swipe season in 1990. After being named an All-Star in 1992, Kelly was shipped to the Reds, where he would start his career decline and earn average journeyman status. Fortunately, he was able to finish his career in the Bronx, hitting 1 homer in 10 games during the 2000 season. Kelly ended with 235 career stolen bases.
8. Phil Rizzuto- “Scooter” was endeared by Yankees fans across the globe through his play and broadcasting. Rizzuto played in the “Golden Era” and safely stole 149 bases, and that was with three years of his prime sapped through World War II. Yet, he ranked as a top six basestealer eight times over his 13 seasons. With an additional 10 steals and 7 World Series championships (Holy Cow!), Rizzuto was a quick player with vastly underrated speed.
7. Brett Gardner- He has been arguably the best base stealer for the Yankees over the last five years. He flew his way 90 feet 161 times since 2008, including a league leading 49 swipes in 2011. A plethora of injuries cost Gardner a majority of his 2012 season, thus limiting his speed. Newcomer Jacoby Ellsbury will try to usurp the stolen base crown from Gardner, but there is no denying the veteran’s wheels.
6. Mickey Mantle- Yes, Mantle is the best switch-hitter in baseball history, with his 536 home runs and legendary moonshots. Yet Mantle had burning speed; he just never had a chance to showcase his gift while trotting around the bases. Or when Roger Maris or Yogi Berra is driving you in. However, the Commerce Comet did steal 153 bases in his career, and was only caught stealing a paltry 38 times. Mantle will always be surrounded in myths, but he was much, much faster than his statistics show.
Join us for the second part of this series to find out who the top five greatest basestealers in Yankees history are!