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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 24, 2021 3:26 am PDT
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Something special happened this week.

You may not have noticed, but The Forgotten Weapon was re-discovered by the Padres.

The Padres stole six bases, five against Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes, as they beat the Brewers 7-1 at Miller Park on Tuesday. Yes, it always will be Miller Park.

Finding a way is what this was about.

This was about October as much as anything else.

The Padres know that come October they are going to have to find different ways to win games. Runs become so hard to produce. Stealing bases is a way of getting as pitcher off his game. Stealing bases used to be a staple in baseball until the Nerds took over the game and declared stealing bases are “not worth the gamble”.

Why? Because the computer says so.

Stealing bases could be the new advantage. There are so many opportunities now and with shifts and having infielders out of position and the art of framing the new go-to thing in baseball, while those catchers are on one knee framing, steal the base. It’s easier than ever.

The base is there for the taking we are saying here at Baseball or Bust. And after you steal second, maybe no one is covering third. Get up and run.

What has been lost is the fact that stealing bases can lead to all kinds of good things and in baseball, everything is connected. The game is not played in a vacuum. There is so much more to the game than home runs and strikeouts. There is energy, too.

Instead of crying about all the advantages the pitchers have these days and trying to re-shape the rules, the best approach is an aggressive approach. But be smart, don’t run just for the sake of running.

After my “Unwatachables’’ column last Sunday, a legion of true baseball people reached out to me to thank me for bringing the game’s many problems to light, but I was just building off what Texas’ Chris Woodward and Miami’s Don Mattingly said about the dangers of the Launch Angle and how batters can be exploited, and that as a result of hitters having the same swing the game is becoming unwatchable.

There is no action. Stealing bases is fun to watch. Taking the extra base is fun.

The managers are the last line of defense for true baseball and in many ways they have given up the fight. It is up to the managers to push back against the Ivy League elites in charge of the game and do it in a way where they can still keep their jobs.

Along those lines, credit Padres manager Jayce Tingler for advancing the role of the stolen base this week and for convincing GM A.J. Preller to try this route as well. There are many ways to get around the bases and the stolen base is just another weapon. It’s always been a weapon, look at Lou Brock’s Cardinals or Rickey Henderson’s A’s. Setting a base-stealing mentality has to come from the top and Tingler has done that – and the numbers show it.

The Padres lead all of baseball with 56 stolen bases. The Royals are next at 35. Most teams don’t even consider the stolen base. The Padres even pulled off a double steal where home plate was swiped by the Padres catcher Victor Caratini. Six different Padres stole bases Tuesday, so this is not just about speed. It’s about finding a way to disrupt the other team.

Over in Class A Lake Elsinore, outfielder Josh Mears, all 6-3, 230 pounds of him, stole three bases in a game Tuesday as well for those Padres, including home. Hopefully the Padres are trying to incorporate the stolen base throughout their organization.

A change is in the wind.

It’s called baseball for a reason.

“You have all this stuff available to you, why not use it,’’ one talent evaluator who is fighting the incoming tide of home run/strikeout mediocrity throughout baseball told BallNine. “Hit and run, steal, bunt sacrifice, bunt for a base hit, and you know what, if you can run, how about you hit the ball on the ground.’’

MAY 25, 2021: Fernando Tatis, Jr. slides in safely past the tag of Milwaukee's Luis Urias, one of six stolen bases on the night for the Padres.

Stealing bases gets in a pitcher’s head.

“You can talk to any former pitcher who pitched in the era of the base-stealing Cardinals. When you went in to play the Cardinals, when they were on base, you not only had to make pitches, you had to hold them close, you had to throw over, you know what? You make mistakes,’’ the scout said. “You rush a little bit. You try to go quick and maybe your hands don’t catch up and that fastball you were trying to get to your glove side you leave up in the middle of the plate and the guy hits a gapper.’’

The game is connected in every way.

Tingler said as much after the six stolen bases, noting, “I love aggressive baseball, I love aggressive base-running. We’ve got the guys to be able to do it. We’re athletic, we got no fear in us. It’s really hard to beat a legit ace, a legit No. 1. There [are] different formulas. Sometimes you can get them when they are flat. You can string some hits together. You may be able to get a walk and maybe get a long ball. We got him in the stretch and maybe if we are speeding him up a little bit, he usually never walks anybody,’’ Tingler said of Burnes, who walked three that night. “Does that have anything to do with it? I like to think that it does with our guys being aggressive and maybe he is trying to quicken up. Overall, I liked the way we were able to get those 90 feet.

“At some point you got to roll the dice and that’s what our guys did,’’ Tingler said. “Being able to take 90 feet, with Burnes on the mound you are probably not banking on 10, 12, 14 hits. Being able to create some opportunities and that what our guys did tonight.’’

Enough opportunities to score seven runs.

“I thought the base-running was one of the separators in the game,’’ Tingler added.

In 1990 author Steve Fiffer wrote a book about base-running called “Speed’’ and pointed out that “Time and rhythm are baseball’s moorings: speed can knock them both for a loop.’’

Fernando Tatis leads the Padres with 11 stolen bases, second in the majors to the Royals Whit Merrifeld. The Yankees own 11 stolen bases as a team. The Reds have nine. The Padres are onto something. Put the pressure on. Be aggressive. Force mistakes.

Lou Brock

All players nowadays could take bigger leads. Listen to what Lou Brock once said about the art of taking a lead. When the 1964 Cardinals traded for Brock it was the deal that put them over the top as they went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

“I’ll tell you with my lead that I’m going to steal second base,’’ Brock said. “You know I’m going to, but there is nothing you can do to stop it.’’

Brock was ahead of his time and not only studied pitchers but filmed them as well, beginning late in the 1964 season with his own 8MM camera, something Don Drysdale did not take kindly to. In the book “October 1964’’ by David Halberstam, Drysdale said to Brock one day: “What the hell are you doing with that camera, Brock.’’

“Just taking home movies,’’ said Brock.

“I don’t want to be in your goddamn movies, Brock.’’

The next time he came to the plate, Drysdale threw at Brock.

Brock believed all pitchers had little twitches that he could take advantage of as a base stealer. He stole 63 bases in 1965 and then led the league in eight of the next nine years.

Lou Brock was a man of modern technology. With all the technology around the game today, just imagine the little things base stealers could pick up if they put in the effort. But for that to happen, management must encourage base stealers to steal bases. Since “Moneyball’’, stealing bases went out of style. It is time to bring it back in a big way. Get the edge on the base paths and make the most of it and sliding feet first would be a good thing as well.

The Braves Marcell Ozuna was the latest player to get injured sliding awkwardly head first as he suffered a hand injury that will keep him sidelined six weeks. This was trying to advance to third base on a ball to second. So it goes as injuries continue to accumulate throughout the game.

Stealing a base can lead to stealing a run and Maury Wills was one of the best all-time.

“Base stealing for me is another sport all by itself,’’ Wills once said. “It’s a game within a game. I’m the mouse and the cats are trying to trap me.’’

It is a show within The Show and it used to be one of the great moments in the game. The anticipation of a stolen base with the pitcher trying to hold the runner close while the catcher is ready to fire out of his position to throw to second base.

Hitters used to do little things like getting deeper in the box to mess with the catcher. Now you often see hitters clear a path for the catcher, especially right-handed hitters on throws to third. Getting every little edge in the game used to be a way of life for players.

The Dodgers' Maury Wills

A lot of the subtle acts of the game were lost during the steroid era when everyone became a home run hitter. That’s been followed by the Launch Angle Era where everyone is trying to hit home runs, but the beauty of baseball is that there are so many different ways to score.

Instead of crying about all the advantages the pitchers have these days and trying to re-shape the rules, the best approach is an aggressive approach. But be smart, don’t run just for the sake of running. Plan it out. Look for weaknesses and go. Don’t be just another baserunner running wildly around the bases running into outs.

A friend was at a minor league game recently and one team scored five runs in the first inning yet managed to make all three outs that inning on the base paths. Not too smart.

How can that happen? Players need to be held accountable for such bad baseball and that does not mean just saying “My bad,’’ and pointing to their chest.

It’s all about the managers at every level and they need the support of the front office. They can’t just be dugout puppets.

“It’s about holding your players accountable,’’ noted one talent evaluator. “Looking the other way doesn’t do you an ounce of good.’’

No it doesn’t. Looking the other way causes a whole host of new problems.

That is why it was so refreshing to hear Tingler talk with enthusiasm about stealing bases. This generation of ballplayers need to have the carrot placed in front of them. They basically need to hear what they are doing is appreciated. You know, everybody gets a cupcake.

Every baseball action gets a reaction. Steal some bases and throw the pitcher off his game and all of a sudden the pitcher makes a mistake. Be aggressive and force the action. The Padres can afford to take such an approach because they are pitching well. Their team ERA is 2.61, the best in baseball. They need to keep it going, because the Dodgers are right there in second place in team ERA with a 2.94, and three Cy Young contenders in Bauer, Buehler, and Kershaw. Then comes the Mets at 3.19, the Yankees at 3.20, the Giants at 3.24 and the White Sox at 3.25. The Rays are ninth on the list at 3.54.

Rickey doing Rickey things.

Good pitching will be around throughout the playoffs. That is the biggest difference from the regular season when so many poor pitchers take the mound. For the most part, those guys disappear in the postseason. It’s a whole new ballgame.

You need to score any way you can in the postseason.

Back in 2009 when Rickey Henderson was getting inducted in Cooperstown I remember him telling me that the fear of the stopwatch is what really stopped the art of base stealing. Rickey remains one of my favorite players of all time.

“The manager, the whiz, the genius come up with the stopwatch,’’ said baseball’s all-time stolen base leader. “If that clock is such and such a time on the pitcher, you can’t run. They drilled that into kids – that the pitcher is quick to the plate and you can’t steal.’’

That is baloney, Henderson said. That put fear in the base-stealer’s head.

“If he’s quick to the plate, I got to be quick on the ground and I got to pick something he’s doing to be quick,’’ Henderson said of the pitcher. “But they don’t teach that anymore. If that pitcher is fast to the plate he is slow somewhere else. He’s slow coming to first so I can cheat on him and get more of a lead. But they don’t teach the game like that no more. Maybe the kids don’t want to get dirty, I was a football player I loved getting hit, loved getting in the dirt so it didn’t bother me. I love the game. I love the strategy of it.’’

Stealing bases again needs to be part of that strategy.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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