The art of stealing bases is a skill that’s synonymous with the Black Athlete. The Top 15 greatest bag swipers in MLB history (After Jackie Robinson integrated the game) are all African-American, with the exceptions of Cuban speedster Bert Campaneris and Brett Butler, who is an aberration — like the Larry Bird of base stealing.
Once they started letting brothers in the game, it became a skill that is dominated yearly by the African-American or Afro-Latino athlete. (There are six MLBbros in the Top 20 in stolen bases so far this season.)
The Best To Ever Do It
1. Rickey Henderson
Simply the greatest base-stealing technician that ever lived with 1,406 steals on his resume. Henderson is the only player to ever eclipse 1,000 swipes for a career. Marinate on that for a sec.
Pretty Rickey swiped 66 bases at the age of 40 and stole 31 at the age of 44, never deviating from his classic head-first slide.
He led the American League in stolen bases from 1980-1991. His combination of speed, power and bat savvy makes him hands down the greatest leadoff hitter to ever put on spikes, but also one of the deadliest multi-faceted weapons MLB has ever seen. A dynamic five-tool package with golden legs, unapologetic swag and soul.
2. Lou Brock
“Lightening” Lou Brock was the blueprint for the emergence of Rickey Henderson. In the ’60s and ’70s, the eight-time NL stolen base king played with the St. Louis Cardinals. With Brock on the move, pitchers saw nothing but streaks of red flying by them. He had 938 swipes in his career.
Brock was the standard-bearer for stolen base supremacy before Henderson obliterated his record, but due to the way the game has changed, Brock’s second-place position on the all-time list is pretty safe.
It takes a rare athlete, executing a combination of supreme athleticism and profound intellect to steal 50 bases for 12 straight seasons as Brock did from 1965-76. A Tribe Called Quest gives Brock a shout on their classic hip-hop joint Check the Rhyme.
3. Tim Raines
Nobody in the ’80s rocked a Jheri Curl better than Rock Raines, who also knew how to handle a bat as evidenced by his 2,605 hits and .294 career batting average.
As a leadoff missile, his stolen base prowess made him a lethal weapon. Raines swiped over 70 bases each season from 1981-86 and he led the NL in steals from 81-84, until Vince Coleman hit the scene.
ROCK RAINES WAS READY ALL THE TIME
Raines, a 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, was not only multi-faceted and down to pound the pavement for a bag, but he was the most precise base stealer among the sultans of swipe, finishing his big league career with the best-stolen base percentage (84.7) of any player with 400-plus steals.
4. Maury Wills
Wills is one of the most underrated players in history and egregiously still hasn’t been voted into the Hall of Fame. He won six consecutive National League stolen base crowns (1960-65). His 50 steals in 1960 marked the first time an NL player had eclipsed the half-century mark in swipes since Max Carey in 1923.
Wills is known as the principal offensive weapon of the Dodgers three championship squads between 1959 and 1965. Wills gained fame and respect as a stolen base king by swiping 104 bases in 1962, eclipsing a 47-year-old MLB record.
MAURY WILLS REFLECTS ON HOW THE SPIRIT OF JACKIE ROBINSON HELPED HIM ENDURE RACISM WHILE HE WAS A PLAYER
5. Vince Coleman
Coleman stormed the MLB scene winning NL Rookie of the Year in 1985, swiping 110 bases.
He swiped over 100 again for the next two seasons before tailing off with seasons of 81, 65 and 77 steals for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Coleman never stole more than 50 again after leaving St. Louis and he once said he didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was, but his bag-swiping omnipotence didn’t allow me to exclude him for his ignorance.
VINCE COLEMAN JOINS EXCLUSIVE 100-STEAL CLUB
Honorable Mention: Jackie Robinson (King of Stealing Home), Joe Morgan (HOF, 608 career steals), Luis Aparicio (HOF, nine-straight AL stolen base titles)