Of all the types of plays that make it into a highlight reel, Stealing home is my favorite, even more so than no-hitters or walk-off homers. Stealing home is daunting, it is foolhardy, and it is brave, and just like the rest of the game, failure is the likeliest outcome, even for the best players. The single season record is held by Ty Cobb with eight; he also has the career record of fifty-four. The single game record is two, last done in 1954 by Vic Power of the Cleveland Indians—Power being one of only eleven players in baseball history to do so. The greatest Dodger to ever steal home was Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers’ patron saint of Speed, Strength and Grace. He stole home nineteen times landing him ninth on the all-time list, most famously against the Yankees in game one of the 1955 World Series, which Brooklyn went on to win.
The era Jackie played in probably contributed to his success as pitchers still had a longer delivery, even from the stretch. But as a Dodgers fan, it’s almost romantic to think that, even when all seems lost, there is still a chance, if there are outs left, and strength in our lungs and legs.
Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” The intersection of mental and physical is finesse. Finesse is a tool often overlooked by the casual fan who might focus on brute strength, blinding speed, or video room ‘homework.’ Despite this, finesse is almost always apparent on winning teams if you look for it: swiping an extra bag when someone is sleeping; the precise footwork of a middle-infielder turning a double play; taking an audacious secondary lead with two strikes, anticipating a ball in the dirt; hitting the cutoff man.
Unlike Power and speed, which are physical attributes, finesse can be coached, which is exemplified almost perfectly by third base coach, Dino Ebel, during a Spring training game that he was mic’d up for, helping baserunners get an extra couple of bases. Finesse and awareness go hand in hand and often reside in the make-up of a team, and they start from the top and work down. Mookie Betts’ insistence on accountability so early will be foundational to daily performance and consistency; Justin Turner following in those footsteps with the infielders was exactly the right move.
Possibly, soon, robot umpires and a universal designated hitter will make first tool framing catchers and bunting pitchers obsolete. Baseball, like our world, is ever-changing. Trends come and go. But a quick wit and an understanding of your opponent from moment to moment will forever be an advantage. Jackie Robinson is the gold standard when it comes to taking risks and beating the odds–as much by his courage, demeanor and intelligence as his raw physical talent. May Jackie, and baseball as a whole, inspire us to strive for greatness, celebrate the journey and effort it takes to get better, always being accountable to our teammates as we all fall and fail in the never-ending process of improvement and the possibility of greatness.
Let’s Go Dodgers.