Ellsbury, who turns just 26 in a matter of weeks, has already permanently etched himself in the history books of the Red Sox' franchise. With an uncontested swipe of third base in the first inning of Tuesday night's game against Chicago, Ellsbury became the all-time single-season stolen base king in Boston. With 55 steals in one season — and counting — the Sox' youngster has eclipsed the previous club record of 54.
Setting a stolen base record in Boston is a strange achievement. Ellsbury's the best base stealer in the Red Sox lineup, yes — but one might liken that to being the best cribbage player in the locker room. Sure, that's nice, but is it really what you were brought here to do?
Let's face it. Fans in Boston have never appreciated the well-timed jump or the perfect headfirst slide. Around here, stolen bases just aren't our thing. This is a city where good old-fashioned conservative baseball — double, walk, three-run homer — is king. Is that really the kind of status quo that one man alone can change?
Probably not. But to be fair, there have been plenty of sack-swiping wizards in town before Ellsbury. Namely, these seven:
Harry Hooper. Even if you're a fanatic for sports trivia, you'd probably have a tough time naming the Sox' all-time steals king. That would be Hooper, who played 17 seasons in the 1910s and 20s, 12 of them with the Red Sox. He stole 300 during that time — he never had a 55-steal season like Ellsbury, but he did steal 40 in 1910, at age 22, and 38 the following season. Looks like Ellsbury's not the Red Sox' first young phenom on the basepaths.
Tris Speaker. A .345 hitter all-time, Speaker was one of the game's all-time legends — a "power to the gaps" type, with 792 career doubles. His all-time record for two-baggers still stands today. But Speaker was also good for an occasional steal; he swiped double-digit bases in 12 consecutive seasons, from 1909 to 1920. Speaker finished with 267 steals in a Red Sox uniform.
Carl Yastrzemski. Not exactly known as a speedster, but No. 8 did record 168 steals in his long career with the Red Sox. Proof that if you keep playing for long enough, you can pile up big numbers in just about anything. Yaz never stole more than 25 bases in any of his 23 seasons.
Tommy Harper. Harper was one of the great speedsters of the 1960s and 70s, and he set the Sox' single-season record in 1973 — his 54 steals were a team benchmark until this week. But he was only in Boston for three seasons, from 1972 to '74; of his 408 career steals, only 107 came in a Boston uniform.
Dom DiMaggio. Not quite as famous as his older brother, Dom DiMaggio still had a productive career in Boston — he played all 11 of his major league seasons with the Red Sox, and he would have had an even better career of not missing three prime seasons to World War II. Dom hit .298 for his career and finished with exactly 100 steals.
Johnny Damon. Call him an "Idiot" if you must, but Damon was one of the Sox' all-time great leadoff men. He's got the ring to prove it. Perhaps he doesn't have as many fans in Boston anymore, but that's a whole separate issue. Damon's 98 steals in a Sox uniform can speak for themselves — let's move on.
Jerry Remy. Before he was rocking on the air guitar, he was rolling on the basepaths. Remy was quite the speedster in his days as the Red Sox' second baseman in the early 1980s — he finished with 98 steals in a Sox uniform, just like Damon. But unlike Damon, he's still loyal to Red Sox Nation — in fact, he's the president.
So while Ellsbury may seem like a big fish in a small pond of historical Red Sox speedsters, there are always more fish in the sea than you think. As for Ellsbury, he'll probably keep swimming for years to come.
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