The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Former base-swiper Maury Wills would have loved to play under the proposed 2023 base-stealing rules

Major League Baseball announced plans to bring back the stolen base. New rules for the 2023 season will make it easier for teams to use the stolen base as an offensive weapon. It’s part of an attempt to make the game more exciting and create more tempo during games.

Shortly after this announcement was made, we got news of the death of Maury Wills, who made a name for himself as the premier base-stealer in the big leagues in the 1960s. He took the baseball world by surprise in 1962 when he broke Hall of Famer Ty Cobb’s 1915 record of 96 stolen bases. No one had ever come close to Cobb, but Wills smashed the mark with 104 steals while playing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After toiling in the minors for eight years, Wills finally made his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 26 in 1959. He took over the starting shortstop position for the Dodgers in 1960, and promptly led the National League in stolen bases with 50. No one in the National League had swiped 50 bases since Max Carey did it in 1923. Wills led the league again in 1961 with 35.

With 208 hits and 51 walks, Wills had plenty of opportunities to steal bases in 1962, the year the Dodgers moved into their new stadium. He was a terror on the bases, putting together the best season of his career as he stole 104 stolen bases while being caught attempting to steal only 13 times. The switch-hitter batted .299 and scored 130 runs. His efforts earned him the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

For the next three seasons, Wills continued to lead the league in steals, including 94 in 1965.

During the decade of the 1960s, Wills led all major leaguers with 535 stolen bases. His closest competitors weren’t that close -- Lou Brock with 387 and Luis Aparicio with 342.

Wills retired in 1972, finishing with 586 career stolen bases. Cobb was the career leader at the time with 897. The only players to surpass Wills in a single season were Lou Brock (118 in 1974), Rickey Henderson (130 in 1982 and 108 in 1983), and Vince Coleman (110 in 1985, 107 in 1986, and 109 in 1987).

Base-stealing is rarely used as a high-leverage weapon in today’s game. With the emphasis on home runs for scoring runs, managers have been less willing to risk giving up outs on unsuccessful stolen base attempts. By comparison, in 1982 when Henderson set the all-time record for stolen bases in a season, the entire 26 teams in the major leagues attempted 4,993 stolen bases. So far this season the 30 major league teams have attempted 3,078 stolen bases.

The new 2023 rules will create more opportunities for stolen base attempts. Bases will become 18-inches square, versus the current 15 inches, thus creating a 4 ½ inch shorter distance between bases. Furthermore, pitchers are limited to two disengagements (pickoff attempts or step-offs) per plate appearance. However, this limit is reset if a runner or runners advance during the plate appearance. If a third pickoff attempt is made, the runner automatically advances one base if the pickoff attempt is not successful.

Wills and these other base thieves would likely be even more proficient if they played under the new rules being instituted for next season.

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