HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
June 4, 2006

Thank you very much, Aaron Hill

By Matt Kane

When Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill stole home Tuesday night in a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees, the wind that resulted from Hill cutting through the Rogers Center air during his 90 foot sprint refreshed the game of baseball, even if it was just for a day or two.

In an era where home runs — especially those hit by Yankees, Red Sox and Mets players — dominate the baseball airwaves, it was nice to see small ball get some attention.

Hill’s straight steal of home is the ultimate example of small ball, and it deserves a lot of publicity and attention just because of how rare a feat stealing home is.

The last time a Blue Jays player stole home on a straight steal was April 17, 2001, when Raul Mondesi did it against the Yankees. According to a 2002 article on ESPN.com, the Blue Jays claimed Mondesi’s steal was the first steal of home in the team’s history. The ELIAS Sports Bureau, the leading statistics company for Major League Baseball, said it couldn’t confirm the Blue Jays’ claim, simply because it did not know for sure.

The question ELIAS and all other journalists and statisticians face is what constitutes a straight steal of home? Is it just beating a pitchers throw to the plate, or does stealing on the catcher’s throw back the pitcher count as well.

That’s what Preston Wilson, of the Florida Marlins, did off Montreal Expos catcher Randy Knorr in 2001, two days before Mondesi raced home.

It seems the Yankees are the team picked on the most when it come to stealing home.

Before Hill picked on Andy Pettitte, Toronto’s last steal of home — of any kind — was against the Yankee’s in 2005, when Shea Hillenbrand did so as part of a double steal. On June 29, 2002, New York Mets speedster Roger Cedeno victimized Yankee’s pitcher Ted Lilly, who was taking his time pitching out of the windup.

Cedeno beat Lilly’s throw home.

Before joining the Twins, St. Paul’s Paul Molitor victimized his hometown team on April 14, 1992.

With Robin Yount at the plate, Molitor, then a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, took off for home on a 1-1 pitch from Minnesota left-hander John Smiley. The Brewers set a team record with six stolen bases that day.

“It was an ideal situation: a left-handed pitcher with a slow windup, turning his back to the runner on third base,” Molitor told the Minneapolis Star-Triune, according to the ESPN.com story. “Pags (third baseman Mike Pagliarulo) was deep. The hard part is convincing yourself to try it.”

Molitor, who finished his 21-year career with 10 steals of home, wasn’t the first guy to take advantage of Smiley. Atlanta’s Marquis Grissom did so in 1996 when Smiley was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.

Of course, to Twins fans, the ultimate thief of home plate is Rod Carew, but, with 17 career steals of home, Carew is far from the all-time thief. Unofficially, Ty Cobb is the record holder with 54 career steals of home.

The most memorable steal of home may be Jackie Robinson’s theft against the Yankees (who else) in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. Seeing Yogi Berra get in the face of umpire Bill Summers is priceless.

Robinson had 19 career steals of home in his career.

Two names on the list of player with at least 10 steals of home may surprise people.

Known more for their clout than speed, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth are on the list.

Gehrig robbed home plate on 14 different occasions, and Ruth did so 10 times.

Obviously, stealing home plate is rare, but what Eric Young, of the Colorado Rockies, did in 1996 is even more impressive. In the same inning, Young stole second, third and home against the Los Angeles Dodgers (poor Mike Piazza).

Just over a month earlier, Chris Stynes, of the Kansas City Royals, did the same against the Seattle Mariners. Former Minnesota Gopher Dan Wilson was doing the catching for the Mariners that day.

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