OBSERVATIONS: It Is Steal, Steal, Steal in MLB This Season

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave after watching the Battle For Ohio turn into the Slaughter In Ohio, a shockingly easy 24-3 Cleveland Browns walkover of the Cincinnati Bengals.

—IT’S GRAND LARCENY: MLB players are outright thieves this season and much of the larceny is done in broad daylight in front of thousands of witnesses.

Bigger bases and slightest shorter distances between bases have emboldened base runners to steal, steal, steal.

With three weeks left, there have been more than 3,050 bases swiped, the most since 2012 and closing in on 1987’s all-time record of 3,585.

The Cincinnati Reds lead the majors with 167, 15 more than second place Tampa Bay. Eight Reds have 10 or more: Elly De La Cruz 26, TJ Friedl 24, Jake Fraley 20, Will Benson 15, Matt McLain 14, Spencer Steer 13, Jonathan India 13 and Stuart Fairchild 10.

And that reminds me of a story Trader Jack McKeon told me about when he managed Denver’s Triple-A team.

“We were going to play Portland in the playoffs and they were loaded with speed, kept beating out infield hits and bunts,” said McKeon.

“So I went to our groundskeeper and asked if he would do something for me and he did,” said McKeon. “Sure enough, every close play we had at first, the Portland runners were out. And we won the series.”

OK, Jack, what did the groundskeeper do for you?

“He moved first base back to 91 feet,” said McKeon, waving his lit cigar as he chuckled at the memory.

—SOFT AS CHARMIN: Pittsburgh pitcher Johan Oviedo said a truthful mouth full Saturday night after he pitched against the Atlanta Braves.

“Baseball has become a little bit soft,” he said. “No one wants to get fastballs inside. It’s part of the game. You are going to get fastballs in.”

His comment came after he threw two inside fastballs to open the game in the first inning agrainst Ronald Acuna Jr. Acuna took umbrage, the two exchanged frowns and the benches emptied.”

He didn’t even hit Acuna.

And how about Saturday’s Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals game? St. Louis led, 4-3, when Christian Encarnacion-Strand walked to begin the home ninth. Tyler Stephenson hit a ground ball and CES slid into Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman as he tried to turn a double play.

CES was out, but Stephenson beat the throw at first. The Cardinals challenged CES’s slide. New York ruled that CES’s slide was illegal because he hooked Edman’s legs with his arm.

So Stephenson, too, was called out at first, a double play. Instead of the tying run on first with one out, it was two outs and nobody on and the Reds lost, 4-3.

Talk about the game going soft? You can’t pitch inside. You can’t make a normal slide into second base. You can’t make contact with the catcher on a play at home.

Bob Gibson and Ty Cobb have to be spinning in their crypts like an airplane propeller.

As Nadine’s jeweler, Scott Hannig, asked me, “Hal, what the hell have they done to our game?”

It is like as if the NFL turned all its games into touch football. Of course, the NFL protects quarterbacks as if they are Waterford glass statues.

—THE TONY AWARD: Snippets and tidbits about Tony Gwynn, the best pure hitter of his time, always fascinate me because they always are of the head-shaking variety.

This one was provided by Steve Newsome of Owensboro, KY. (That’s a town I love because it is where I met my wife, Nadine.)

During his career, Gwynn came to bat 69 times with runners on third and second with two outs. How many time do you think he struck out? None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I’ve seen certain players strike out in that scenario in the course of a season.

—WAS THAT A LOT?: In 1888 (Some believe that was the second year I covered baseball), the Pittsburgh Alleghenys signed second baseman Sure Shot Dunlap to a $5,000 contract, the biggest in major league baseball at the time.

And the fans were howling. Over $5,000? Well, in 1888 five grand was equivalent to $156,847.37 in 2023.

Sure Shot? That should be a nickname for a basketball player, but 1888 was three years before Dr. James Naismith put up those peach baskets.

—A CALL TO ARMS: With three weeks left in the season, the Cincinnati Reds have used 40 pitchers and they are closing in on the all-time record.

The 2019 Seattle Mariners used 42. As one man put it, “So many Reds pitchers I’ve never heard of before. It’s as if they patrol the concourse outside the stadium before a game and ask, ‘Anybody want to pitch today?’”

—WHO’S CHEAP NOW?: There was a time, not so long ago, that the Cincinnati Bengals were considered so cheap that they paid salaries with one-dollar bills. They were the NFL’s version of Jack Benny, cheapskates of the lowest order.

No more. They are now going to pay quarterback Joe Burrow $55 million a year to throw a few passes every week, the highest salary in the NFL.

Does that mean that Bengals owner Mike Brown can’t afford a new hat to wear while watching to see if Burrow earns his fortune?

Is Burrow worth it? It didn’t look like it Sunday when he lost to the Cleveland Elves, 24-3.

Elves? That’s what Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase called the Browns early last week. Burrow? He was 14 for 31 for a career-low 82 yards and the Bengals didn’t come close to a touchdown.

These elves didn’t need any wishes to win, but Chase didn’t back down from his slur. After the game he said, “I’m mad because I called their (butts) elves, and we just lost to some elves.”

Yes, the Bengals got kicked in their butts by some pointy-toed elves who played like the Jolly Green Giant.

—STAT OF THE DAY: The talented but highly-paid San Diego Padres have played 11 extra-inning games and are looking for their first win.

Yep, 0-11. One would think they’d at least stumble into one win, but maybe they want overtime pay. And while we are at it, the Padres are 6-22 in one-run games.

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