Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1977 Topps #4 1976 Stolen Base Leaders

One of the great things about baseball is that it is played in small town, USA as well as in larger metropolitan areas. Having grown up in the former, we didn't have access to major league games- but whenever on vacation in Washington or California, my dad would make sure we were able to take in a game(s). During one such summer, 1980, we attended a Giants and Astros game in San Francisco, where I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Giants lead-off hitter Bill North. Being an eleven-year old kid (and a person who's generally shy), the thought of striking up a conversation with a major-league player should have terrified me; but as North was signing an autograph for me, I somehow summoned the courage to ask him if he remembered playing ball in my hometown of Caldwell, Idaho. An affable fellow (well, perhaps Reggie wouldn't agree), he replied that he did; in fact, he played his first year of minor league ball there, in 1969, while with the Cubs. What a small world, that was the year I was born! Surprised that a kid would know such a thing, I explained to him that I had read it in that staple of my youth, Who's Who in Baseball. I don't remember what else was said, but I really treasured that ball-for a few years, at least.

Four years prior to my encounter with him, Bill North led the A.L. in stolen bases for the second time in three years. Seventy-Six would be the last time he would be a league leader in stolen bases-which meant that this '77 card would be his final claim to cardboard fame as someone other than a "common." A year after meeting him, Bill North would retire from baseball with 395 career steals, while being caught 162 times. Good for a stolen base percentage of .709-a number which, quite frankly, surprised me.

Lopes, on the other hand, was far more successful at stealing bases than was North. Of players who have stolen over 400 bases, Lopes ranks third all-time in stolen base percentage, at 83.01% (trailing only Tim Raines and Willie Wilson). And, like North, 1976 was the second and final time that Lopes would be a league leader in steals. So successful was he in the art of base stealing, that in 1975 he broke a 53-year old MLB record by stealing 38 consecutive bases without getting caught. His record would last until 1989, when Vince Coleman would steal 50 consecutive bases.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Lopes, but the one thing about him that has always stood out in my mind is that cool cop 'stache. The day that Davey began sporting that thing was the day that Phil Garner met his match.

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