- Tommy Harper knows a thing or two about stealing a base.
He holds the Red Sox' single-season record for stolen bases with 54 in 1973 and he knows it won't stand much longer. That's because there's this very fast guy named Jacoby Ellsbury who plays center field for the Red Sox.
Harper knows his single-season record will be broken, and he knows Ellsbury is going to do it. The current Red Sox speedster came up short in 2008 by four. He stole 50 and was caught only 11 times. In 18 games this season, Ellsbury already has 10.
This could be the year.
"Oh yeah," Harper said. "With this kind of a start, and if he doesn't go into the same kind of slump as he did last year, he'll be okay. When you're playing on a consistent basis as he is now, and you get your hits, stolen bases come within a rhythm of the game. You really don't think about it, they just come naturally in the flow of the game. You don't wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to steal two today.' You just kind of let it flow. You never know how many you're going to get. Some days you have none, and other days you have four."
Ellsbury may well break Harper's record, but it's by no means a fait accompli. Last year he stole 50 bases and finished with 609 plate appearances; that's roughly one steal for every dozen plate appearances. Figuring the same rate, Ellsbury would have to wind up with nearly 660 plate appearances this year.
At the moment, 660 looks like nothing. Ellsbury's played in every game and will, at his current pace, finish the season with 702 plate appearances. Of course, that does sort of assume that he'll be both healthy enough and good enough to play, though that latter part might be mostly irrelevant because, with the departure of Coco Crisp, the club's only decent alternative in center field is Rocco Baldelli (who's got his own issues).
In Terry Francona's five full seasons as Red Sox manager, his club has finished 11th, 13th, 14th, 7th, and 3rd in the American League in steals. Last year the Red Sox set a post-World War I team record with 120 steals. This year Ellsbury's got a great shot at setting an all-time Red Sox record. It's never been that Francona (and his bosses) didn't want to steal. It's simply been that until the last couple of seasons, they couldn't steal. Now they can.