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Thursday, May 3, 2007
Reyes could steal 100 bases, but he won't

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Our favorite Mets speed demon, Jose Reyes, is on pace to steal 106 bases. It says so right there on his ESPN.com player card.

Shortstop
New York Mets

Profile
2007 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI SB OBP AVG
26 2 19 17 .431 .345
There are 20 teams right now that aren't on pace to swipe that many. And the Mariners, proud home of one-time SB champ Ichiro, might not get within 70 of that.

So no wonder a reader asked us, during a recent chat, if we thought Reyes could steal 100. Here's what we told him:

No.

But it got us thinking. So we did a little poll -- of a GM (who asked to remain nameless), a fellow shortstop and base stealer (the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins), an opposing catcher (the Nationals' Brian Schneider) and an opposing manager who knows Reyes better than any non-Mets employee in baseball (Washington's Manny Acta).

So upon further review, here's what we think now:

Could he? Yes. Will he? No.

Could he, theoretically? Heck, Jose Reyes has so much going for him, it's easier to say what he couldn't do than what he could: Uh, beat a Porsche in a 200-meter race? Win the Kentucky Derby? Solve global warming? That might be about it.

Our entire group agreed with Schneider, who put it this way: "If anybody is going to do it, he's going to do it. He's not just a fast baserunner. He's smart, too. He's got the gift."

RADOMSKI RUMBLINGS
syringeIn the 10 years Kirk Radomski was employed by the Mets, he was a no-name. But the former Mets clubhouse man is about to become the most explosive name in baseball. Players, ex-players, agents and GMs everywhere are, in one source's words, "holding their breath" these days -- because the scandal Radomski is about to unleash is going to be bigger than BALCO.

Radomski has named names, cashed checks, worn a wire and implicated many more baseball players than were linked to BALCO. So the question isn't whether many of those names will come out. The question is what happens when they do. MLB may be tempted to suspend players identified by Radomski as buyers and/or users of steroids, HGH and other substances.

But one long-time sports attorney warns: "They'll have to be careful. I don't know what they can do to players who have never failed a drug test. They might be able to prove they purchased this stuff. But I doubt if they can prove they used it. And they probably can't even prove they possessed it."

And even if other witnesses corroborate all of that, there may be so many players named that one baseball man asks: "What would Bud do -- suspend the entire game?" Good question. But however it's answered, the thought that "BALCO and Big Mac Goes to Congress" and "Raffy Tests Positive" might be just the warmup acts for this sport's biggest substance-abuse scandal of all -- that's tough to comprehend.

"Gift" is a good word to place next to Reyes' name, too, because "talent" doesn't seem like a grandiose enough description of what he exudes on a baseball field. This man, at 23, is the most charismatic player in the whole sport.

"Nobody has grown like that guy the last two years," said Acta, who was Reyes' third-base coach in New York for three years, plus his manager in the World Baseball Classic. "He went from 'injury-prone,' and 'Why is he at the top of the lineup?' and 'His on-base percentage is only .300,' to, two years later, a guy who is solid as a rock, who walks at will, who hits like a middle-of-the-order guy and runs like a world-class sprinter. And people don't realize how good a fielder he's become. He'll be a perennial Gold Glove guy in this league very soon."

So why wouldn't he throw 100 steals into that Crock-Pot just for fun? There are four good reasons:

1. HISTORY LESSONS
Remember, only four players in modern history have stolen 100 bases -- Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Lou Brock and Maury Wills. So it's not as if you could shove just any old five-tool megastar, or even any old Olympic sprint champ, out there and have him do it.

And of the eight 100-SB seasons since 1900, Henderson and Coleman combined for six of them in a brief window between 1980 and '87. So two decades have zipped by since the last time anyone stole 100. And you measure that time in more than just years.

"It can't happen nowadays," Acta said, flatly, "because of the way the running game is controlled by the managers."

And he's right. The prevention of base stealing is a science now. And the style of play has shifted dramatically. In 1987, the average team stole 138 bases a year and attempted 197 steals. By last season, the average was down to 92 steals and 129 attempts. So for one player to try to steal more bases than the average team would be as much a gimmick as it would be a great feat.

2. THE DEMANDS OF THE POSITION
Bet you didn't know that only two shortstops in the entire modern era ever stole more bases in a season than Reyes has stolen already (career high: 64, last season). One is Wills (104 in 1962, and 94 in '65). The other: Would you believe Frank Taveras (70, in 1977)? But that's it.

Think that's a coincidence? Guess again.

"I don't think he's going to steal 100, because of the position he plays and the way he plays," said Rollins, whose own career high is 46 stolen bases, in 2001. "That's a lot you're asking your body to handle."

Rollins attempted 54 steals in 2001, at age 22. Only once, in the five seasons since, has he even been within 10 attempts of that -- and not by accident. The pounding took too much of a toll on his legs, he said, and he needs those legs to play shortstop the way it's supposed to be played.

But to steal 100, even a base stealer as good as Reyes (with an 80.8 percent career success rate) would require somewhere in the neighborhood of 124 attempts. And other than Henderson and Coleman, no one has tried to steal that many times since Omar Moreno in 1980. So would it really be worth it? Doubtful.

3. HE'S NOT A SINGLES HITTER
It made sense for Wills to steal 100 bases, because the guy hit 180 singles a year. It made sense for Vince Coleman to steal 100 bases, because, in the three seasons he did it, he never got more than 31 extra-base hits a year.

TORRE RUMBLINGS
New York YankeesAnyone who dismisses those Joe Torre-is-in-trouble stories last weekend as "just media talk" needs to enroll in Media 101 class immediately.

When cable networks run footage of Anna Nicole Smith's cleavage 24 hours a day, that's "media talk." When a dozen newspapers report virtually identical stories about a manager in hot water, they're not bored. And they're not just filling space. They're on to something. And the second-guessing of Torre had reached such supersonic levels that people all over baseball were hearing it.

As that George Steinbrenner statement made clear, Torre is safe -- for now. But our guess is, his team had better not be in this big a mess a month from now -- or else.

So what were the biggest issues the owner was second-guessing his manager and GM about? In Torre's case, we're hearing, it mostly centered on alleged bullpen mismanagement. And Brian Cashman was getting an earful over (A) not adding another veteran starting pitcher over the winter, (B) heading into the season actually depending on walking "E.R." plot line Carl Pavano and (C) bringing in Doug Mientkiewicz to play first base instead of a big-name masher.

In truth, Cashman did a sensational job last winter of restocking the Yankees' farm system and setting them up for the long haul. The problem is that his boss is the ultimate short-haul creature. So "the interesting thing to watch," said one industry friend of Cashman, "is that George agreed to stay out of Cash's way and let him do this. But if the team goes in the tank, does he let [Cashman] have that authority again?"

The odds on that: not good.

Jose Reyes, though, is a completely different kind of offensive force. He pounded 66 extra-base hits last year. He's on pace for more than 100 extra-base hits this year.

So if the point of stealing bases is to get yourself in scoring position, why would this guy need to steal 100? Every time you look up, he's already in scoring position.

"Whether he's stealing or not stealing, he's causing enough problems," Rollins said. "You don't want to mess up the rhythm of your team to steal 100."

And that's precisely what Reyes would be risking.

"There are a lot of situations where he could probably steal," Acta said. "But having those big guys hitting behind him would stop him. … That's something I've talked to him about. He knows how many bases he can steal. But how many productive bases can he steal and still allow the guys behind him to swing the bats?"

Exactly. Which brings us to the final (and most important) point …

4. IT'S NOT HIGH ENOUGH ON HIS TEAM'S PRIORITY LIST
Would the Mets complain if Reyes steals 100 bases? Of course not. They'd yank the historic bag out of the dirt. They'd bronze it. They'd frame it. They'd invite the crowd to roar.

But if you think back on all the other reasons we don't see that moment in our crystal ball, one thing ought to be clear: A 100-steal season, in this day and age, would be so out of whack with how the game is typically played, a team would almost have to make an organizational commitment to make it happen.

And is that really what the Mets -- with their $118 million payroll -- are trying to accomplish? Heck, no. That team is about winning the World Series, not piling up some stat that just might be counterproductive.

"I think Jose Reyes can do anything he wants to do," said the GM we surveyed. "But stealing 100 -- it does take a lot of wear and tear on the body. And I think they've got to measure that within the perspective of where they want to go this season. If it takes too much out of him and he's beat up by Labor Day, is it worth it? So the real question is, will they need him to steal 100 bases [to win]? Personally, I doubt it."

And he isn't the only one. So would it shock us if Reyes ignored all this free advice and swiped 100 anyway? Well, no. But don't bet your prized Rickey Henderson baseball card collection on it.

Why not a grieving period?

Isn't it time baseball considered a grieving period for teams like the Cardinals, that lose a player because of a Josh Hancock-like tragedy in midseason? We heard that idea proposed this week, and it makes sense.

Was it fair for the Cardinals, at a critical point in their season, to have to go to Milwaukee for three games so soon after Hancock's death? They were swept in that series and fell 7½ games back. And, conceivably, they might never recover.

TRIVIALITY
If Jose Reyes steals 60 bases this season, he'll become only the second active player who has done that three years in a row. Can you name the other? (Answer later.)
So why not allow teams to request up to a three-day grieving period, with full knowledge that could make their lives and schedules difficult down the road? Katy Feeney, MLB's scheduling guru, told Rumblings that's an idea that has never been brought to the league's attention.

"But if a team called us and said, 'We don't think we can play for two or three days,' we'd look at it," Feeney said. "I don't think anybody would say, 'Absolutely not.' But it creates a lot of issues. In baseball, if you make a change with one team, it affects every other team."

We understand those issues. And there are times -- such as late September -- when this might be impossible. But if MLB could implement bereavement leaves, isn't a mourning period the next logical step?

You're out … for now

Meanwhile, we still can't figure out MLB's decision on the Indians' protest of their game last Saturday with the Orioles. If what we're hearing is correct -- that MLB claimed that there's no rule against umpires correcting a "rule-application mistake" at any time in a game -- what would stop an umpiring crew from huddling after the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, deciding it had screwed up a similar call in the second inning, then adding a run two hours after the mistake happened and announcing, "Game over"?

We could kind of understand if MLB used a dubious no-harm, no-foul rationale to deny this protest -- based on the premise that this didn't turn out to be a one-run game and the inning would have been over, either way. But we've received no indication that MLB has even remotely suggested that anybody screwed this up and/or that this "loophole" in the rules will be tightened up ASAP.

Seems to us that to tell umpires it's OK to reverse calls like that at any point after the moment passes, particularly when the offended team doesn't even argue the call immediately, is an awfully precarious precedent to set.

Still Rumbling, Still Grumbling

Jacque Jones
Jones
• Memo to Yankees fans: There's no decent pitching help available. But if anyone wants a bat, the Cubs have stepped up efforts to deal Jacque Jones in the wake of the decision to keep Felix Pie in the big leagues. The Royals are shopping Reggie Sanders and Emil Brown after their call-up of Billy Butler. And the Astros would talk about dealing an extra outfielder following the recall of Hunter Pence.

• Pence can't fix everything that ails the Astros. But one scout said of him: "He's such an infectious player, he just might get them going." And another Pence fan told Rumblings: "He's got a little bit of a [Jeff] Bagwell-type presence. He's not going to take over the club right now. But in time, that will be his club."

• The Giants are pitching well enough that they have no plans to call up phenom Tim Lincecum in the next week or two. But one scout who has seen Lincecum (31 innings, 12 hits, 46 strikeouts in Triple-A) asks: Why the heck not? "He should be the Giants' eighth-inning guy right now, and then close if [Armando] Benitez breaks down again," the scout said. "He's lightning." Lincecum zips through innings so fast, the scout joked, he has a chance to set a record -- "longest career with the least time on the mound."

• After watching the four AL West teams since spring training, one scout reported: "If the Angels don't have a seven- or eight-game lead by the All-Star break, I'll be really surprised."

• Jimmy Rollins' great start comes as no surprise to his hitting coach, Milt Thompson. "Jimmy's got it figured out," Thompson said. "Now he comes to me after an at-bat and tells me what he did wrong to make an out."

Ryan Howard
Howard
Ryan Howard, on the other hand, hit fewer home runs in April (three) than anybody coming off a season of 55-plus homers since Hank Greenberg hit three (in half as many games) in 1939, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, David Vincent. And that's not the only Ryan Howard number that's out of whack. Last year, 38 percent of Howard's fly balls left the park. This year (through Wednesday): 22.8 percent. Last year, 65 percent of balls he hit in the air went to the opposite field or center. This year: 42 percent. "Pitchers have been very successful this year, keeping the ball away," said one scout. "And he's been rolling over a lot of balls. My theory is, the shift is playing with his mind. He can't find a hole."

TRIVIA ANSWER
Kenny Lofton (1992-94)
• Another slugger in the Rollover Club these days is Carlos Lee. "I've hardly seen him drive a ball the other way," said one NL executive. "I think the Crawford Boxes have affected him mentally."

• Finally, Jay Leno reported this week: "Statistics show that in a lifetime, the average person sheds 120 pints of tears. Double that if you're a Cubs fan."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.