The record for the most stolen bases in an inning was set by the Senators against Cleveland on July 19, 1915, but the total hardly stands up to scrutiny. In the top of the first inning of the game at League Park, the official scorer credited the Nats with eight steals, but under today’s rules, no more than four stolen bases likely would have been recorded.
Obviously, it was a wild inning. SABR’s Warren Corbett provided a detailed account for his 2019 Games Project story at SABR.org. The last-place Indians had lost four in a row entering this game. Facing Walter Johnson, their prospects weren’t bright. “Rip” Hagerman started for Cleveland.
The game began with Hagerman walking Senators’ right fielder Danny Moeller. After a fly-out, Hagerman balked Moeller to second. Under the rules in effect at the time, Moeller got credit for the first of the eight stolen bases. Hagerman eventually walked center fielder Clyde Milan. With left fielder Howard Shanks at bat, the base runners attempted a double steal. Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill’s throw to second arrived in time to get Milan in a rundown, but Moeller kept going around third and scored. He was credited with two stolen bases. Milan evaded the attempts to tag him and made it to second, credited with the inning’s fourth steal. Had Milan been out, Moeller would not have been credited with stealing either third or home.
When the dust settled, Shanks drew the inning’s third walk. Hagerman, obviously unnerved, neglected to check on Milan, who proceeded to steal third while the pitcher held the ball. Hagerman gave up the game’s first hit to Nats’ first baseman Chick Gandil, whose triple scored Milan and Shanks. A wild throw by Cleveland’s left fielder brought Gandil home.
That was it for Hagerman. His line: four runs on one hit, an error and five steals. Three of the runs were earned.
After lefty Sad Sam Jones retired third baseman Tom Connolly on a fly to left, catcher Eddie Ainsmith singled and stole second (steal no. 6). Cleveland catcher O’Neill’s bad throw sent Ainsmith to third. Nats’ shortstop George McBride walked. Jones got McBride leaning the wrong way and had him picked off, but with McBride now headed to second, first baseman Jay Kirke’s throw hit him in the back. Ainsmith scored on the play and McBride kept going as the ball rolled into the outfield. He scored as center fielder Billy Southworth’s threw wildly to third.
Ainsmith and McBride were credited with stolen bases seven and eight. The Indians were charged with two more errors. Johnson, staked to a 6-0 lead, flied out to end the inning. Despite Cleveland’s four errors, just three of the runs were deemed unearned.
Washington expanded its lead to 8-0 in the sixth, so after retiring the Indians on two hits, Johnson took the rest of the day off. He probably didn’t work up a sweat for his 15th win. This was his only start of the season in which he didn’t strike out a batter. Coach Nick Altrock, 38, pitched the final three innings in his lone appearances of the season. The final score was 11-4.
The multiple steals were a bit out of character for the 1915 Senators, who finished fifth in the league in that category. Cleveland’s O’Neill, Corbett wrote, threw out a league-average 42 percent of base stealers. Just three of the eight stolen bases were straight steals. The others involved misplays by Cleveland.
Four years later – July 7, 1919 — the Philadelphia Phillies tied the record of eight steals in a similarly dubious fashion. With the Giants up, 10-2, in the ninth, Phillies’s base runners were ignored by the Giants in what would have been deemed “defensive indifference” under rules adopted the next season. Four Phils each stole two bases as Philadelphia scored three runs. Despite the question marks, the Senators and Phillies are still in the record books for most steals in an inning.
Although I haven’t attempted a Stat Head’s query, I have found just two games in which a team under the rules in place since 1920 had stolen five bases in an inning. (If any reader has done such a search and finds other games with five or more steals in an inning, please let me know.)
On May 18, 1969, at Detroit, the Twins stole five bases in the third inning. Cesar Tovar led off with a single and was balked to second by the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich. Rod Carew walked. On a double steal, Tovar stole third and Carew second. Then, with Harmon Killebrew at the plate, Tovar stole home. Carew stayed at second, but with Killebrew still at bat, Carew stole third and then stole home himself. (the Tigers won anyway, 8-2.)
On April 20, 2010, in a game against the Red Sox in Boston, the Texas Rangers stole five bases in the third inning. (The Red Sox held on to win, 7-6. ) This was the last time a team legitimately stole at least five bases in any single inning, as far as I have been able to find. All five steals came off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Three players under today’s rules have stolen six bases by themselves in a game, but none involved an inning in which the team stole more than three bases. On June 16, 1991, Otis Nixon was the first live-ball era player to steal six times in a game. Eric Young Sr. did it on June 30, 1996, during a game in which he stole second, third and home in the same inning. Carl Crawford, on May 3, 2009, was the most recent player to steal six times.
With the size of the bases increased from 15 to 18 inches square and with restrictions on unsuccessful pick-off throws, it’s almost certain that the stolen base totals will increase in 2013. Even so, a team attempting as many as eight steals in an inning is hard to imagine.