There are some lost arts in sports. The two-handed set shot. The straight-on field goal kick. But unless you’re pining for Dolph Schayes or Mark Moseley to make a comeback, you probably don’t miss them.

The steal of home is another lost art, but you’d have to be as old as Dolph Schayes to say you miss it. It used to be a legitimate weapon in the dead ball era, and pitchers used to have to at least consider it a threat in the middle of the 20th century. But over the last 50 years, it’s been phased out of the game with wool uniforms and the bullpen cart.

Ty Cobb stole home 54 times and still holds the record. Jackie Robinson did it 19 times. Rickey Henderson, the all-time stolen base king, only did it four times.

The steal of home is on the endangered species list, but it’s not extinct. A lucky few of us saw it twice in the past week. Aaron Hill stole home off Andy Pettitte and the Yankees on Tuesday. The Sea Dogs’ Cory Keylor executed a brilliant delayed steal of home against Reading on Saturday. It was like getting

It’s not hard to figure out why the home plate steal is so rare. In this age of shrunken ballparks and testicles, small ball is pointless, and stealing home is the ultimate in small ball. It’s also a risky strategic move, and we all know Major League managers treat risk like a lethal strain of tuberculosis.

A lot of players probably aren’t that crazy about it, either. Stealing home takes guts. Anybody can steal second or third. You don’t have a teammate standing at second or third with a big wooden club, unaware that you’re coming in at full speed and ready to take a rip at a 98 MPH fastball. If the guy standing at the plate doesn’t know you’re headed his way, he could turn you into a human pinata.

But stealing home doesn’t just put a run up on the scoreboard. It can demoralize the opposition. Pettitte pulled a nutty in the Yankee dugout after it happened to him. The Reading manager benched the catcher whose lazy tosses back to the pitcher opened the door for Keylor to swipe home. Other rarities such as a suicide squeeze or a triple play don’t have the same emotional impact. Players feel embarrassed when it happens to them because they know their inattention or negligence emboldened the baserunner.

Maybe it’s good that stealing home is so rare, lest we take it for granted. But how can you not get excited as a fan every time you see such a bang-bang play start to develop before the pitcher and catcher even have a clue?


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