Stealing home: is baseball’s most exciting play obsolete?

Early on last season, as Mark Payton took his initial steps off the third base bag, he looked to his coach and made an unusual suggestion. Payton peered toward the pitcher whose focus lay solely on the batter and slowly inched closer toward home plate. It was the top of the 15th inning and there were already two outs. He didn’t want his team to lose this opportunity to score, but he knew he could make it. Just as quickly as the crazed thought had consumed him, he pushed hard off his foot and ran. He would steal home.

“It was just a rush of adrenaline, giving your team the run to win the game,” said Payton, whose steal would push the Longhorn baseball team to a 1-0 victory over Oklahoma State University. “Right when I got up I just saw everyone jump up out of the dug out and run toward me. It was a really cool decision.”

Aside from a monstrous lead, the runner must keep a firm eye on the pitcher and the third basemen. The pitcher must not only remain unaware of the runner’s lead, but needs to have a high leg kick and a lengthy pitch delivery, as well. Garrido and the UT staff look for an overall delivery timed at 1.5 seconds. Anything faster, and the play is scrapped. It’s baseball’s perfect storm.

During his eight-year campaign coaching for the Round Rock Express, former MLB shortstop Spike Owen has witnessed only one straight steal attempt in the minors. Throughout his 13 years coaching at the college level, St. Edward’s baseball coach Rob Penders has only attempted the play three times, with former player Shawn Stanton remaining his only success.

“The coaches have gotten smarter and the pitchers have gotten smarter,” said Stanton, who has never once witnessed a straight steal of home in his high-school-coaching career. “There’s just a lot more awareness of the runner at out.”

“I think baseball is just a little more sophisticated. In the old days, you’ve got guys with big ‘ol leg kicks and longer wind-ups. The pitchers are more aware of it exciting.”