Thou Shalt Not Steal

"Somebody once told me that I can't even get enough speed to slide," said the Nats' Matthew LeCroy, who hasn't stolen a base in 1,497 career plate appearances over seven major league seasons. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 28, 2006

A question: If Matthew LeCroy, the Washington Nationals' historically futile would-be base stealer, were to attempt to steal second against Matthew LeCroy, the Nationals' now infamous third-string catcher, would he be successful?

The question arose in the aftermath of Thursday's stunning game at RFK Stadium, when LeCroy was removed in mid-inning against Houston after permitting the Astros' seventh consecutive stolen base -- with a throw that also resulted in LeCroy's second throwing error of the day.

The shocking move resulted in a tearful semi-apology from Manager Frank Robinson after the game and a newfound respect in the Nationals' clubhouse for LeCroy, a stand-up guy who never complained about being put in a difficult spot. It turns out there is a perfectly good reason the Minnesota Twins in 2005 only used LeCroy at catcher once all season.

Those seven steals by the Astros left LeCroy 0 for 20 this season in throwing out potential base stealers, a perfectly terrible percentage. (On the other hand, LeCroy's "catcher's ERA" of 4.09 this season is almost a full run better than starter Brian Schneider's mark, entering the weekend, of 5.03.)

But this is a story about LeCroy's base running, a category in which he is a truly historic figure -- as we pointed out to him earlier in the week, much to his surprise.

LeCroy knew he had never stolen a base in seven big league seasons. What he did not realize, however, was that, with 1,497 career plate appearances and no steals through Friday, he has the most plate appearances of any active player who has never stolen a base. Oh, and he also is sixth on the career list.

Unless he does something stupid, like steal a base, he could pass Al Ferrara (1,573 plate appearances with no steals), Phil Niekro (1,707) and Ted Lyons (1,726) for third-place by the end of this season, then take aim at Aaron Robinson (2,189) and career leader Russ Nixon (2,714) in a couple of years.

LeCroy's reaction to this news: "Wow. Would that get me into the Hall?"

Indeed, one suspects the Hall of Fame might want to commemorate the event should LeCroy break Nixon's record for not stealing bases -- perhaps by displaying the first base bag to which LeCroy has been tethered for the last seven years (except on those seven occasions, the last of which was in 2003, when he was caught stealing).

"I can see him now," joked Robinson, invoking all-time base stealer Rickey Henderson's famous speech. "He'll hold the bag over his head and say, 'Today, I am the greatest of all time.' "

Before he realized his chance at history was at stake, LeCroy said he went into this season determined to nab his first career stolen base. Robinson is cooperating, LeCroy said -- by constantly flashing him the steal sign, in jest, from the dugout whenever he is on base.

"I always say every year I'm going to get one," LeCroy said. "I've gotta get that zero out of my column."

"He's had the green light," Robinson said, "since spring training."

LeCroy said he has never even had a close call in his career -- not even one occasion when he almost stole a base. The last time he could even recall a hit-and-run play being called with him on first base was in 2003 with the Twins. The batter struck out and LeCroy was tagged out.

"I didn't even get halfway," he said. "I just pulled up. . . . Heck, I consider it an honor when [the opposing first baseman] just holds me on. Somebody once told me that I can't even get enough speed to slide. But I've done a pop-up slide twice this year, and I've seen Nick [Johnson] -- and he can't do that."

When it is pointed out that Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano -- one of the game's top base stealers, with two seasons of 40-plus steals under his belt -- could probably give him a quick primer on the art of the steal, LeCroy, who weighs 230 pounds, just laughed.

"It's easy to play this game when you look like Soriano," he said. "I mean, heck, let's see if he could get 40 bags with this body."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company