“Catch ‘em if you can” is more a wish when it comes to those setting baseball’s stolen base records.
That Major League Baseball increased the size of the bases prior to the 2023 season was more about decreasing collisions, but teams that had long focused on home runs began to feel the need for speed again, with the stolen base re-emerging as a vital weapon.
Rickey Henderson didn’t need to start worrying about surrendering his all-time stolen base records, but pitchers and catchers across MLB saw their stress levels rise with each advancing runner.
Henderson is joined by other Hall of Famers such as Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, “Sliding” Billy Hamilton and Tim Raines as the best base stealers across baseball history? But there are plenty of thieves moving one base at a time as we explore the players, teams and seasons that hold stolen base records.
Baseball’s Career Stolen Base Record
If you didn’t know Henderson holds the record for the most stolen bases in history, the flashy Oakland Athletics superstar was not shy about saying it on May 1, 1991.
“Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing,” he told the Oakland Coliseum crowd after breaking Brock’s all-time record, “but today, I am the greatest of all time.”
Given Rickey’s personality, it was surprising his iconic words weren’t declared in the third person, but he wasn’t far off base, either – not with all those steals. Henderson was only midway through his 25 seasons and went on to finish with 1,406 career stolen bases – a whopping 468 more than Brock’s No. 2 all-time total of 938.
The Hall-of-Famer Henderson, who was successful on 80.8% of his 1,741 career attempts, stands alone in baseball lore as the Man of Steal.
Single-Season Stolen Base Record
Since the merger of the American and National leagues in 1901, Henderson also holds the major league single-season stolen base record with 130 in 1982, besting Brock’s 118 in 1974.
During his breathtaking campaign, Henderson had multiple steals in 34 different games, including three times with four.
It marked the second of Henderson’s three seasons over a four-year span in which he reached triple-digit stolen bases (1980, ’82 and ’83). The only other players with three 100 or more seasons did so consecutively: Billy Hamilton (1889, Kansas City Cowboys; 1890 and ’91, Philadelphia Phillies) and Vince Coleman (1985-87, St. Louis Cardinals).
Notably, the modern rules for recording stolen bases weren’t fully implemented until 1898, so totals are particularly high before the turn of the 20th century, including 12 of the 20 seasons of 100+ stolen bases.
Hugh Nichol, an outfielder who swiped 138 bags in just 125 games for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1887, had more than Henderson. However, some of Nichol’s total would not be counted under modern rules.
Most Stolen Bases in a Game
Eddie Collins of the Philadelphia Athletics had so much fun setting the major league single-game stolen base record with six against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 11, 1912 that he did it again 11 days later against the St. Louis Browns.
Collins’ half-dozen steals weren’t matched for 79 years, and he remains the only player to accomplish it in multiple games. The Atlanta Braves’ Otis Nixon (1991), Colorado Rockies’ Eric Young (1996) and Tampa Bay Rays’ Carl Crawford (2009) also went into the record books with six steals in a game.
Interestingly, none of the four players went on to be the major league stolen base leader during his MLB-record season.
Most Team Stolen Bases in a Game
The New York Highlanders ran wild on the St. Louis Browns, racking up 15 stolen bases in a 18-12 win on Sept. 28, 1911. The Highlanders, who only had 13 hits as both teams committed six errors, totaled 269 steals on the season.
That still ranks 23rd on the all-time list, with 23 of the top 25 single seasons in stolen bases took place between 1901-14.
Most Team Stolen Bases in a Season
The 29 highest baseball seasons for stolen bases by a team occurred before 1900, with the top four all in 1887: the St. Louis Browns (581), Baltimore Orioles (545), Cincinnati Red Stockings (527) and Philadelphia Athletics (476). Arlie Latham (129), Charlie Comiskey (117), Curt Welch (89) and Yank Robinson (75) had at least 75 steals each in the Browns’ record season.
Since 1901, the 1911 New York Giants posted the highest total with 347 stolen bases. The 1976 Oakland A’s had the second-most base stealers at 341.
Collectively, no season had more stolen bases than 1890, when 25 different teams combined for 6,854 in 1,608 games, an average of nearly 4.3 per game.
But the second-highest season, when 16 teams combined for 6,345 steals over 1,058 games in 1887, had a much-higher per-game average at 6.0.
Since 1901, the 1914 season had the most league-wide stolen bases (4,573).
Stolen Base Records in MLB Postseason History
Kenny Lofton often saved his best legs for baseball’s biggest stage. His 34 stolen bases in the postseason are a major league record and one ahead of Henderson. Lofton slipped past Henderson with a steal for Cleveland in a 2007 ALCS game against the Boston Red Sox. He also had a slightly better success rate in the postseason (87.2-84.6%).
Additionally, Henderson (1989, A’s) and Lofton (1995, Cleveland) share the MLB stolen base record in a single postseason with 11 each.
Behind that pair, Omar Vizquel ranks as the No. 3 postseason base stealer with 23, and Roberto Alomar and Davey Lopes are tied for fourth with 20 each.
The World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays had 24 stolen bases in the 2008 World Series to set the high for a team.
The 1975 Cincinnati Reds and 1992 Atlanta Braves are tied for second in postseason history with 20 steals each.
Editors Jesse Abrahams and Greg Harvey of Stats Perform’s Data Insights contributed research.