The record has stood for 36 years, and before that it lasted for 61 -- a testament to the coziness of Fenway Park and the long-standing power of the Boston Red Sox.
But Jacoby Ellsbury is a different kind of Red Sox player. The 25-year-old center fielder, who has brought the dimension of speed to the usually unspeedy Red Sox, is about to become the team's all-time biggest single-season thief. With 53 stolen bases, he is one shy of the record of 54 set by Tommy Harper in 1973.
Ellsbury just missed the mark last season, stealing 50 bases in his first full season in the Major Leagues. In between Harper and Ellsbury on Boston's list of single-season stolen base leaders is Tris Speaker, who swiped 52 bases in 1912 -- Fenway Park's first season.
The Boston club record for most steals in a season, 215, was established in 1909 -- when the Red Sox played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the center field fence stood 635 feet away from home plate, according to ballparks.com. Since Fenway opened, the Red Sox have consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the American League in stolen bases.
The most notable exceptions, though, were 1973 and 2008. Led by Harper and Ellsbury, they were third in the league in steals in each of those seasons.
Otis Nixon might well have stolen Harper's record in 1994, but he was stopped at 40 when a players strike ended the season on Aug. 12.
Red Sox single-season stolen base leaders
|1. Tommy Harper ||54 ||1973|
|2. Jacoby Ellsbury ||53||2009|
|3. Tris Speaker ||52||1912|
|4. Jacoby Ellsbury ||50||2008|
|5. Tris Speaker ||46||1913|
|6. Tris Speaker ||42||1914|
|6. Otis Nixon ||42||1994*|
|8. Harry Hooper ||40||1910|
|8. Billy Werber ||40||1934|
|10. Harry Hooper||38||1911|
|* strike-shortened season|
Harper, 68, played for the Red Sox from 1972-74, was a coach for the team from 1980-84 and 2000-02, and is currently a player development consultant for the team. He is a rarity in that he also holds Milwaukee's single-season stolen base record, having swiped 73 bags in 1969, that franchise's inaugural season as the Seattle Pilots.
Harper, who stole 408 bases in a 14-year career, said in late April -- after Ellsbury had stolen 10 bases in his first 18 games -- that he knew his record would be falling this season.
"When you're playing on a consistent basis as he is now, and you get your hits, stolen bases come within a rhythm of the game," he told Projo Sox Blog. "You really don't think about it, they just come naturally in the flow of the game. You don't wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to steal two today.' You just kind of let it flow. You never know how many you're going to get. Some days you have none, and other days you have four."
Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.