Red Sox outfielder Tris Speaker
Tris Speaker began his career during the dead-ball era when home runs were a rarity and speed was a vital part of the game. Speaker spent the first nine seasons of his career in Boston and tallied 267 steals, the second-most in franchise history.
Speaker swiped at least 25 bags in every season he spent with the Red Sox, reaching at least 35 in five of his seven full seasons. The 52 bases he stole during his MVP campaign in 1912 set a single-season franchise record that stood for over 60 years until it was finally broken by Harper. On the list of the franchise’s best seasons for stolen bases, Speaker appears in three of the top-10 spots.
As was the case with Harper, Speaker wasn’t particularly efficient, converting 76.5% of his stolen base attempts. Caught stealing wasn’t an official statistic tracked by MLB when he played and his Baseball-Reference page shows several gaps from seasons with no data for that category. However, he was charged with being caught at least 25 times in three seasons with the Red Sox. His success rate might have been even worse than his career totals indicate based on the seasons we have data for. In 1915, Speaker stole 29 bases but was caught 25 times. That’s a horrible rate that would force his manager to give him the red light in the modern era.
Aside from stealing bases, Speaker was an above-average baserunner with a 3.7 BsR during his Red Sox career, which ranks 16th in franchise history.
With a lack of power to fuel offensive production, players in Speaker’s era had to take more risks on the base paths to generate runs. In the modern era, players can afford to be more patient while waiting for a teammate to hit one over the fence to drive them in. Speaker’s inefficiency was partially a product of the time period he played in and shouldn’t overshadow his impressive single-season performances or career total.