Kicking Up Dust: The Greatest Base Stealers in MLB History

The art of the stolen base is a subtlety that has largely disappeared from modern baseball. In fact, at number 19 on the list, Juan Pierre is the only active MLB player in the top 50 for all-time stolen bases. The legendary base-stealers may all be behind us, but they sure left their mark on the game while they were here. A truly great bag-swiper has to have far more than just speed. He must be solid at the plate to get sufficient opportunities on base, he must have impeccable timing, and he must be able to make a snap-decision in the blink of an eye. And in that blink, the greats were already gone.

5 Tim Raines

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808 SB, 90 SB Season-High

A seven-time All-Star, Tim “Rock” Raines spent time in Montreal, Chicago, New York (Yankees), Oakland, Florida, and Baltimore – and wherever he went, he was a menace between the bases. With a career .413 on-base percentage, Raines had no problem reaching first, and when he did, he rarely stayed there for long. Rock led the league in steals for four straight seasons from 1981 to 1984, and stole more than 40 bases 11 times in his 23-year Major League career.

4 Ty Cobb

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897 SB, 96 SB Season-High

Playing from 1905 until 1928, Ty Cobb was one of the fiercest hitters the game has ever seen, leading the league in batting average 12 times and finishing with a career average of .366, the highest in baseball history. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Cobb became even more of a threat once he was on the base paths. “The Georgia Peach” led the league in stolen bases six times over his 24-year career, posting a career-high 96 in 1915, and establishing him as one of the game’s all-time bag-swiping greats.

3 Billy Hamilton

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914 SB, 111 SB Season-High

Billy Hamilton made his Major League debut for the Kansas City Cowboys in the magical year of 1888. Okay, so he may not exactly be a household name, but Billy Hamilton was one hell of a base stealer. Playing for 14 years and splitting time between Kansas City, Boston, and Philadelphia, Hamilton led the league in steals five times, reaching more than 100 in a season four times and twice swiping 111 (in 1889 and 1891). The man they called “Sliding Billy” was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1961, and would likely have been a multi-time All-Star, had that been invented when he was playing.

2 Lou Brock

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938 SB, 118 SB Season-High

One of the all-time St. Louis Cardibnals greats, Lou Brock was a threat to take off any time he reached base, which was pretty damn often. A speedy outfielder and formidable hitter, Lou Brock posted 12 straight seasons of 50 or more stolen bases from 1965 to 1976, eight of which he led the entire league, and one of which, at age 35, saw him steal a whopping 118 bases in 151 attempts. Brock twice led the league in runs scored, went to six All-Star games over his 19-year career, and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

1 Rickey Henderson

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1,406 Stolen Bases, 130 Stolen Base Season-High

Ricky was always the greatest. Just ask Ricky. Not only does Henderson own the unofficial record for the most times referring to himself in the third person in an interview, he’s also Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen-base king, with nearly 500 more swiped bags than the next closest player. Henderson was known as “The Man of Steal,” swiping more than 100 bases three times in his first five seasons, and leading the league in steals 12 times in his 25-year career. Rickey’s ability to advance on the base paths not only brought him the steals record, but also led him to set the all-time record for runs scored.

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