With his first inning two-out steal of second in his 140th game of the year on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez added another accomplishment to his growing resume for MVP consideration as he turned in just the 61st 30 homer-30 stolen base season in Major League Baseball history. In doing so, he also became just the third Indians player to accomplish the feat, joining historic seasons turned in by Joe Carter in 1987 and Grady Sizemore in 2008.
Fans can easily remember the type of game-changing ability that Sizemore had, whether it was with the glove, his speed, or with one swing of the bat. Those old enough to watch Carter in his prime in the late 1980s (tough words to even have to write) saw the same power and speed potential on a nightly basis, before his contribution to Cleveland’s future success revolved not around his production, but around the price the club charged the San Diego Padres to send Carter for several prospect pieces which factored largely in the team’s run through the decade to follow.
Carter had flirted with the feat in 1986, when he finished ninth in the AL MVP voting and led all of baseball with 121 RBI during his breakout effort with the Tribe. He homered 29 times and stole 29 bases, but missed the mark. The following season, with many eyes on the young and upcoming Indians’ uprising, Carter contributed his fair share of the work in 149 games, but the rest of the club struggled in a historically disappointing season. Carter’s batting average dropped nearly 40 points from his previous season, but he still eclipsed 100 runs driven in while hitting 32 homers and stealing 31 bases in 37 attempts.
Carter reached the 30-30 mark on September 16, 1987, stealing his 30th bag with a fourth inning theft in Seattle against the Mariners in a 5-3 loss. It came in his 135th game of the season. It would mark the last time Carter stole more than 30 bases in a season and the first of six years that he mashed 30 or more homers during his 16-year career. His season was the third of four different 30-30 additions during the 1987 schedule.
“I couldn’t think of a better day for it to happen,” shared Carter with Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer [September 17, 1987] after the game. “This is my daughter’s birthday. It was just a good day to do it. I told Bobby Bonds before the game today that I was going to get it done.
“I’ve been aiming at this ever since last year…Last year I was all set to get personalized license plates that said ‘JC 30-30’. But I had to change that to ‘JC RBI’. Now I can go ahead and get the 30-30 plates.”
Bonds may have been a good man to have around for that accomplishment – he hit the feat five different times during his playing career and was later matched by his son Barry for the most career 30-30 seasons ever.
Sizemore was the quickest of the Tribe’s trio to reach 30-30 status. He was already 34-for-37 stealing bags in 2008 and was sitting at 29 home runs on August 25 when he used the first of two home runs in his fifth multi-homer game of the season to claim his spot in Indians and MLB history. He wasted no time in doing so in the contest at Detroit’s Comerica Park, sending the second pitch of the game from Armando Galarraga deep to left-center for his seventh leadoff homer of the season (and 18th of his career to tie Kenny Lofton for the franchise record). He homered again off of Galarraga on the first pitch of the third inning in his 122nd game of the year.
Sizemore finished the season with 33 homers and 38 stolen bases in 43 attempts.
“I just tried to keep it out of my mind the closer I got to it,” said Sizemore in a quote from The Plain Dealer on August 26, 2008. “I thought [the first homer] was a ground-rule double.”
“When he got back to the dugout, you couldn’t tell if it was his first or his 30th,” manager Eric Wedge was quoted in the same addition. “That’s the way he is… When you say 30-30, you think of strength and quickness. You think of a complete ballplayer…and it’s only August.”
For years, the 30-30 milestone (and even more impressively, the four such 40-40 seasons) earned players deserved labels as complete and balanced threats of speed and power, while also giving a nod to the health and longevity a player needed to reach both thresholds over the course of a 162-game, six-month grind. Most teams would love to have a player with 30-homer potential or 30-steal speed, but to have it all in one package was a rare commodity in the game.
Major League Baseball has undergone a shift in recent years, as teams are much less reliant on the steal during this most recent surge in home runs (likely less associated with the performance enhancing boosts of the 1990s and early 2000s and more on the acceptance of strikeouts and big swings, exit velocity, and the launch angle revolution). Many teams, especially those with power-packing lineups, tend not to want to risk surrendering base runners on robbery efforts to move up just 90 feet when those offenses are designed around producing runs with one mighty hack.
Until Ramirez on Sunday, the game had not seen a 30-30 season since 2012, when both Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers reached the statistical milestone during impressive seasons.
Trout was runner-up for the American League MVP award and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in his first full season in the Majors that year. He led all of baseball with 49 swipes and hit 30 homers in the only 30-30 season of his career (he would need seven steals this season to earn his second). Braun, who was the reigning National League MVP and himself a former NL Rookie of the Year in 2007, finished second in the NL MVP voting with his second straight 30-30 campaign (and likely last of his career). He led the NL with 41 homers that season.
The five seasons between Ramirez’s efforts and those of Trout and Braun in 2012 matched the second-longest droughts between 30-30 players ever and trailed only the 33 years between the first such season recorded by the St. Louis Browns’ Ken Williams in 1922 and back-to-back seasons posted by New York Giants’ Hall of Famer Willie Mays in 1956 and 1957.
MLB, aided over the last 30+ years by an influx of speedy multi-talented sluggers to the game, had seen just one season (2010) between the strike season of 1994 and the dual accomplishments of Braun and Trout in 2012 without at least one 30-30 representative.
Ramirez has picked up the stolen base pace over the last week, stealing three over two games at the beginning of the week. He was swiping bags at a more consistent pace earlier in the season, but recent eight- and ten-game droughts between successful steals changed that. He has gone as many as 16 games between successful stolen base attempts (from April 12 to May 1 and again from May 24 to June 10) this season.
He tallied many of those steals in bunches, with a good chunk of his robberies coming during an 11-for-12 stretch in 25 games in July. He lived on base that month (.322 average and a season-high .441 on-base percentage), which increased his opportunities. In his other high average/OBP month in May, he hit 12 doubles and 11 homers, which minimized his steals.
The 30-homer part of the accomplishment was almost never in doubt for Ramirez, who had 29 at the All-Star break and hit his 38th in Wednesday’s contest with the Tampa Bay Rays, ending a nearly month-long homerless drought.
Ramirez is in select company even on the short list of all-time 30-30 performances. The group is largely composed of outfielders, with Ramirez now the fourth third baseman to ever to supply 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season (joining Milwaukee’s Tommy Harper in 1970 and a pair of Mets – Howard Johnson in 1987, 1989, and 1991; and David Wright in 2007).
Ramirez has already amassed the most homers in a 30-30 season by a Tribe player and has a slight chance to reach Sizemore’s 38 steals. He even has an outside chance to become just the fifth 40-40 man in MLB history (Jose Canseco, 1988; Barry Bonds, 1996; Alex Rodriguez, 1998; Alfonso Soriano, 2006) if he can hit two more homers and steal eight more bases over the final two and a half weeks of the regular season.
On a list of players that includes Hall of Famers like Mays, Hank Aaron, Jeff Bagwell, Vladimir Guerrero, and Barry Larkin, fringe candidates like Carlos Beltran, Dale Murphy, Sammy Sosa, and Larry Walker, and other perennial power pests, the diminutive Ramirez stands out due to his smaller stature, matched on the list by other sub-six-foot dual threats like Jimmy Rollins and Milwaukee’s Harper (h/t to MLB Network and Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi).
Ramirez’s recent slump at the plate, as teams have been more willing to work around him while exploiting some issues with offspeed pitches, may have hurt some of his chances in the MVP race with Boston’s J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts and teammate Francisco Lindor (who himself is still a possible 30-30 man if he can add seven more steals over the final 16 games on the slate). But even despite the second half woes for Ramirez, his 2018 season has been remarkable and will go down as one of the rare offensive feats in the annals of Major League Baseball and as one of the most productive single-season performances in Indians history.
Photo: Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images