This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
When Jacoby Ellsbury stole 50 bases in 2008 during his first full season in the big leagues, Tommy Harper probably had an inclination that Jacoby Ellsbury would break his 26 year old record. Jacoby Ellsbury did just that when he swiped 70 bases during the 2009 season.
Tommy Harper’s Red Sox tenure was only 3 seasons of his 15 year career, but he managed to leave his mark in that short time. With his 107 stolen bases as a Red Sox, he put himself in the top ten for all time leaders for stolen bases by a Red Sox. The Red Sox have never been known as a running team. Harper’s 54 stolen bases in 1973 broke the team single season record of 52 held by Hall of Famer Tris Speaker in his MVP season of 1912 when the Red Sox won their second World Series championship. Speaker’s record remained for 61 years before Harper came on the scene.
Throughout the years there have been brief flashes of speed in Boston, including Otis Nixon with 42 stolen bases in 1994, but there hasn’t been a bonafide stolen base threat continually throughout Red Sox history. More recently, during his years in Boston, Johnny Damon provided a solid option to steal a base. Perhaps the most famous stolen base in Red Sox history belongs to a man with 243 career stolen bases, and just 5 regular season stolen bases as a Red Sox. They belong to Dave Roberts, owner of 9th inning stolen base that helped change the momentum of the 2004 ALCS versus the New York Yankees.
While Johnny Damon, Dave Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury have been examples of how the Red Sox have changed their offensive style to include running the bases, it’s important to remember the guy who held the 26 year record for most stolen bases in a season by a Red Sox.
For his single season stolen base record, and his steady play in the outfield during the mid 1970’s, Happy 69th Birthday, Tommy Harper!