Prince Fielder spends a lot of his time on big-league diamonds trotting, not running. Fielder walked more than 100 times in each of the past three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, and his 228 home runs since becoming a full-fledged big-leaguer in 2006 are the third-most in that span.
It's a good thing, too, because the free-agent first baseman is not much use when running the bases more aggressively. Fielder is huge, lumbering and not remotely ashamed of his inability to move more than station-to-station most of the time. It just is not his game.
This was one of the critical tenets of the sabermetric revolution as it gained traction around the turn of the century. Fleetness of foot is overvalued. Baseball players sometimes need to be fast, but sometimes, they really don't. It's all about skill sets, and though speed is not a part of Fielder's package, overall, that package is still a great one.
Here are the slowest players in the history of each big-league franchise. Vive le tortue!
Sooner or later, a pattern will become apparent here. More than anything else, the common thread between the players on this list is their position.
Catchers are slow. It's a common truism, but even old Bob Uecker jokes understate the case. Of the 10 slowest players in baseball history, 10 have been catchers.
Damian Miller didn't even reach the big leagues until age 27, well past the peak of a person's speed. He stole five bases, was caught five times and (somehow) managed four triples in his 11-year career. For a catcher, he's par for the course.
Technically, Johnny Estrada was slower, but Bream is the most impactfully slow player in Braves history.
He stole 50 bases in 90 career attempts, a pretty lousy success rate despite the (inevitable, for his era) volume.
The numbers don't tell the story, though. Bream had several knee surgeries in the latter phase of his career, seven before it was all over. Five of those came before the famous (infamous to Pirates fans) play on which Bream scored from second base to win Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
*More than any famous play in the game's history, that one was about incompetence and stubbornness, not skill. Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds (he went on to a fine career) refused to move in despite the repeated urges of his dugout and his center fielder prior to the ground-ball single to left field.
The rest of the Pirates knew what Bonds refused to acknowledge: The only weakness in his game was a glaringly bad arm. Charging hard, Bonds came up throwing to the plate, but it was a lollipop, per usual.
Meanwhile, what possessed Bream to push for that run right then and there is tough to imagine. He was atrocious on the bases. Only the desperation of the moment—the Braves bench was empty but for pitchershad left him in the game. Anything short of Bonds' blend of insecurity and incompetence would have nailed him at the plate, but Bream went for it anyway, taking a very round turn at third base that made the play even closer than it ought to have been.
Triandos stole only one base in 13 big-league seasons. That's remarkable. He caught for Paul Richards' Orioles of the 1950s, a team that largely scorned the steal, but even if they hadn't, Triandos would not have been a factor on the paths. He was the very model of a plodding backstop.
Ortiz redefined the designated hitter's role during his Red Sox tenure. Not only did he not field, but he did not and does not run. Ortiz is huge, strong, a disciplined and powerful hitter and great guy to have around. It's just that he can barely move well enough to score from first base on a home run.
Grace is second all-time on the Cubs' doubles list, but an asterisk ought to be put by his name. Yes, Grace had over 50 more doubles than Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams, but Grace probably gave away 75 or 100 triples in his career because he simply could not run well enough to make third base on balls that bounded far into gaps and down the right-field line.
For a lanky, generally athletic first baseman, his lack of speed was alarming at times. He looked injured running the bases, even at full tilt.
Konerko moved poorly even as a young man playing in the National League. Now that he is in his mid-30s and relies entirely upon power for value, the White Sox slugger might be the slowest active big-leaguer.
Sox fans can continue to agonize over why and how the Sox have managed to put so much hefty, immobile slugger on one field all year in 2012. The team figures to trot out Konerko, Adam Dunn, Carlos Quentin and Dayan Viciedo all as regulars. It could get ugly.
Collectively, the Reds are one of the fastest franchises ever, and even those very slow players who did play for them (as Hernandez has the past three years) tend not to stick around very long. Hernandez came to the Reds by way of slow-foot factories Oakland and Baltimore, but is a fine player even without base-running skills to fit the franchise's custom.
No one in the history of the game may have detested to run quite so much as Thome. He has 604 home runs, 1,725 walks and 2,487 strikeouts in his career. Of his 10,127 career plate appearances, he has avoided running in roughly 47 percent of them. He has 19 career stolen bases, presumably by accident.
Even calling Coors Field home for over a decade, Helton has cobbled together only 35 career triples. He last stole a base in 2006. He played quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers once upon a time, but given the speed of the action in football, Helton made the right choice by anchoring himself to first base and confining himself to 360-foot jogs.
It's true, players on this list fall more or less into one of two categories:
- Catchers and
Prince and Cecil combine for just over 10,000 career plate appearances, 18 stolen bases and something like 600 pounds. They are trying to do different things on the field than their speedier contemporaries.
*Honorable mention here goes to Bob Swift, who caught for Detroit in the 1940s and whose surname delightfully belies his attributes.
The bat speed, the rocket arm behind the plate and the terrific reflexes were always there for Johnson. He had every physical tool one would want from a catcher. He just didn't run. It's probably for the best that he didn't, as he put less pressure on his knees and back by not stealing bases.
Staub played for Houston from ages 19 through 24, when a young man ought to be at the very peak of his speed.
Staub was. He stole eight bases in 14 tries over six years and had 12 triples calling triple-friendly parks home during that span. He did a large number of things well, but Staub did not run.
No player as one-dimensional as Butler has met with so much success from such a young age in big-league history. He hits, but not with special power. And that's it. Butler cannot field a position, cannot run and cannot throw.
He could seriously challenge the all-time doubles record, mostly because he does not have the power to consistently reach the deep fences at Kauffmann Stadium, and because the field itself invites triples like few others. Billy Butler has three career triples.
The Molina brothers are gifted catchers and solid hitters, but watching them run is nearly unbearable. Bengie is the fattest Molina. That helps nothing.
In over 5,000 plate appearances, Molina has six triples and three stolen bases for his career.
Blake's knock-kneed, loping running style makes it look like he's loafing, but no, that's really as fast as he can go. The fairly athletic third baseman probably was a better runner once upon a time, but since he established himself in MLB at age 29, most fans know only the slow and steady Blake.
Fielder might yet become the slowest player in a second team's history. He's only 27, after all, and has plenty of time to become more decrepit on the bases. In the meantime, he was the seventh-slowest runner in the game this season, according to FanGraphs, and of those worse as runners, only Butler is of even comparable youth.
Mientkiewicz was a gregarious and very skilled first baseman. He loved his role as defensive super-substitute and embraced the challenge of playing cat-and-mouse with base runners for the other team. All the while, he chatted them up. He loved to hear their stories.
It must have hurt Mientkiewicz deeply then that, very often, opponents elected not to even hold him on at first base, because he was spectacularly slow. He ran with tremendous effort sometimes, but when he did, he became a pinwheeling collection of overlong limbs. It was not pretty.
Olerud wore a batting helmet even in the field at first base to protect his head from injury after a brain aneurysm threatened his life in college. That was a double important measure for him as it might have been otherwise, too, because if anything ever came flying at Olerud while he didn't have a bat in his hands, he would hardly know what to do.
The man's feet seemed unattached to his remarkable brain, which made him a sensational hitter. Imagine the value his .398 career OBP would have had if he could have run enough to score five percent more often.
That Blomberg is remembered almost exclusively for being the first-ever DH is tragic. He was a great, great hitter whose career never got off the ground because of injuries. Those piled up, especially on his knees and shoulder, and Blomberg became a rather one-dimensional talent as his career progressed. He should have been more.
He never did have speed, though.
A converted catcher, Hatteberg paid homage to his positional heritage every time he tried to get up a head of steam during his Oakland tenure. It always seemed as though merely getting both feet off the ground at once was a truly agonizing process for Hatteberg. Advanced speed statistics suggest he is one of the slowest players ever, which of course made him so readily available and perfect for the Moneyball A's.
How slow was Luzinski? The Phillies got a decade of good work from The Bull, but allowed the White Sox to purchase him from them in 1981 because they no longer felt the immobile slugger was a tenable defensive player anywhere on the diamond. Luzinski was 29.
Burgess was a great hitter from behind the plate, a strong and sturdily built left-hitting slugger. He lumbered around, more concerned with what he might run over once he reached his destination than with how quickly he got there. Burgess was slow-footed, but had the quick hands for his job and led the Pirates to the 1960 World Series.
Kennedy was stocky, a catcher and geared toward power for value. That profile about exactly matches that of Burgess, and it also makes him about a perfect candidate to end up on a list like this. In six seasons with San Diego, Kennedy made three All-Star teams and went to a World Series. He stole three bases in 13 attempts during those six years.
McCovey was all about power from the jump, never a player reliant in the least on speed. Still, when injuries began to accumulate on his legs late in his career, McCovey became almost comically immobile. If he hit the ball and it did not leave the park in those later years, he was out.
McCovey stole just 26 bases in a 22-year career, and of the final five seasons of his tenure, he batted under .250 four times.
Davis could really, really hit, but seemed to be running on a couple bats rather than legs at times. He lunged and leaned, but to no avail. He was caught 16 times in 23 career steal attempts. Davis could do nothing right on the basepaths.
As long as his long, uniformly thick legs did not have to carry McGwire far; he usually did all right. His physical coordination despite a huge frame was a very underrated contributing factor to his success.
When he needed to open the throttle, though, as when trying to score from first on a double, the big man's long strides seemed to take him nowhere. He probably left very deep cleat marks because he seemed to pound and punish the Earth, but his feet spent far too much time on the ground.
Again, this is just catcher syndrome. Catchers are sturdy guys. They're strong, but built to withstand punishment. Most of them also have nagging knee injuries that do not relent all season. Running hard and fast on a regular basis would be virtually impossible even if it were demonstrably beneficial, which it really is not.
Shoppach runs when he must, but is not fast, and that's OK.
Inky came up with the Rangers in the mid-1980s, a power hitter from the first time he put on the uniform. He found all kinds of ways to be useful on offense, even stealing nine bases in 12 tries in his sophomore season in 1987.
In left or right field, though, he was a nightmare. As it turned out, he was phenomenally slow, painfully slow. Although Incaviglia ran the bases with some redemptive savvy, in the field, it was painfully clear this amorphous and immobile lug would never be a tenable everyday player.
Phillips attempted one steal per season his final five years in the big leagues and was caught every time. He was a legend in the arena of not advancing more than a base, ever, on singles or more than two on doubles. He never hit a triple. In scarcely 1,500 MLB plate appearances, Phillips hardly had time to create a legacy of being slow, yet that's exactly what he did.
In 2006, Schneider collected two of his four career steals in four attempts. That was a banner year for him. It was also the last time he even tried to take a base.
Schneider has nine career triples, mostly thanks to playing home games first at Olympic Stadium, then at RFK Stadium when the Expos became the Nationals in 2005.