Remembering Mets History (1978) John Stearns Sets NL Stolen Base Record For Catchers

September 1978:
The 1978 Mets (66-96) finished last place under Manager Joe Torre. One of the few highlights that year was catcher John Stearns. Stearns a three time All Star with the Mets during those dark years, set a record for N.L. catchers by stealing 25 bases.

John Stearns stole his first base on Opening Day 1978 in a 3-1 Mets win at home against the Montreal Expos. Four days later he would swipe his second of the year, as Craig Swan shut out the Chicago Cubs 6-0 at Shea Stadium, giving the Mets a 4-1 start to the season in front of just 3,751 fans.

On May 10th, Stearns had a big day going 2-3 with two walks, a HR & two stolen bases, as the Mets beat the Expos in Montreal 7-2. Stearns would swipe five bases in the month of May to total eight steals for the year. He stole three more bases in June all coming in Mets losses. 

In July, Stearns modestly stole four bases including a pair in back-to-back games in Houston. Those Astro catchers were Luis Pujols & Bruce Bochy. Stearns would have two hits with two RBIs in the latter game. 

The other steal came against the Cincinnati Reds, off the Hall of Fame battery of familiar friend Tom Seaver & Johnny Bench.

On August 1st, Stearns led the Mets to a 5-1 victory over that year's NL Eastern Champion Philadelphia Phillies, with a three run HR. The next night, he stole two bases off the Phillies star catcher, Bob Boone.  

Stearns would steal six bases in August with another pair in back-to-back games against the San Francisco Giants at home in Shea Stadium.

Trivia: Stearns entered September with 21 stolen bases on the year, just two shy of the N.L. record set by catchers. In 1903, the Cubs Johnny Kling had stolen 23 bases. 

The New York Giants catching legend Roger Bresnahan had stolen 34 bases in 1903, but that year he played the majority of his games as an outfielder.

The Mets began the month with a series in Los Angeles, against that year's NL Champion Dodgers. In the first game on September 1st, Stearns doubled in a run in the 4th inning. He then swiped third base, off veteran catcher Joe Ferguson, putting him within one of the record. 

The game went into extra innings, in the 11th inning Stearns singled off Terry Forster, he tried to steal second, but this time was thrown out by catcher Steve Yeager who came into the game in the 10th inning.

On September 3rd, Stearns singled off the Dodgers, Tommy John to start off a big Mets 2nd inning. He quickly went to work swiping the record tying 22nd base, again reaching safely off veteran catcher, Joe Ferguson. 

In that big six run inning for New York, the Mets sent 11 men to the plate, scoring six runs.

Stearns started the inning with a hit & was the tenth man up, hitting an RBI single. The Mets salvaged the series without a sweep winning 8-5.

Monday September 7th: The Mets were finishing up a long 14 game road trip where they went 6-8. Tonight, they were in Montreal playing the Expos at Olympic Stadium in front of 10,161 fans.

In the 1st inning, Lee Mazzilli walked & stole second. Elliott Maddox also drew a walk. Mazzilli advanced to third on a fly ball & the Mets picked up their first run. when John Stearns hit into a fielder's choice that brought home Maddox. 

Stearns was now on first base & he wasted no time, he took off as Expo pitcher Bob James pitched to Bruce Boisclair. The Expo catcher was future Met & Hall of Famer, Gary Carter. Carter threw to second trying to nail the speedy Stearns. 

Stearns slid in safe & set the new National League season record of 23 stolen bases by a catcher.

Trivia: Stearns would finish the 1978 season with 25 stolen bases, a record he held until 1999 when Jason Kendall of the Pittsburgh Pirates broke it with 26. Stearns is still second on that list.


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