Like most things, stolen base totals have fluctuated through baseball’s history. Players from certain eras tend to show up in leaderboards, even if they weren’t any good; they just happened to be in “faster” eras than others.
The American League, by skipping the nineteenth century, would seem to be exempt from some of this fluctuation, and to some extent it is. But if you look at team leaderboards for single-season steals by position, a funny thing happens.
The earliest seasons each original AL franchise has someone still on their top 10 single-season steals ranking:
Cleveland: 1902 (Nap Lajoie, 2B, T-8th)
Washington (now Minnesota): 1901 (Boileryard Clarke, C, T-10th)
Yes, seven of the original eight franchises retain someone from their inaugural season in their leaderboards. (If you don’t want to count Clarke’s 1901 since it’s a tie for the bottom, then the Senators’/Twins’ earliest year would be 1902.)
I know steals were up then, but that’s still striking to me, especially how many have led their team’s position forever. Granted, the catcher totals don’t tend to be that high, but some of these easily could be broken; Kid Gleason‘s 32 for Tigers second basemen isn’t an abstractly difficult barrier to clear.
I’ll likely put up more stuff on these steals leaderboards; I’ve also done them for home runs, so I might get into that at some point. But for now, you can have a deeper, if stranger, appreciation for the AL’s first season. It still shows up in funny places.