The history of “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco”

By Sammy Bovitz 

“Steal a Base, Steal a Taco.” Somehow, over the last few years, this statement in a Taco Bell advertisement has ingrained itself within our culture. And yet, there is no historical analysis of this yearly event. Let’s change that.

What taco are we even getting?

In essence, the “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion follows one core rule: If someone steals a base during the World Series, the entire United States will get a free taco from Taco Bell, and the player who did the deed is labeled a “Taco Hero.” Now, the particular kind of taco has changed over the years. For the first three years of the promotion (2007-8, 2012), it was simply a standard taco. But when Taco Bell returned with the promotion in 2015, they realized they could leverage it to promote a specific item. So they decided to give America free “AM Crunchwraps,” which now appear to be called Breakfast Crunchwraps. After another hiatus, Taco Bell returned in 2016 with what has been the staple ever since: the Doritos Locos Taco. It’s an objectively incredible name. 

Stealing tacos, by the numbers

With his stealing of second base this year, Mookie Betts became the greatest taco-stealer of all time. He’s the only one to have ever won free tacos for America twice. Since the ad campaign has only been run nine times, I don’t have many insights to offer you. Still, there are a few. Every single time, the base in question has been second. What’s more, the team that contains the Taco Hero is 7-2 in the years the promotion has been in effect. They could’ve been 8-1 if not for a Game 7 loss to the Cubs suffered by Taco Hero Francisco Lindor of Cleveland. There are no other particularly interesting trends, and I could’ve just ended this report here.

But I have way too much time on my hands. So I’ve scored every World Series from 1970-2020 acting like Taco Bell had an ongoing promotion in all of them.

50 years of tacos

If Taco Bell had been running “Steal A Base, Steal A Taco” for 50 years (never thought I’d say that sentence), Mookie Betts would not be the only two-time Taco Hero. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and 4x All-Star Chuck Knoblauch would join him in this artificial cheese-flavored pantheon in this scenario. Not only that, a whopping 34 of the 48 unique base-stealers were All-Stars, with 9 of them being Hall of Famers.  It’s also interesting that there wasn’t a huge correlation between taco earnings and the result of the actual Series, with the taco hero’s team going 27-23 total. Another interesting tidbit is that if free tacos were around, only two of the bases that granted them would be third base, and there’s even one instance where the first stolen base of the Series was a double steal of second and third! Note that if you aren’t excited by this, I do not blame you, but I’m a nerd and this is what I love.

It’s also interesting the number of elite pitchers that have given America free tacos. 28 of the 49 unique pitchers were All-Stars, including a Hall of Fame-level class of guys like Jack Morris, Catfish Hunter, Burt Hooton, and the only one to give up hypothetical free tacos twice in Greg Maddux. These pitchers are all legends and it’s fascinating to see that they’ve given up stolen bases so quickly. Finally, of the 43 unique catchers who weren’t able to stop an avalanche of tacos, 23 of them were All-Stars, including some of the greatest catchers of all time like Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson. It may just be that World Series-level players play on World Series-level teams, but it’s still amazing that if free tacos existed for 50 years, some of the best players of those times would’ve been a part of the moments that granted them.

How many lifetimes?

Finally, Taco Bell has estimated that they’ve given out around $10 million in free tacos thus far. Judging by the base price of a Doritos Locos Taco- $2.29– one can estimate that about 4.36 million tacos could be given out each year. If someone were to eat a Doritos Locos Taco three meals a day and survive, the free ones given out through 2020 would be plenty. Judging by the average US male life expectancy of 78.54 years, the free tacos that have actually been given out could last someone nearly 50.7 lifetimes. The math’s a bit shaky, but the idea of a free taco given out because of the World Series could generate 50.7 lifetimes’ worth of food in just nine years is positively insane.