Billy Hamilton and Billy Hamilton

Aug 15, 2012, 11:28 AM | Updated: 11:28 am

By Gary Hill

Very few players in baseball history have run as wild on the base paths as Billy Hamilton. Hamilton’s master thievery made him a stolen base legend and now there is a player looking to follow the trail that he blazed. The player is Billy Hamilton.

“Sliding” Billy Hamilton was a shining star in the game of baseball from 1888-1901. Hamilton was a king of a lively ball era, piling up numbers reserved for video games. For his career he hit .344, reached base at a .455 clip, scored 1697 runs and stole over 900 bases. Players have swiped 100 bases or more 21 times in baseball history and Hamilton claims 4 of those. The Hall of Famer was relentless on the base paths and holds the third highest total of stolen bases in baseball history.

Fast forward 111 years and you will find Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer Billy Hamilton running wild. Between two levels this season Hamilton has taken 139 bases in 114 games. He is swiftly closing in on the all-time minor league single season stolen base record of 145 held by Vince Coleman. Donell Nixon is second on the list when he swiped 144 with the Bakersfield Mariners in 1983. Hamilton currently sits third.
He did not steal a base last night for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos which snapped an eight game steal streak although he has stolen seventeen in his last ten games. His manager in Pensacola is former M’s skipper Jim Riggleman.

If you take stealing home out of the mix, Hamilton has a chance to steal two bases every time he reaches first base. If he doubles then he only has once chance to steal a base. If he triples or homers then he has no chance at all. This year Hamilton has 106 singles, 20 doubles, 13 triples, 2 homers, 73 bases on balls and 2 HBP. Running the numbers, he has theoretically had 382 opportunities to steal a base. He has actually stolen 139 which means he has roughly taken an amazing 36% of the bases possible.

It is going to be very interesting to see if Hamilton is signaling a return to giant individual stolen base numbers. Take a look where the 21 base stealers who nabbed 100 or more in a season fall according to decade:

1880’s- 9
1980’s- 6
1890’s- 4
1970’s- 1
1960’s- 1

Vince Coleman was the last one to reach 100 when he swiped 107 in 1986. In 1980, ten different players stole at least 50 bases. In 1985 and 1987 there were eight players who reached 50. Only three have reached 50 this entire decade. Gone are the days where Tim Raines, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith and Rickey Henderson burned-up the base paths. In fact, there is only one active player in Top-50 of all time stolen base leaders (Juan Pierre 582 21st). Perhaps Billy Hamilton is helping to return the art of the stolen base.

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Billy Hamilton and Billy Hamilton