The Legend of Billy Hamilton: Reds’ Speedster Breaks the Minors Single Season Stolen Bases Record
Tuesday August 21st, 2012
Robert Whitmer: Let’s talk about the year 1865. The Civil War was winding up and the country was in ruin. This is the same year that President Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth and The Salvation Army is founded. Computers, cell phones, and even the automobile had yet to be invented. The steam engine for boats was in its infancy. Across the pond in Britain the world’s first speed limit is introduced limiting horse-drawn carriages to a blistering 2 mph in the city limits and a deadly 4 mph outside the city. This is also the year that the stolen base was recorded for the first time in baseball. In 1865 the Philadelphia Keystones had a player by the name of Ned Cuthbert. Now good ol’ Ned had an idea of running to the next base while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch the ball. Like Edison and Bell, I’m sure people called him crazy when he came up with the idea but he did it anyways. Thus we have record of the first stolen base in baseball history.
The official rules that govern baseball gives credit for a stolen base “to a runner whenever he advances one base unaided by a base hit, a put out, a force out, a fielder’s choice, a passed ball, a wild pitch, or a balk.” As you can probably guess though, the rules regarding stolen bases have gone through many changes. In 1887, the first rules for stolen bases read as the following: “…every base made after first base has been reached by a base runner, except for those made by reason of or with the aid of a battery error (wild pitch or passed ball), or by batting, balks or by being forced off. In short, shall include all bases made by a clean steal, or through a wild throw or muff of the ball by a fielder who is directly trying to put the base runner out while attempting to steal.” Wait…. Muff? I suppose they understood what that meant in 1887. Between 1887 and the final revision, the rule makers addressed the scoring rules in regards to double and triple steal attempts (1910) and defensive indifference (1920).
What does it take to steal a base? Most people think that all you must have blindingly fast speed, but that’s not all that is required. It takes intelligence, timing, and speed. Let’s discuss those three things for a minute. Intelligence is important in base stealing because you have to be able to read the pitcher and the defense. If you can read the pitcher and the defense you have a head start already because knowing how long it takes the pitcher to get to the plate and how quick the catcher releases the ball gives you the window if time to get from first to second. The last element is speed. Speed is pretty much a necessity because of the small window time that a player has to not only make up his mind that he is going to steal but to make that 90 foot run to the next base. There have been some players in the history of the game that have had success in the steals department. These players possess all three of these qualities intelligence, timing, and speed.
Rickey Henderson was the most prolific base stealer in the history of the majors. He not only holds the single season steals record (130) that has stood for 20 years but he also holds the career stolen base record (1406). This man was labeled by one scout as “impossible to throw out.” The scout literally timed the average time for Rickey to go from first to second (2.9 seconds) and the time for the fastest pitcher and catcher combination to pitch the ball, catch it, release to second base, and finally apply the tag (3 seconds). The numbers make him impossible to catch. He doesn’t hold one record when it comes to stolen bases however. He doesn’t hold the record for steals in a single season in the Minor Leagues (the most bags that he stole in one season was 95 in 1977).
Vince Coleman could have been the man who broke the single season and career steals record for the majors but he had some incidents that distracted him from being a valuable contributor for any franchise. He did, however, hold the record for steals in a season in the minor leagues. This guy was fast and he knew it. He was able to swipe 145 bases in 113 games in the 1983 season at the single-A level. That is an average of 1.3 stolen bases per game. If you look at his averages, he had about a .5 (1/2) steals per game average. Rickey Henderson averaged .46 (point 46) steals per game in his time in the majors. Like I said though, he got distracted. You see, Vince liked to goof around. He was suspended for over half a season after getting in a physical fight with his manager, he injured Dwight Gooden while recklessly swinging a golf club in the clubhouse, and finally he was arrested for endangerment after throwing a lit firecracker into a group of autograph seekers injuring 3 which included a two-year old girl. Vince liked to goof around, and it was his own undoing that cost him his true shot at greatness.
In 1990, 7 years after Vince Coleman’s record-setting season in the minors, a baby was born. This child would grow up and become a shortstop in the game of baseball. He would go on to attend Taylorsville High School in Mississippi and play baseball there. In 2009 he would be drafted in the 2nd round of the amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds and in 2011 he would steal 103 bases becoming the first player since 2001 to steal over 100 bases. Now in 2012, Billy Hamilton is officially the record holder for most steals at any level of professional baseball. 146 and counting…with 13 games still to go in the season. He broke the almost 30 year total held by Vince Coleman and just like Vince, Billy is fast.
Here at the Reports, we would like to believe that Billy Hamilton and Willie Mays Hayes of the Major League movie franchise track their steals in the same way. There was a night not long ago where I was laying in bed on my twitter account talking with the fans of mlbreports.com. We were discussing Billy Hamilton and the movie Major League. We wondered if Billy was hanging up batting gloves in his place of residence the same way that Willie Mays Hayes did in the movie. Billy, if you are reading this, let us know if that is the case, OK? If there is one thing that we do know about him, it is that he wants to succeed. With the constant speculation of when he will be called up to the big leagues running rampant, I, for one, say to let him be. Don’t rush the kid. He is still young (21) and has plenty left in the tank. I can understand a mid-season call up NEXT YEAR. Let the man enjoy the rush of breaking a 30-year-old record and go home to his family before you put him in the middle of the media storm that is major league baseball.
Before we are done here, let’s play a little game to finish. Let’s play “what if.” Let us assume that Billy does get a mid-season call up next year and plays exactly half a season. That’s 81 games that he would have to start his tear on the major league steal records of Rickey Henderson. I like to look at the numbers- so let’s go. I understand that it is a small sample size, but Hamilton is averaging .84 (point 84) steals per game in the minor leagues. We would expect that average to drop once he hits the majors with the improved defense, so we will take it down to .65 (point 65) steals per game. At that rate it would take Billy roughly 2163 games to break the career record for steals. With an average of 150 games per season Hamilton would break Henderson’s record halfway through the 2029 season. That sounds like a long way off, but that’s about a 14 and a half-year career. If he maintains even a .80 (point 80) steals per game average, we are looking at the end of the 2020 season when the record is broken. This pace is what he must also maintain if he wants to have a shot at the single season MLB stolen bases record (130) that Henderson set. Remember people, he is only 21! So watch out Rickey because Billy already caught Vince. He is coming for you next!
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
***Today’s feature was prepared by Robert Whitmer, MLB reports Baseball Writer. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Robert on Twitter (@rwhitmer)***
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Posted on August 21, 2012, in On the Verge: MLB Prospects and tagged all time stolen bases king, bakersfield, BIlly Hamilton, cincinnati reds, milb, minors, mlb, pensacola, prospect, rickey henderson, sb, stolen bases, vince coleman. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.