Run Billy Run: The Reds X-Factor


Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

While it may not be as illustrious as other single-season accomplishments, swiping over 100 bases is undoubtedly a major achievement.

Billy Hamilton has been here before.  Not only the Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton–who shattered the record for steals in a single campaign in 2012 by stealing 155 bases–but the other Billy Hamilton as well. 

As reader Jason Titus (@jstitus74) points out, history does in fact repeat itself.  Back before any of us were an inclination in our family’s bloodlines, “Sliding Billy” Hamilton was tearing apart the National League.  Surprisingly, he was even shorter in stature than his modern-day namesake, as Hamilton checked in at 5’6” and a slight 165 pounds. 

On four separate occasions, he stole over 100 bases for the year.  Curiously, caught stealing’s were not kept track off–if that is any inclination of the accuracy of these stats.  Racking up 914 stolen bases for his career, the elder Hamilton has a comfortable lead over the young Mississippian who is attempting to prove his worth. 

As quick as the living version of Hamilton is, he may never be able to replicate the deceased’s offensive production with the bat.  Batting .344 for his career with an astronomical on-base percentage of .455, the Reds can only hope for their centerfielder to perform mildly as well.  Of course, there is no direct correlation between the two players’ performances.  Just because ol’ Sliding Billy was a revolutionary, does not exactly qualify Billy the Kid as a Hall of Famer.

One of the oldest axioms in baseball is that you cannot steal first base.  Sure, it’s true, but Billy will be damned if he won’t try.  Zac Snyder (@ZacSnyder) points out that he “won’t, because he can’t steal first base.”  Try as anyone might, no one can actually steal first base.  The game of baseball does literally not give a stolen base in any way for reaching first base, so it’s not as if it would count in his total. 

What does all this gibberish about stolen bases mean anyways?  There is no direct linear equation that shows that having an elite base-stealer is going to increase your chances of reaching the Postseason.  To quantify that, let’s look at the eight men who have stolen over 100 bases in a season since the turn of the 20th century:

1962 – Maury Wills (102 stolen bases) – Team Record: 102-63 (missed the Postseason on a tiebreaker)

1974 – Lou Brock (118 stolen bases) – Team Record: 86-75 (missed the Postseason)

1980 – Rickey Henderson (100 stolen bases) – Team Record: 83-79 (missed the Postseason)

1982 – Rickey Henderson (130 stolen bases) – Team Record: 68-94 (obviously, missed the Postseason)

1983 – Rickey Henderson (108 stolen bases) – Team Record: 74-88 (missed the Postseason)

1985 – Vince Coleman (110 stolen bases) – Team Record: 101-61 (lost in the World Series)

1986 – Vince Coleman (107 stolen bases) – Team Record: 79-82 (missed the Postseason)

1987 – Vince Coleman (109 stolen bases) – Team Record: 95-67 (lost in the World Series)

As history shows, having an elite base stealer does not always equate to having an elite team.  In the case of Vince Coleman, the mid-1980s St. Louis Cardinals are known as the fastest team to ever lace up cleats with speedsters such as Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith and Tom Herr joining the already potent Coleman. 

The stolen base is without question a phenomenon.  A question many fans should ask themselves is—would you rather have Billy Hamilton steal 75 bases and the club win 95 games; or have Hamilton steal 95 bases and the club win 75 games, because in actuality, both are realistic outcomes.  Any rational fan would side with the benefit of the team over one individual player, no matter how enamored we are with his game-changing speed. 

Love the concept of the stolen base or not, but the Reds success in 2014 hangs in the balance on the feet of Billy Hamilton.  Should he become the most dynamic speedster in the last quarter of a century, the Reds may just ride his feet that seemingly never touch the ground.