Billy "The Slid" Hamilton AKA "Mr. Excitement" is up to his old tricks again, making pitchers sweat bullets and creating havoc with his wonder wheels as a second-year leadoff hitter for the Cincinnati Reds, who have an early lead in the National League Central -- probably baseball's toughest division.
I was one of the baseball heads who introduced Hamilton and his Rickey Henderson-esque stolen base prowess in one of the first pieces I ever wrote for The Shadow League back in September of 2012 ( "Billy Hamilton Is Keepin' it 100"). Last season, the Reds still had the training wheels on Billy, who flashed us glimpses of his free-wheeling, fast functioning baseball future. He finished second to Dee Gordon in steals with 56. Gordon had 64 swipes, but he also exceeded expectations by hitting a solid .289. I don't see him doing numbers much higher than that in the future. Hamilton's 56 steals is light work and he's still just a .250 hitter at this infant stage in his career. This season Hamilton seems to have the green light and already leads MLB with 7 steals in six games. He even had his first homer of the season in a 7-5 loss to St. Louis on Sunday. Triple digit steals is considered a thing of the past, but Hamilton is the one to bring it back like the Afro.
When Hamilton was a Cincinnati Reds prospect, he literally stole baseball’s spotlight, swiping an eye-popping 155 bases and smashing former St. Louis Cardinals burner Vince Coleman’s 1983 minor league record of 145. Hamilton has the rare combination of speed and flair that Rickey Henderson displayed while stealing a record 130 bases for the Oakland A’s in 1982. He's today's Lou Brock or Maury Wills. As certain greedy and insanely idiotic MLB players continue to get caught for PEDs and the remaining drug abusers in baseball are slowly eliminated, runs are down across baseball and points manufacturers like Hamilton are experiencing a rebirth.
Look at baseball's steroids era like an invading evil empire which mesmerized the fans, compromised MLB leadership and overthrew the small-ball kingdom where stolen bases shared a regal spotlight with home runs to a large extent. Now, with cats like Hamilton re-establishing the steal, we can revel in its rough, graceful, demoralizing and risky beauty. The old kingdom has risen again and Hamilton is King. Today's sabermetrics maniacs tend to dismiss the stolen base as a consistent and reliable offensive weapon. However, it is the only skill that doesn't rely on the failure of any other position. Just the success of the badass attempting to sh*t on the law of averages.
Aggressive hitters have to rely on weak pitchers to get off. Patient hitters rely on tight umpire strike zones to frustrate a pitcher into grooving one. Sluggers make outs more often than contact. Great fielders are at the mercy of the baseball’s bounce. When managers need to get something poppin’, that speed becomes a Viagra pill for impotent offensive mojos. Stolen bases make and break seasons, turn pitchers into goats and give opposing coaches heartburn. Guys like Hamilton, remind you why stolen bases rock.
The great bodybag swipers like Billy Hamilton can just mash up a game and wreck a pitcher with speedy, controlled chaos. When he's on the base paths only then do you understand the intricate and skillful beauty in the classic cat and mouse games between pitcher, catcher, runner and coach. When he's not swiping bags Hamilton is liable to go three on a slice into the corner or beat out a routine grounder and make every infielder look like pee wee leaguers.
As the year progresses and his bat game heats up, expect him to run away with the stolen base title and continue to do so for years to come.