One of the more interesting ballplayers to come along in recent years is young Billy Hamilton, outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. It’s not yet certain that he will reach base often enough to remain an every day player but, as Reggie Jackson once said about Rickey Henderson, Hamilton is a fast enough runner that, “…he could RUN .260.” Hamilton batted .250 in 2014, his first full season, and through his first 21 games in 2015 was batting .204 with a lowly on base percentage of .260. It is his ability to steal bases that excites Cincinnati fans, however, and he is also an excellent defensive asset. Hamilton has 13 stolen bags in 14 attempts so far this season after 56 steals and 23 caught stealing attempts last year. The native of Collins Mississippi will turn 25 years old on September 9.
Some of us are too young to remember another Billy Hamilton—“Sliding Billy” Hamilton, who played from 1888 to 1901 for Kansas City of the American Association and Philadelphia and Boston in the National League. This Newark, New Jersey native had a career batting average of .344 and was credited with 937 stolen bases in an era when that aspect of the game was emphasized a bit more than it is these days. Sliding Billy also cracked 40 home runs in his career, a pretty hefty total in the pre-Babe Ruth or so called dead ball era. Ty Cobb, the most famous base stealer in history prior to the arrival of Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson, totaled 892 steals in his career. So it was Sliding Billy Hamilton’s record that Brock surpassed with his 938 prior to Henderson zooming past everybody with his 1,406.
Here’s hoping that today’s Billy Hamilton sticks around long enough to accumulate at least half the numbers that his namesake from over a century ago accomplished. He is fun to watch, unless you’re in the opposing team’s dugout.
Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners has 13 home runs in his first 25 games of 2015. Followers of this space may recall that, in my preseason prognostications I wrote that he would not, as he did for Baltimore last season, hit 40 home runs for the Mariners. He is currently on pace to hit 81 this season. That is NOT 40.
San Francisco Giants fans have pretty much enjoyed themselves the past few seasons but an ongoing issue that keeps many of them in a state of confusion is the decline in performance of their one time ace and Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Little Timmy gets talked about a lot in the Bay Area. Is his hair long or short? Is his fastball fast or slow? Who is his favorite catcher? Is he any catcher’s favorite pitcher with his unpredictable command and wild pitches? Something that doesn’t seem to get talked about like his mechanics, velocity, and choice of recreational drugs is his inability to hold runners at first base. The guy has as much trouble holding runners on as Dick Cheney has telling the truth. Throw in his propensity for wild pitches and you have the hurling opposite of a guy like Tim Hudson, who gets a lot of double play ground balls. Now that home runs are not flying out of major league parks as they did in the recent past when balding incredible hulks dominated, it is a big deal to have a pitcher issue a walk when you are sure that a walk is as good as a double. Some guys are slow to the plate and some guys have lousy pick off moves, but then there is Timmy, who seems to forget that the runner exists. You would think that a young man capable of earning a gazillion bucks would have this brought to his attention but so far it’s all about his stuff and mechanics. My theory is that many young pitchers are so dominant in high school, college, or the minor leagues that they don’t have to care about base runners and that scouts are so busy checking velocity or “stuff” that things like fielding the position and checking runners get overlooked. That can be the difference between winning lots of games, which Lincecum used to do, and being a mediocre journeyman, which is what he has become.
Peckerhead. That has long been my nickname for Pete Rose, whose banishment from baseball is possibly going to be reconsidered now that the old Chevy salesman retired from the commissioner’s office. My disdain for Mr. Rose goes back farther than the did he or did he not gamble on baseball stuff. First, I thought he became a media and fan favorite due to racism, in that in the sixties and early seventies the major leagues were dominated by so many great black stars that there was a need for a redneck favorite that “Charlie Hustle” filled. Then, when he took out Ray Fosse in an exhibition game and not only was unapologetic but also showered with praise for doing so, he symbolized to me the decline and fall of the empire. He was a very good player at first but as time wore on he became an ugly self promoter who kept suiting up just to go for his hits record. However, I must be mellowing with age, both his and mine. He should be allowed back, just not in any sort of management or executive position, and he should go to the Hall of Fame as well. To the new wing of the Hall, along with his idol Ty Cobb and a few others, the Flying Asshole Section.