Teams: Kansas City Cowboys, 1888-1889; Philadelphia Phillies, 1890-1895; Boston Beaneaters, 1896-1901
"Sliding Billy" Hamilton was the most
prolific base-stealer of his time.
Inordinately small as a boy, chunky, and equipped with heavy legs, Billy Hamilton seemed to have little future in baseball. If he had any hope at all, it would appear to have been as a catcher.
As it turned out, Hamilton became the speediest center fielder and most prolific base thief of his time. Moreover, he scored 1,692 runs in 1,593 games to become one of only two players in major-league history to average more than a run per game (Harry Stovey, the old American Association slugging and basestealing star, is the other).
Born in Newark, New Jersey, William Robert Hamilton (1866-1940) broke into baseball with Worcester in the New England League in 1888 -- and was in the majors with Kansas City of the American Association by the end of the season. When the Cowboys folded after the 1889 campaign, Hamilton joined the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League.
During the six seasons he spent with the Phils, Sliding Billy twice topped the circuit in batting and set a post-1893 club record for stolen bases, swiping 98 sacks in 1894 -- a season in which he tallied an all-time-record 192 runs. Hamilton was part of the Phillies’ all-.400-hitting outfield that year (Hamilton in center, Ed Delahanty in left, and Sam Thompson in right).
After the 1895 season, Hamilton was traded to the Boston Beaneaters for third baseman Billy Nash -- a deal that amounted to highway robbery, as Nash was through as a regular player while Hamilton was just reaching his peak. With Boston, Hamilton played on pennant winners in 1897 and 1898, but was limited to 110 games in the latter campaign by a knee injury.
An outstanding leadoff man, Hamilton continued to compile large walk totals and on-base percentages -- he topped the National League in on-base percentage six times -- but suffered defensively and as a basestealer when he sustained another leg injury in 1899.
After rebounding in 1900 to lead the senior circuit in on-base percentage one last time, Sliding Billy played just one more season in the majors. He then began a long career as a player-manager in the New England and Tri-State Leagues. He led the former loop in batting three times, the last in 1909 at age 43.
Because of judicious real estate investments, Hamilton lived comfortably after he left baseball. Despite his exceptional run and stolen base totals and his .344 career batting average, Hamilton was not selected for the Hall of Fame until 1961.
Here are Billy Hamilton's major league totals:
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