Reds star Billy Hamilton has an incredible 19th century doppelganger

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It could be that this is what people mean when they talk about history repeating itself. Billy Hamilton, the center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds who specializes in stealing bases, is the second coming of a Major League player named Billy Hamilton who specialized in stealing bases.

Fooling all of the pitchers and all of the catchers almost all of the time takes a special knack. The current Billy Hamilton, 24, is 6 feet tall and weighs 160 pounds and would look pretty good wearing a USA track uniform coming out of the starting blocks. As his first full season in the majors winds down after a cameo in 2013, Hamilton has 56 stolen bases.

He has been a bright spot in a surprisingly dismal Reds season, although he is definitely not a finished product. What has been impressive is how Hamilton has transferred his base-stealing capability from the minors to the majors.

Minor League Wonder

In 2011, Hamilton thrust himself onto the sport’s radar by stealing 103 bases in the low minors. He was not yet a ready-for-prime-time player so Hamilton spent the 2012 season in the minors, too. His wicked fast feet carried him to an all-time record 155 stolen bases for a single year.

In 2013, at AAA Louisville, Hamilton stole 75 bases before a September call-up to the Reds. His first big-league action was as a pinch runner and sure enough he stole a base.

Billy the Original

The other Billy Hamilton was far from an obscure player, though his accomplishments do not roll off the tongue quite so easily unless a fan is a student of the game. That is because the first Billy Hamilton era ended in 1901 when he retired from the Boston Beaneaters. Hamilton passed away in 1940.

A star of his time with the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association in the late 1880s when that organization was a major league, Hamilton, whose nickname was “Sliding,” stole 937 bases in his career.

He always slid head first and lived to tell about it. Hamilton led the National League in steals five times, in runs scored four times, in walks five times, and won two batting titles en route to a .344 lifetime average. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961. Top that, Billy Hamilton II.

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Broken Record

At 5-6 and 165 pounds, the first Billy Hamilton was no giant. But he was as full of confidence as any bold base-stealer ever was, firmly proclaiming himself the “best of all times” at committing on-field theft. He made that comment before Rickey Henderson came along and swiped 1,406 bases, putting the career mark out of sight, and before Lou Brock stole 938 bases.

Hamilton’s almost-contemporary, Ty Cobb, over in the American League, stole 892. Some 20-20 research hindsight has tampered with Hamilton’s lifetime total and some say it is really only 912. Either way, 937 or 912, Hamilton the Elder remains third on the all-time Major League steals list.

Young Billy Hamilton is just getting comfortable playing for the Reds. He will end his first full season batting in the mid-.250s. And with a week to go in the season his on-base percentage was a smidgeon under .300.

There is much room for improvement in both of those categories and swatting more hits and reaching base more often will only provide Billy Hamilton II with more opportunities to steal more bases.

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Cincinnati Reds
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