Run Billy Run (Photo: Jeff Swinger/Cincinnati Enquirer)

Think about this for a second.

The Reds played a crucial baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals last night. Only one run was scored and it was by Billy Hamilton.

As most every Reds’ fan knows by now, Billy Hamilton is one of the top prospects in the Reds’ organization. He was converted from shortstop to center field with the thought that he would take over there as early as 2014. Hamilton has set the all-time minor league record for stolen bases in a season. He was called up on Monday when rosters were allowed to expand. Last night was the first time Billy Hamilton had appeared in a major league game.

As Ryan Ludwick’s leadoff single landed softly in center field in the bottom of the seventh last night, Billy Hamilton’s name crossed my mind. I said it aloud to no one but myself. So when he appeared from the dugout about a hundred feet front of me, I wasn’t caught by surprise. Still, it was a little breathtaking.

The Cardinals pitching coach visited the mound after Ludwick’s single, so Hamilton had a moment at first base to stretch. It looked like he asked the first base umpire if he could run up and down the line a bit during this time out.

When the fans across GABP realized what was happening they began to rise to their feet. When Hamilton’s name was announced as a pinch runner, the standing ovation became complete. Amazingly, the fans, at least the ones around me, didn’t sit down when the game resumed.

They remained standing to witness a pinch runner attempt a stolen base. Everyone in the park, including and especially the Cardinals, knew what was coming. After Seth Maness attempted a few pick-off attempts (only the first was close), Hamilton took off and successfully stole second base. It was on the first pitch of his major league career.

A group of maybe a dozen fans sitting in the right field bleachers held up large signs that together formed the words “Run Billy Run.”

Maybe aided by the distraction provided by the base runner dancing around second base, Todd Frazier delivered a sharp double down the left field line and Billy Hamilton scored the game’s only run — easily. Like everyone else, I suppose, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Even though he slowed down once it was apparent there would be no play at the plate, you could tell he was super-fast.

[Full disclosure, and not to be my own buzz kill, but I’m on record as being skeptical of the net value that players like Hamilton add to a major league club. No power. Average fielder. Unproven-to-mediocre OBP skills. Only a tiny number of players matching that description (maybe Vince Coleman and that’s it) have provided substantial net value over a career. I’ll take a guy like Shin-Soo Choo, who will hit 20 home runs a year and get on base at a .380+ clip each and every time over a player who may not hit a home run but can steal a truckload or two of bases. Willy Taveras. The old-school guys love speedy players who “create havoc” when they get on base. I’m just not a fan of those one-dimensional players.]

My usher, who has worked for the Reds for over 30 years (he has the second-most seniority as an usher), commented that it would have been more exciting if Hamilton had been forced to score from first. And he was certainly right.

Still, there was something deeply satisfying about the notion that Hamilton could enter the game with a single, obvious purpose and accomplish it. Against the St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina, the best defensive catcher of our generation.

There are two things I really love about this 90-second video that covers the Billy Hamilton Moment.

The first is that it starts with Ludwick’s hit that set-up Hamilton’s pinch-running cameo and also includes Frazier’s double that plated the run.

My second favorite part occurs at the 49-second mark, where Molina cracks a broad smile as he puts on his catching mask.

30 Responses

  1. RedZeppelin

    What impressed me most about that moment is how confident and calm Hamilton looked on first base. Of course his insides could have been a mess but it certainly didn’t show. And after his steal he looked like he’d done that in the majors a hundred times.

  2. Matt WI

    My first look at the swipe. Nice. Certainly not Molina’s best effort, but maybe his desire to peg him goaded him into the overthrow a bit.

    • prjeter

      @Matt WI: I think this is exactly right. When a catcher knows a runner is going and that runner is quite fast, I will bet they can, at times, subconsciously rush their throws.

      I’d bet we’ll see a lot more throws like that one on BH steals than perfectly placed throws.

  3. beens999

    Is Hamilton eligible for placement on the Playoff roster?

      • Shchi Cossack

        @Steve Mancuso: Since BHam was not on the 25 man roster any time prior to September 1st, I believe Hamilton can only be added to the post season roster as an injury replacement. Of course the Reds have plenty of injuries to use for such a replacement.

    • Johnu1

      @beens999: I don’t get to choose but I think it should depend on the health of the bullpen if you wanted to add a specialty runner. As it stands, I’d leave Ondrusek off but if Cueto comes back and pitches, then the bullpen changes a little. As it stands, the question I’d have is whether a specialty runner is more useful than a situational relief pitcher. Tough call. Depends on how post-season schedules shake out.

      If Cueto is back and can pitch, I’d assume Cingrani goes to the bullpen.

      I think Hamilton on the p.s. roster is a no-brainer, the way this team does (not) scores runs.

  4. CharlotteNCRedsFan

    Man, that was something. On the TV broadcast, they panned back to dugout a few moments later and my God that team was giddy. Haven’t seen anything like that in a long time. They we acting like Little Leaguers and for a moment, I felt like a kid again too.

    For now on in one run games from say the 7th inning on, the Reds have quite a weapon. Go Billy Go!!

    • prjeter

      @CharlotteNCRedsFan: My favorite part of the clip is Frazier being so pumped at 2nd base. Even with all his struggles, there’s no doubt Todd wants badly to produce and contribute. That sort of drive is what causes players to get better (I hope).

      Man, some people want their two front teeth for Christmas… I want Billy to be at least 90% of the player Kenny Lofton was at the plate, which would put him around .270/.335/.420. With those numbers, adequate defense, and 75-90 steals a years, he could be a 5 WAR player in CF.

      • prjeter

        @prjeter: So, turns out Lofton was a 65 WAR player for his career. That’s borderline hall-of-fame. Yes, I’ll take 90% of that from Billy Hamilton, thank you very much.

      • Steve Mancuso

        @prjeter: Lofton hit 130 home runs. I bet Billy Hamilton doesn’t hit 10% of that. Lofton also won four gold gloves and a quarter of his WAR was from defense. We can hope BH develops into that, but you certainly can’t put him in that category right now.

      • prjeter

        @Steve Mancuso: Absolutely true. I didn’t have time at work to break down the WAR components. Although, the OP stated I thought he might be a 5 WAR player if his batting line was 90% of Lofton’s career line when added to average defense and 85-90 SB. The SB would eclipse Lofton, having only stolen 70 or more bases twice.

        Although, expecting 85-90 SB is probably a pipe dream, too, unless he can get on base at a .360+ clip. Good call on the homers. I didn’t realize how many Lofton had hit.

      • Steve Mancuso

        @prjeter: Given that the organization seems determined to put him out in CF and at the top of the lineup so he can create havoc, I hope Hamilton turns into Kenny Lofton or some close approximation. It’s just that the odds are so stacked against that. If his defense really has improved (see comments below) to the point of being excellent, that’s a big step. If he learns some plate discipline and takes walks — see SS Choo — that would also help a lot. I don’t trust any young players not named Votto to break free from the gravitational pull of Dusty Baker’s hack-first approach, though.

      • Steve Mancuso

        @StealYourBase: Not sure I trust that. Never had more than two/year before 2013. Maybe he’ll keep developing but he also has to move up and face major league pitching. Some minor leaguers never get past that step. Lofton had several years with more than 10 homers. He also played for 17 years, which is extremely unusual and you can’t predict Hamilton can have anywhere near that long of a career.

  5. RedinTenn

    Steve, thanks for giving this topic its own special post. Last night was kind of a “perfect storm” of events coming together — Homer.. plus Ludwick.. plus Billy.. plus SuperTodd.. plus Chapman — not the big-name stars, but guys who have worked hard and have survived despite a variety of challenges. I’d even add Mat Latos, who sure made it out to the mound quickly to congratulate the Missile – and not because his win had been preserved. All around, a FUN turn of events. And happening at the expense of the wlb’s adds the icing to the cake. 🙂

    • Steve Mancuso

      @RedinTenn: Agreed. A lot to write about. I wanted to write a separate post on Homer Bailey’s two back-to-back starts vs. St. Louis but ended up just posting a longish-comment in the recap thread.

      • pinson343

        @Steve Mancuso: Great post. I also enjoyed your longish Homer Bailey comment on the recap thread last nite. Hope you had time to read my reply.

      • Steve Mancuso

        @pinson343: Of course. I make it a point to read your comments. Agree that Bailey and Latos have shown growth in their mental approach. I attribute that to their maturity but also to Bryan Price. While I’ve never been around to witness it myself, I’ve heard Brantley discuss Price in enough detail to get that he’s special in the way he continues to challenge the pitchers to improve. I strongly believe in that as a coaching philosophy. Players get better as they gain experience, but the ones who really excel are the ones who push themselves to address their weaknesses and work on them. It usually takes a coach/mentor for competitors to achieve that second phase.

  6. CharlotteNCRedsFan

    Just saw the Billy interview on Get ready Cincinnati to fall in love. I’m proud to be an initial member of the Billy Hamilton Fan Club!

  7. Johnu1

    What little I saw of Hamilton was that he intimidates defenses. The throws to first are frequent and the odds of a bad throw increase with repetition. Catchers set up for throws they might not ever get to make. Infielders are always chugging toward the middle. It opens holes. If there’s anybody on third base, it’s even trickier. He is definitely a factor on the bases, at least what I saw of him in the minors, both at Dayton and on webcasts.

  8. Liptonian

    I totally agree that Molina’s smile the best part of that video. It was almost as if he was thinking “oh crap that kid is fast”.

  9. pinson343

    In his interview with mlbnetwork yesterday, WJ said quite a bit about Hamilton’s CF defense. Hamilton has made very quick progress for a converted IFer. WJ claimed that the consensus among the managers of the International League was that Hamilton was the best defensive CFer in the league in 2013.

    WJ also said Hamilton will see time in CF with the Reds this month.

  10. Carlos Danger

    How great was that great big ol’ grin on Molina’s face?! He blew the throw and he knew it. I’m not a Cards fan by any stretch, but really enjoy seeing Molina play.

  11. Chris DeBlois

    I know Billy Hamilton struggled at the plate early this year in AAA and improved later in the year, and I know what the overall numbers added up to. Can anyone provide a slash line comparison for, say, April and May vs. for the remainder of the year? Based on what he did at AA last year, I’m not sure it’s overly optimistic to think he may get on base at a .340 to .360 clip in the majors – once he gets a chance to adapt to the better quality of pitching. I’m interested to see how his improvement over the course of this year at Louisville might confirm that possibility (or refute it).

  12. CI3J

    Billy Hamilton is 22 years old. He could still develop tons of power, for all we know, and become Rickey Henderson 2.0.

    It is way WAY too early to judge what kind of value he is going to bring over his career. We don’t even know what he will be 5 years from now. All we know at this point is: He is one of if not THE fastest player in all of MLB.

    When your starting point is being the best at one of the 5 tools at age 22, I think you’re already doing pretty good.