|* Hall of Fame
Kansas City Cowboys 1888-89
Philadelphia Phillies 1890-95
Boston Beaneaters 1896-1901
"Sliding" Billy Hamilton was the game's first great lead off hitter and the best player of the 1890s. In fact,
few players in history can boast a resume as accomplished as Hamilton's. His .344 career average ranks sixth all time, his
912 steals are third, and he remains the only man to score more runs (1690) than games played (1591).
Hamilton's big league career began in 1888 with the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association. After playing 35
games that season, the 5-6, 165 pound Hamilton became a regular in 1889 and hit .301 with 111 steals and 144 runs.
Following that season, the Cowboys disbanded and Hamilton's rights
were sold to the National League's Philadelphia Phillies. In Philadelphia, Hamilton was part of possibly the greatest
outfield trio of all time. Flanked by future Hall of Fame sluggers Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson, Hamilton roamed
center field and acted as a table setter for the one of the greatest hitting teams in history.
With Hamilton, Delahanty, and
Thompson leading the way, the Phillies hit .301, .349, and .330 as a team from 1893-95. Much like the modern day Texas
Rangers the team lacked the consistent pitching needed to win big and never finished higher than third.
In 1890, Hamilton's first season in Philly, he hit .325, scored 133 runs, and stole 102 bases. He followed that
season up with his third straight 100 + steal (111) season in 1891. Although his steals total dipped to 57 in 1892,
Hamilton posted a .330 average and tallied a132 runs. Because of a bout with typhoid fever, he played in just 82 games
in 1893. Remarkably, Hamilton still managed to score 110 runs and hit .380.
Already an established star,
Hamilton's 1894 season etched his place in history. The diminutive center fielder stole a single game record seven bases on
August 31, went on a 36 game hitting streak, scored a single season record 192 runs, smacked out 220 hits, reached base at
a .523 clip, hit .404, and stole 98 bases during that magical season.
Following another stellar season in 1895
(.389, 166 runs, 97 steals), Hamilton was dealt to the Boston Beaneaters (later the Braves) for 3B Billy Nash. Hamilton
didn't miss a beat in Boston, injecting life into the Beaneaters and wreaking havoc on the base paths.
1897, Boston had zoomed past Philadelphia in the standings on their way to the NL Pennant. Following that season leg
injuries began to take their toll on the speedster and his steals totals became more pedestrian: 50, 33, and 47 from 1898-1900.
Hamilton's bat remained effective, however, as he never hit lower than .310 during that span.
In 1901, Hamiltons average dropped below .300 (.287) for the first time since his
rookie season and he stole just 20 bases. Following that campaign, Hamilton retired gracefully and remained in Massachusetts
until his death in 1940.
Unfortunately, the advent of the long ball era obscured Hamilton's career and he went unnoticed
by Hall of Fame voters for years. Finally in 1961, over 20 years after his death, Hamilton gained his rightful place
in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hamilton @ Baseball-Reference.com
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