I’m a big fan of Billy Hamilton. I’m a Phil Ervin guy, but honestly, Billy came first. Today’s baseball is a game ran by numbers. Statistics back up front office decisions to save payroll and to make winning games more cost effective. Billy is likely to be a casualty of analytics and that’s a total bummer.
You don’t have to dig deep into the statistics to know Hamilton is in trouble. His career batting average is .245 and he’s gotten on base less than 30 percent of the time (.298). He will still go down as one of my favorite Reds that I’ve ever watched. I first saw Billy when he was playing for Double-A Pensacola in 2012 (the team’s first year). I lived in Huntsville, Alabama and the Brewers double-a team resided there (the Huntsville Stars). Scooter Gennett played for the Stars, so I can call total hipster and say “I saw them before they were cool.”
Interestingly enough, Billy was still playing second base back then. He just got promoted from High-A Bakersfield after batting .323 and stealing 104 bases in 84 games, and was already lauded as the Reds lead-off hitter of the future. Another fun fact – Jim Riggelman was the manager of the Blue Wahoos in 2012. Cool Papa Bill was showing off his wheels in the five games the Blue Wahoos played at the Stars’ Joe Davis Stadium. I saw him do something I will never forget.
Billy, batting from the right-hand batter’s box, hit a soft, but not necessarily slow, ground ball to the second baseman, Gennett. Scooter, unfamiliar with the young Mississippian, fielded the ball fundamentally. As he transferred the ball from his glove to his throwing hand, Billy crossed first base safely. The man, the myth, the legend beat out a ground ball to the second baseman. Suffice it to say, Billy didn’t stop impressing me. I got to see all five games he played in Huntsville (tickets were $5). Those five games began a fandom that has not stopped. Sadly, logically, Billy will go down as one of the Reds all-time what-could-have-beens.
The Reds future lead-off hitter extraordinaire, the man who was supposed to steal 100 bases on the regular, maybe that guy is still in there, somewhere. He was runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 (he lost to Jacob DeGrom). Remember that? Runner up! He hit .250, with a .292 OBP, but stole 56 bases and scored 72 runs. Kind of a microcosm of Hamilton – a player that numbers will never fully explain. I was reminded of my inability to be objective about Billy when all this talk of trading him started up this last offseason, and continued through this year’s deadline (I’m happy he remains a Red). People stated he should be a late-game defensive sub and pinch runner. Sure, that would make logical sense, but as an irrational, blinded fan, I would miss the long-running, diving catches, the scoring from first on a bloop single, or what he did on August 10th.
That’s vintage Cool Papa Bill. Nobody, but Billy, pulls that off, and that’s a scientific fact. So to wrap this biased, gushing piece up, sure, make Billy a super sub. Bring him off the bench to pinch-run for Joey Votto after he’s singled in the bottom of the ninth and there’s two outs. Hamilton will manage to score, all the way from first, win the game, and make us all wonder what life could have been, because Billy is and will always be awesome.
Could he? Would he? May he? Things looking slightly up for the Reds prospects of getting Dallas Keuchel.
New Podcast Episode!
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New Year, New LOR
Here is the first episode of your new Locked on Reds podcast hosted by me, Jeff Carr!