MESA, Ariz. -- Rickey Henderson had a singular set of baseball skills that blazed his path to a Hall of Fame career.
Ask the A’s legend if he’s seen anyone, from his era or since, with the same combination of base-stealing ability, power and plate discipline as he had, and he’ll answer honestly.
But, when it comes to pure base stealing, Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton has caught the attention of the all-time steals king. So much so that Henderson believes Hamilton has the capability of challenging his modern era single-season record of 130 stolen bases, which Henderson set in 1982 with Oakland.
“His (chances) are based on how many times he can get on the base paths,” Henderson said on the latest A’s Insider Podcast. “I think if he gets on the base paths a lot, he’s gonna challenge that record.”
Worth mentioning here: No player has reached even the 100-steal mark since way back in 1987, when St. Louis’ Vince Coleman swiped 109 bags. The highest number in recent years is the 78 that the Mets’ Jose Reyes stole in 2007, and even that’s going back a decade.
Hamilton, just 26, is young enough to still have his best stolen-base years ahead of him. But Henderson’s mark of 130 is more than double Hamilton’s best total so far, which was 58 last season. If you’re curious, Hamilton’s best year for on-base percentage — outside of a big league cameo in 2013 — is last year’s .321.
Working in his favor is that Hamilton got his 58 steals last season in just 119 major league games. Were he to be in the lineup for a full season and run with abandon, surely he could boost that total significantly.
But the attitude toward stolen bases has changed over time also, as Henderson points out. He believes all of the data available, including pitchers’ delivery times to the plate, persuades teams to be stricter on the bases even with their best running threats.
“They control the base runners nowadays based on the times, the watch, and they think the pitchers are getting the ball to the plate quicker,” Henderson said. “… When I was coming up, we had no times, so it was mainly on instinct.”
In Hamilton, however, Henderson sees somebody with not only the speed to pursue 130, but also the attitude to do so. Henderson got to know Hamilton when the center fielder was in the minors and Henderson was spending time with the A’s Single-A Stockton affiliate in his duties as a roving instructor.
“When I look at him, I analyze how he goes about his business when he’s on the base paths, it really reminds me of myself,” Henderson said. “He’ll take off any time, and he runs until they throw him out. That’s what I always thought. I’m gonna run until you throw me out. And if you throw me out, I’m gonna get back up and run again.”