Billy Hamilton

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Note: This page is for Hall of Famer Billy Hamilton; for the outfielder from the 2010s, click here

Billy Hamilton.jpg

William Robert Hamilton
(Sliding Billy)

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 6", Weight 165 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1961

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Biographical Information[edit]

"Burkett was one of the greatest hitters I've ever seen. But Hamilton was one of the very best ball players." - Hugh Duffy

Sliding Billy Hamilton had one of the highest batting averages of all time, .344, which he accomplished in a 14-year career. He played much of his career in a lively ball era, in the 1890s, and hit .404 in 1894 (his fellow outfielders Sam Thompson and Ed Delahanty also hit over .400 that year). Hamilton added numerous walks to help him get on base, with a lifetime on-base percentage of .455, # 4 on the all-time list. He was also one of the greatest run scorers of all time, holding the single-season record, and also the career record for most runs scored per game.

Hamilton's set the single-season record for runs scored in 1894, although the exact number of runs he scored that year differs depending on the source, from 192 to 198. To figure out what the exact number was, SABR researcher Herb Krabbenhoft and three colleagues undertook a game-by-game study of each of the runs scored by the Philadelphia Phillies that year and came up with the number 196 for Hamilton. The fact that official scoresheets from that season are no longer extant and that boxscores published in various newspapers sometimes disagree mean that no one can be 100% sure of that number, but it is the best possible guess based on current evidence.

All of this makes Hamilton one of the greatest leadoff hitters and centerfielders of all time. yet he quickly became very anonymous, as he let his play do the talking for him, and was a reserved quiet man off it, not making waves and thus rarely featured in newspaper stories, even though he was a fan favorite due to his daring style of play. He retired from the game relatively early and then led a quiet life with his wife and four daughters in Worcester, MA. He was a friend of other great players like Jesse Burkett, but his name was never in the news for the last decades of his life. Thus, he received little support for election when the Hall of Fame was created, and his name only came to the fore at the time of the 1961 Hall of Fame Election by the Veterans Committee. They were looking to elect Max Carey, considered the best base stealer in National League history, when it was pointed out to them that this obscure 19th century player actually had stolen more bases and beat him soundly in terms of runs scored and batting average. In the end the Committee elected both men that year, but Hamilton's selection provoked largely puzzlement, as he he'd been dead for two decades by then, an no one remembered him; it was one of the first elections to Cooperstown based largely on a player's statistics. However, this was rectified in the decades following his election, as everyone now recognizes that he was truly an outstanding player.

His one weakness was defence. His throwing arm was very poor, and at first he made a lot of errors, but that part of his game eventually improved, as he was able to cover a tremendous amount of ground in the outfield and felt that no fly ball was safe from his grasp, giving him excellent range in centerfield. He did not look very athletic, being of a short and stocky built, but he was the fastest player of his time.

"I never saw a runner get a lead off first base like Billy." — Handsome Jack Carney

Hamilton was the all-time leader in stolen bases until Lou Brock broke the record many decades later. He once stole seven bases in a game in 1894.

His minor league career started in 1887 in Waterbury, and he also played in Worcester, in the minors, and the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association in 1888 and 1889 before joining the Phillies when they needed players in 1890 due to defections to the Players League. After his major league playing days, he was a minor league manager in at least five cities, and also scouted (for the Braves). He also co-owned a minor league team in Worcester, MA.

"Hamilton is one of the wealthiest players in the big League, and out of his earnings he has made investments in real estate that have netted him a considerable fortune." - Sporting Life, November 5, 1898

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time NL Batting Average Leader (1891 & 1893)
  • 5-time NL On-Base Percentage Leader (1891, 1893, 1894, 1896 & 1898)
  • 2-time NL OPS Leader (1893 & 1898)
  • 4-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1891, 1894, 1895 & 1897)
  • NL Hits Leader (1891)
  • 5-time NL Bases on Balls Leader (1891 & 1894-1897)
  • 5-time League Stolen Bases Leader (1889/AA, 1890/NL, 1891/NL, 1894/NL & 1895/NL)
  • 4-time NL Singles Leader (1890-1892 & 1894)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 11 (1889-1898 & 1900)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 2 (1894 & 1895)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 9 (1889-1892 & 1894-1898)
  • 100 Stolen Bases Seasons: 3 (1889-1891)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1961

Records Held[edit]

  • Runs, season, 196, 1894
  • Runs, left handed batter, season, 192, 1894
  • Consecutive games scoring a run, 24, 1894

Further Reading[edit]

  • David L. Fleitz: "Billy Hamilton", in More Ghosts in the Gallery: Another Sixteen Little-Known Greats at Cooperstown, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007, pp. 64-77. ISBN 978-0-7864-3133-5
  • Roy Kerr: Sliding Billy Hamilton: The Life and Times of Baseball's First Great Leadoff Hitter, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7864-4639-1
  • Herb Krabbenhoft et. al.: "Discrepancy in an All-Time MLB Record: Billy Hamilton's 1894 Runs Scored", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 45, Number 2 (Fall 2016), pp. 108-114.

Related Sites[edit]