Billy Hamiilton, the Lethal Weapon
CINCINNATI — One definition of speed: ‘Full, maximum, optimum rate of motion.” And then there is Billy Hamilton, who isn’t just poetry in motion. He is a passion play in motion. When he gets on base, the game of baseball changes abruptly. The pitcher pays more attention to him than he does to the batter. And he rushes fastballs to homeward. Then the catcher rushes his throws to second base, rarely making a good one. None of it matters. Billy ‘The Blaze’ Hamilton steals second base. To see him, FoxSports has to engage their PhantonCam, a super, super slow motion camera. And it still looks as if Hamilton is fleeing a five-alarm fire. Since the 22-year-old Hamilton was called up to the Cincinnati Reds on September 2, he is 12 for 12 in stolen bases, more thefts in that period than anybody in baseball. And he he has started only two games. Mostly he is used as a pinch-runner and is Lethal Weapon II. He is the newest definition of Billyball. He has entered six games as a pinch-runner and scored two game-winning runs after steal a base and a game-tying run after stealing a base and a sgo ahead run in an extra-inning game on the road after stealing a base. In his two starts as a center fielder the 22-year-old 6-foot, 152-pound outfielder is 6 for 10 with two doubles, an RBI, six stolen bases and four runs scored. During an 11-3 victory over Pittsburgh Sunday, Hamilton had three hits, two of which didn’t travel more than 70 feet. The first one was a bunt, even though the third baseman was on the infield grass. Hamilton beat it in a blur. His second was a slow roller to shortstop. Hamilton beat it in a blur. His third hit was a double, but it was a blooper to center and Hamilton never stopped at first. He beat the throw to second in a blur. Speed, speed and more speed. And Hamilton uses it. “That’s what he is supposed to do,” said manager Dusty Baker. “He knows that’s his game. They want him (hitting balls) up in the air. They don’t want him on ground.” The Reds had a center fielder, Drew Stubbs, who was as fast as Hamilton, until they traded him to Cleveland over the winter. But Stubbs seldom utilized his speed, especially at the plate. “The other fast guy (Stubbs) had 20-homer power,” said Baker. “When you have both power and speed there is always confusion over which one you are going to be. If you only have one, then you know what you are going to be. Some players have home run-itiis and that is a serious disease because you like to trot. Stubbs was a totally different player than this kid. Stubbs is a big man — 6-3 and 220 pounds. Billy is 6-0 and 152, if he weights that much.” Hamilton is so small they can’t seem to find pants to fit him. His baggy britches look like pajamas, or clown pants and they seem to billow like a sail on a boat. But they don’t slow him down. Of his base-stealing prowess, Hamilton says, “I have the attitude that no catcher can throw me out. I’ve been thrown out (in the minors but not yet in the majors) but I still have that feeling that I can steal every base.” Arrogance? No, reality. “He knows he can run and I’m sure he came out of the womb running,” said Baker. “Speed is nothing new to him. He signed because of his speed. He was going to play football because of his speed.” Of his speed out of the womb, Hamilton said, “When I was a kid I never got a whipping from my mom when I got in trouble because she couldn’t catch me. I’d run off and not come home until she went to sleep.” Along the way, Hamilton has learned to use that speed to baseball advantage. “He is a quick learner,” said Baker. In his first two years in the minors Hamilton’s manager was Delino DeShields, a man who stole a bag or three during his major league career — 467 in his 13-year career. DeShields, who managed the Reds’ Class AA team is Pensacola, is spending September with the Reds, helping educate Hamilton even more. “He is helping with keys to stealing bases, because it isn’t all just speed,” said Baker. “You have to learn pitchers. Some lean one way or the other before they throw home. Some pitchers look down before they throw to first. Some pitcher’s first move to home is to go up with their hands. It isn’t always the movement of a pitcher’s feet. Sometimes it’s movement a knee or the tucking of a head.” That’s what DeShields spends considerable time with Hamilton in the video room, checking what pitchers do or don’t do so he can get good jumps. “You have to study video and you have to study sitting in the dugout,” said Baker. “That’s what Billy has done and is doing. He is studying so when he gets out there it isn’t all foreign to him. Last year he wasn’t ready because he though just getting a big ol’ lead was it. And sometimes he would get picked off or he wouldn’t know when a pitchout was coming and knowing a catcher’s signal when the pitcher is going to throw over to first.” A quick learner? Hamilton obviously is as quick in the film room as he is on the basepaths. There was some question as to whether he should be on the postseason roster when he was called up. The answer? He has answered it so far 12 straight times.