The Phillies Nation Top 100: #15 Billy Hamilton – Phillies Nation
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The Phillies Nation Top 100: #15 Billy Hamilton

The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #15. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff. 

From this point forward, each weekday, we will reveal two Phillies from the PN Top 100 in separate posts. To view the players listed thus far, please click here. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.

Please check back tomorrow morning for #14.

#15 – Billy Hamilton

Years: 1890-1895

.361/.468/.459 with 23 HR, 510 SB in 3629 PA

Previous Rank: 13 (-2)

fWAR Phillies Rank: 9th among position players, 13th among Phillies

Signature Season: Hit .403/.521/.523 with a professional baseball-leading 100 steals and 128 walks with an all-time, single season-record 198 runs in 1894. Was one-fourth of group of Phillies’ outfielders, including Sam Thompson, Ed Delahanty, and Tuck Turner, to all hit over .400.

Signature Accomplishments: Owns single-season, MLB runs scored record (198, 1894), is Phillies’ all-time steals leader (508), is Phillies’ all-time leader in batting average for players over 1500 PA (.361), all-time Phillies leader in OBP, owns single-season Phillies records for steals and OBP

Sliding Billy arrived in Philadelphia via Kansas City, being purchased from the American Association’s Kansas City Cowboys for $6,000 prior to the 1890 season. It may have been the best $6,000 the then-Quakers, future Phillies had or would ever spend. Hamilton wasted no time adjusting to the National League, hitting .325/.430/.399 with 102 SB in his first season with the Quakers. The following season, Hamilton would win the batting title, lead the league in OBP, runs, hits, walks, and steals. In all, Hamilton would win two batting titles with the Quakers, lead the league in runs and walks three times, and steals four times. Hamilton is the franchise’s all-time leader in steals and OBP.

Hamilton would set single-season franchise records for steals, OBP, and runs scored. Hamilton’s runs scored record stands an MLB record, a likely untouchable 192 achieved in 1894. Because of his skills of getting on base and his speed, Hamilton has a claim at being the best baseball player to ever play in a Phillies uniform. Hamilton led all of baseball in steals and OBP during his time with the Phillies. The fact that he is peppered all over Phillies’ leader boards in counting stats, including steals (first) and runs (eleventh), despite playing just six seasons in Philadelphia is a testament to how great Hamilton was in such a short period of time. Hamilton ranks 15th and not higher on the countdown because of his short stay and  because, in spite of the incredible offensive talent on the clubs for which he played, Hamilton’s clubs never finished higher than third.

Hamilton would be dealt to the Boston Beaneaters on November 14, 1895 for third baseman Billy Nash in one of the worst trades in Quakers or Phillies history. Hamilton would go on to steal 274 more bases with the Beaneaters and retire as the game’s most prolific base stealer, retiring with the most steals in Major League history, a record that stood until Lou Brock broke the record in 1978. Hamilton would be a Veterans’ Committee inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961, a somewhat curious omission until that point. Hamilton currently ranks third all-time in steals and fourth all-time in OBP behind only Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and John McGraw.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. PaMikeyDC

    February 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Joe Savery claimed by the @OaklandA’s

  2. Lefty

    February 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Hamilton was truly phenomenal. After looking at his stats, I wonder how there could be 14 guys better! Can’t wait to see the rest of them Ian- these have been really fun to read, thank you.

    • Jay Edwards

      February 17, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      Pre-1900 stats are seriously skewed. They should not be included on lists like this because the rules favored hitters prior to the dead-ball era. Leagues were littered with few stars and tons of poor pitchers until the leagues coalesced at the turn of the century. Record-keeping was sporadic at best (and occasionally counted walks — which prior to 1889 took as many as nine balls — as hits), fielders used gloves barely larger than their hands, and pitchers threw underhand. Bats were often shaved to flatten one side, making solid contact much easier. .400 hitters were commonplace.

      The fact all these pre-1900 players are included here is a joke.

      • wbramh

        February 18, 2014 at 1:57 am

        Certainly, there were enough field issues and rule differences to make pre-1900 statistics near impossible to factor into all-time player lists – including as you mentioned, statistics keeping itself. Along with equipment differences (and loose rules for same) field conditions were dramatically different, usually featuring enormous outfield territory to cover and often with human fences. Fielders sometimes had to run into fans to chase down a live ball. Infields were often solid dirt and mounds had no regulation height. Worse yet for defenders, the first two foul balls were not declared strikes until 1901.

        And there were scores of rule changes that changed the game after 1900. RBIs were not counted in scoring statistics until 1920 which was the same year the spitter was banned – yet those who used it before 1920 were grandfathered in and could use it until they retired.

        The only way possible to come close to being fair is to put a weight on every aspect of the game and that must be a bitch to accomplish with any real accuracy.

        Really, it’s tough enough to compare the 20s with the 60s or the 60s with the 90s. The relatively recent rise in the importance of relief pitching alone makes comparisons tough.

        Still, it’s a fantasy I don’t want to lose. In another 100 years people will do like comparisons versus the relics of today. We’d feel slighted if they summarily wrote off DiMaggio, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Banks, Koufax, Schmidt, Carlton, Molina and Trout as not worthy of comparison with the intergalactic stars of 2114. Hey, it’s not our fault that we were under 8 feet tall and only had two legs, and our stars shouldn’t be penalized with a lack of recognition.

  3. wbramh

    February 17, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see who makes it into the top 10 and in what order. Unless I’m mistaken, Sam Thompson is the only member of the Malcolm top 10 to be demoted so far.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the top 8 remain in the same order as in Malcolm’s list although I could make a sound argument for Grover Cleveland Alexander finishing ahead of Delahanty, but it would be especially hard to unseat the two guys at the top. If names change there I demand to check somebody’s homework.

    • schmenkman

      February 17, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      I would be surprised if Utley doesn’t break into the top 8.

      • wbramh

        February 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm

        Agree. I could see Utley moving as high a #6. If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll come in at #8 and with no argument from me.

      • Vinnie

        February 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm

        Abreau was on the last list as 10, and hasn’t been mentioned yet. I would place both Rollins and Utley ahead of him. Just gut feel, I have no stats to back it up.

        The top 2 would be very difficult to break. Currently, I would say Hammels probably has the best shot because of age. He would have to pitch 10 more years, with a couple of cy youngs and another WS win thrown in to make it.

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