Billy Hamilton: The Bakersfield Blaze's Base-Stealing Bandit

Evan GreenbergContributor IJune 21, 2012

Photo credit: Ricky Bassman,
Photo credit: Ricky Bassman,

It is an infrequent occasion when somebody who is about to run away with a record does so in relative obscurity, but Billy Hamilton of the Bakersfield Blaze has done just that.  

After stealing 103 bases last year for Dayton in Low-A, Hamilton was promoted to High-A Bakersfield this year and has set a furious stolen base pace that could create a record that will be nearly impossible to eclipse.

While playing in the hitter's paradise that is the California League, Hamilton has excelled, improving not only his batting average but also his batting eye, as evinced by his vastly improved BB/K ratio and increased OBP and OPS.

Amazingly, Hamilton has produced such prolific base-theft numbers in relative obscurity, except to those geeks like me who track such happenings on or Baseball America.  

In a somewhat ironic twist that I was unaware of until researching him to write this article, I learned that the man who has victimized pitchers over 200 times in the past three years became a victim himself of a robbery at gunpoint Wednesday, shortly after stealing another two bases in the annual Carolina/California League All-Star game.

This is how Hamilton has received his notice, otherwise performing in relative obscurity while the exploits of rookies like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have garnered all the attention.

Hamilton is on pace to break Vince Coleman's record of 145 stolen bases, set when he played in Macon in 1983.  

Coincidentally, in that same year, Donnell Nixon recorded 144 thefts for Bakersfield, which is the most stolen bases in a single season of the California League on record. (That information was provided in an article from Baseball America, which has recorded minor league numbers going back to 1962.)

To give you an idea of how rare it has been for these records to fall, no stolen base records have been set since 2005 at any level of the minor leagues.

All baseball fans should celebrate the return of the stolen base as an offensive weapon, as players have weaned themselves off the PEDs that permeated our nation's beloved pastime over the past two decades.  

The improved pitching, the renaissance of speed and the return of players who don't look like the Michelin Man have created a more beautiful and interesting game.  

Intriguing players like Hamilton with his bedazzling speed prove that you no longer have to be a power-hitting, pumped-up freak of nature to succeed in modern-day baseball.  

It's good to see that baseball is returning to the game that it was before the steroid craze.  

We should all cheer for Billy Hamilton and monitor his progress.