There was talk this NFL season that the Jacksonville Jaguars would list rookie Denard Robinson's position as "offensive weapon." If you've seen the Jags play at all this season "offensive" is one word you might use. With apologies to Robinson, we over here in baseball land are going to strip away that "offensive weapon" title and bestow it upon another, more worthy weapon.
That's Billy Hamilton, who stole four bases on Wednesday night in his first MLB start with the Cincinnati Reds, making him 9-for-9 on steal attempts since being called up Sept. 3. He also went 3-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored, two walks and a double in the Reds' 6-5 extra-inning win. Hamilton's four stolen bases were a record — he's the first player in the "live ball era" (since 1920) to steal four bases in his first start, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"My job is to steal bases, no matter how many I get," Hamilton told MLB.com's Mark Shelton. "That's an accomplishment to get four in one game. Who knows what comes next?"
Who knows indeed. Hamilton's arrival in the big leagues hasn't been conventional. He wasn't called up and given the grand welcome like many top prospects: It's your first day, you're starting and all eyes are on you. Instead, Hamilton was used almost exclusively as a pinch runner in the beginning. He scored three runs before his first official MLB at-bat.
His speed is a weapon, and manager Dusty Baker was going to use Hamilton when he needed him — like when Hamilton stole a base in his debut on Sept. 3 and eventually scored the winning (and only) run against the rival St. Louis Cardinals in a 1-0 Reds victory. He had the pinch run/stolen base/game-winning run combo again on Sept. 7 against the Dodgers.
With his four at-bats Wednesday, Hamilton bumped his total at-bats this season to seven. You can connect the dots and notice he has more stolen bases than at-bats, which is a fun bit of trivia, but not at all surprising.
We're talking about a guy who stole 155 bases last season between Single-A and Double-A, then another 75 this season in Triple-A. Everybody knows Hamilton is here to run. But, as you may have noticed Wednesday night, even when the other team knew he was running and pitched out, they still couldn't get him out.
I talked to Hamilton back in March at the Reds' spring training facility, and one thing that comes to mind today is how Hamilton spoke not just about being fast — plenty of people are fast — but about in-game speed. Look at the jumps he gets on the bases. It's more than just being fast, it's knowing the game of baseball, having the instincts to tell you when to run.
The day I talked to Hamilton was the same day he learned he wasn't making the big-league team to start the year. "I'm ready whenever they need me," he said that day. "When the time is right, I'll be ready for it."
Well, it's time. With the Reds in the thick of a playoff chase, and with a roster that could be dangerous in the postseason, we'll surely see Dusty Baker calling on his offensive weapon in close and crucial games. Hamilton, as he's already proven, whether starting or coming off the bench, will be ready to run.