Aside from their big lead in the National League central division despite losing first baseman Joey Votto for much of the season, the Cincinnati Reds most compelling story as September dawned was the looming decision about minor league shortstop Billy Hamilton . When Hamilton broke Vince Coleman's single-season record for stolen bases back in August, he and the Reds were thrust into the national spotlight, and speculation erupted around his fate for the last month of the season. Fans, writers and radio hosts argued among ourselves about what was best for Hamilton and the team, and nearly all of us were intrigued by the though of seeing his blazing speed in the Major Leauges this fall. General manager Walt Jocketty put the debate to rest, at least for awhile, when he called up seven minor leaguers to help fill the Reds' expanded roster on September 1. Conspicuously absent from that list was Hamilton.
One factor that likely played heavily into the team's decision was Hamilton's overall roster status. The 21-year-old burner was not on the Reds' 40-man spring roster, which has important implications for the playoffs. While September call-ups are technically not eligible for postseason action, a loophole of sorts makes some creative chess moves possible. In particular, if a player on the regular 25-man roster goes down with an injury in September, then he can be replaced for the playoffs by a guy from that original spring lineup. The same doesn't hold for outright first-time call-ups, so Hamilton would have gotten a quick look-see at best, while Jocketty really needs a contingency in the event that Votto can't return this season.
Still, it's hard to imagine that Hamilton would have done anything but bring a little more excitement to an already heady time for the Reds. Unless they tank in royal fashion, they should cruise into the playoffs, which means they have the opportunity to evaluate young talent over the next month. No one seems to qualify as "young talent" more than Hamilton, and September would give him a chance to tune his timing for the Majors. He could also try his hand at a couple of positions, because it's unclear whether he has the goods to be a standout shortstop in the long term.
Delaying Hamilton's debut does hold one huge advantage for the Reds, though. When he presumably breaks spring training with the big club next spring, the curiosity factor should be good for nice little attendance boost. If all goes well, the Reds will be unveiling their speedster along with a shiny new World Series trophy.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.
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