The original HOF Billy Hamilton had a style of play somewhat similar to today’s well-known Billy Hamilton. His game was all about speed. Unlike the modern-day version, though, the 19th century Billy Hamilton was a master of getting on base. He is one of the few great players to have a career OBP that is higher than his career SLG.
Until Lou Brock showed up some 75 years later, Hamilton was the King of Stolen Bases. His 914 career total is still 3rd all-time. And Hamilton stole more than 100 bases in a single season four times, something neither Brock, Ty Cobb or Rickey Henderson did. But simply stealing bases, even 100 of them, isn’t what makes a great offensive player (just ask Vince Coleman). Hamilton knew how to put the bat on the ball, and he knew how to take a walk.
Hamilton played 13 full seasons in his baseball career, and his OBP was above .400 in every single one of them. He batted .340 or higher seven times, and lead the league in Runs four times.
Hamilton dominated the 1890’s in his areas of strength. Based on the chart below, one could make a very strong argument that he was the best offensive player in the game during the 1890’s. It is true that he hit in front of some other great players, and that he played in a hitter-friendly park. However, that wouldn’t explain his context-neutral, park-adjusted leading wRC+ score.
The best comparison to Billy Hamilton’s amazing decade is Rickey Henderson’s performance in the 1980’s:
They match up very well in wRC+ (147 to 139) and Stolen Bases (730 to 838), and they both ranked very high in OBP (1st and 2nd) and lead all of baseball in Runs scored.
Billy Hamilton’s first full season was in 1889. Also in 1889:
North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington became U.S. states.
Vincent van Gogh painted his famous “Starry Night”.
Charlie Chaplin was born.