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'Sliding Billy' Hamilton a pioneer of basestealing

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Billy Hamilton, a Phillies Hall of Fame outfielder best known as "Sliding Billy," hasn't played in the Majors since 1901, but he's still recognized as one of the greatest basestealers in baseball history.

The 5-foot-6, left-handed-hitting Hamilton played for three different teams in his 14-year-career. First was the Kansas City Cowboys (1888-89) of the American Association, and then two National League clubs, the Phillies (1890-95) and Boston Beaneaters (1896-1901), who were later called the Braves. The Phillies purchased Hamilton from Kansas City on Jan. 7, 1890, for $5,000-$6,000, according to online sources.

Regarded as one of the fastest runners, Hamilton trails only Rickey Henderson (1,406) and Lou Brock (938) in stolen bases.

Hamilton's final total? That's where it gets complicated, depending upon the source. His Baseball Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown lists 937. Baseball-Reference.com says he has 914, while MLB.com reports 912.

Hamilton is also the Phillies' all-time leader with 508 or 510. The first figure has been in the team's media guide for ages, and the second is from Baseball-Reference.com.

Why the different totals?

One, verifying stats from that era is difficult since play-by-play of those games rarely exists.

Second, stolen-base rules were different at one time. Starting in 1886, official scorers credited runners with a stolen base for every extra base he advanced on his own; for example, a runner going first to third on a single was credited with one stolen base. In 1892, a provision was added that stated a runner would only be credited with a steal if there was an attempt to put him out. In 1898, the modern stolen-base rule was implemented. This piece of history was supplied by Freddy Berowski, reference librarian of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Basically, Hamilton was playing under the rules of his time. Regardless, he stole a lot of bases, topping 100 or more in four different seasons.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau Book of Baseball Records, Hamilton stole seven bases in one game on Aug. 31, 1894.

Hamilton was more than just a basestealer. He won two batting titles (.340 in 1891 and .380 in '93); he led the league in runs scored three times, hits once, walks five times and on-base percentage five times. His career-high average came in 1894, when he batted .404.

He hit .300 or better 12 times and finished with a career average of .349. He's one of the few players to finish with more runs scored than games played (1,697 runs in 1,594 games). With the Phillies, he batted .360 with 880 runs in 732 games.

Hamilton also set a Major League record that still stands for runs scored in a season, 196, for the 1894 Phillies. Since 1900, Babe Ruth has the most with 177 runs in 1921.

Hamilton is also one of the few players to have hit a leadoff and walk-off home run in the same game, having done that in 1892. He hit 38 other career home runs.

Born on Feb, 16, 1866, in Newark, N.J., Hamilton died in 1940 (age 74) in Worcester, Mass.

He was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961 by the Veterans Committee. Hamilton was added to the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2004.

Larry Shenk is the vice president of Alumni Relations for the Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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