Herb Washington played 2 seasons in the major leagues. He was the original one tool player, the only player ever signed strictly as a pinch runner. He never had a plate appearance in the majors but scored 33 runs in 105 games played. This was the crazy idea of Charlie Finley and Alvin Dark, and it has never been copied.
Billy Hamilton is considerably better at baseball than Herb Washington, and considerably more valuable to a baseball team, but not valuable enough to merit a regular season roster spot on a good team. He has played 7 years in the major leagues as an above-average fielding outfielder and a career OPS+ of an atrocious 68. But in 5 of his 7 seasons he has finished in the top 10 in steals. He generated -0.2 WAR in his limited time with the Braves, with an OPS+ that soared to 81, and he did what a speedy guy is supposed to do in the playoffs: he stole a base and scored twice.
Dave Roberts’s stolen base in the 2004 seventh game playoff in which the Red Sox squeaked by the Yankees is the perfect example of why you want Billy Hamilton on your team when you have to win one game. The fact that Dave Roberts then didn’t get in a single World Series game that year is why that sort of talent is a luxury. There is no excuse in having him on a team that needs to, and expects to, win 95 games or more. Everyone assumes his option will be bought out by the Braves and I think everyone is right. Godspeed, Billy Hamilton, Sprinter’s Speed.
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