You might not know it yet, but today is Billy Hamilton Day. It's an official holiday, so you can probably just leave work. Tell them that Grant said it was cool. On your way out, steal something. You know, in honor of Billy Hamilton. Tell them Billy said it was cool. This is how we celebrate Billy Hamilton Day, and it's accepted by now. Don't worry your pretty little head about it.
In case you didn't know, Billy Hamilton broke the minor-league stolen base record yesterday with his 146th stolen base. While compiling a compendium of Billy Hamilton facts and factoids, I researched the last time each franchise stole 146 bases as a team. If you eliminate the Diamondbacks, who have been around for just 15 seasons and have used purple as one of their team colors, the Giants have the third-longest streak without 146 stolen bases as a team. The last time they did it was 1986.
This brought up something I didn't realize, I guess: The San Francisco Giants have never been a base-stealing team. In New York at the turn of the century, they were nuts. That's how the game was played then, sure, but even by those standards, they were burglarious. The 1887 Giants stole 415 bases -- 80 more than the league average, and that was in 122 games. Even pitcher Cannonball Titcomb had a stolen base, and I'm not just including that to make a reference to Cannonball Titcomb because I don't need to type out Cannonball Titcomb a bunch of times to be funny. Cannonball Titcomb.
Also, burglarious is a real word. Huh.
But the San Francisco Giants have never been big with the stolen bases. The '86 team holds the San Francisco record with 148 steals. The next team on the list is the '83 Giants, who were like today's Padres without all that excitement. The only other San Francisco Giants teams with more steals than Rickey Henderson had in 1982 (130) were the '79 and '95 Giants.
If you're wondering where all those Willie Mays teams from the '60s are, that's a good question. You think of Mays, and you think of speed, right? That wasn't a running era for the Giants, though, and Mays was entering his late 30s. The 1967 Giants stole 22 bases. Like, the entire team. That's one more than Ryan Theriot and Brandon Belt have combined for this season. The 36-year-old Mays still led the team. He had six.
The '86 Giants might be the most popular non-playoff Giants team of the post-divisional era, depending on your affinity for the '93 bunch. Their 148 steals were a group effort; seven players had 10 steals or more, including Bob Brenly, but only Dan Gladden (27) and Jose Uribe (22) had more than 20. The latter is especially surprising when you consider that Uribe was a gigantic, hulking slugger.
Home runs? The Giants have been pretty good with those. There was that one guy with the earring, and there were two other 500 HR club members in San Francisco history. But nothing with the stolen bases.
The point of all this is a) to prove that sometimes I can do research, in which "research" is defined as dicking around on Baseball Reference for an hour, and b) to lament that the San Francisco Giants have never had a Billy Hamilton, or anything even close to him. They've never had a Vince Coleman or a Maury Wills. Heck, they've never even had an Alex Cole. Arturo McDowell, we hardly knew ye.
Gary Brown has a chance to be one of the most prolific base-stealers in San Francisco history, then. He's having a bit of a rough go on that front in Double-A -- 32 steals, but he's been caught 16 times -- but he's still the best current organizational hope.
This isn't to say that steals are the bestest, or that stolen bases are the only way to win games. Of course not. We all laughed at the Giants' annual lip service paid to "small ball" and "manufacturing runs" that came up because they couldn't hit like a normal team. Stolen bases aren't a miracle cure for a bad offense. But when a guy can steal bases at a high rate, it's fun to watch. I don't think even the biggest home run aficionado would argue that. When a jittery guy gets on first and makes the pitcher panic … it's fun.
The Giants have had all sorts of fun teams in their San Francisco history, but at some point, I'd like to see a super-fast Giants team steal all sorts of bases with a high success rate. That's the kind of thing you do on Billy Hamilton Day.
And when they sign Juan Pierre this offseason, I'll delete this post.