James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell is believed to be among the fastest men ever to play baseball. The Negro Leagues star, who was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, inspired tales of his legendary speed that will survive as long as the game.
“Cool Papa Bell was so fast he could get out of bed, turn out the lights across the room and be back in bed under the covers before the lights went out,” Josh Gibson famously said. Satchel Paige, like Cool Papa and Gibson a Negro League star and Hall of Famer, said of Bell “Once he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his (rear) sliding into second.”
Only time will tell whether Billy Hamilton can inspire similar stories, but he’s off to a good start. How good was the Cincinnati Reds’ shortstop prospect in 2012? Not only did he shatter the single-season record for stolen bases, but he also managed to lead two leagues in steals.
Hamilton stole 155 bases, 10 more than the record set by Vince Coleman in 1983 and 15 more than the Major League Baseball record of 130 Ricky Henderson set in 1982.
Pensacola Blue Wahoos fans saw Hamilton steal 51 bases in 50 games for the Reds’ Double-A affiliate. That comparatively modest total led the Southern League. Josh Prince of the Huntsville Stars finished second in the Southern League with 41 steals in 137 games.
Hamilton started the season at Advanced-A Bakersfield, where he stole 104 bases in 82 games to lead the California League. Rico Noel of the Lake Elsinore Storm swiped 90 bases in 134 games to finish second in that circuit.
Hamilton was one of several Reds’ prospects invited to play for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, which starts play Oct. 9.