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The stolen base can be among the most-exciting plays in a Major League Baseball game. The most successful combine skills in reading pitchers, getting proper leads and jumps, and of course speed. That said, what are the top 10 fastest MLB players ever?
Among the 10 fastest players in MLB history, a few must be included in any list: Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, and Billy Hamilton (both the 1800s player and today’s version). Cool Papa Bell has to get special consideration even though he only played in the Negro Leagues.
Whether or not they indeed were (or are) the fastest is up for debate. Not all MLB players were timed in a 90-foot dash (the distance between bases).
Plus, speed is not judged on base-stealing alone. Some of the best base runners were those who knew how to go from first to third base the best, or score from first on a drive to the outfield. There are players who, though not
There are numerous ways to judge speed in baseball. Regardless, let’s look at the 10 most-notable speedsters, plus a few honorable mentions.
Top 10 Fastest Players in MLB History
Following is a list of the fastest major league baseball players of all time dating back to its inception in 1876. The list considers stolen bases and runs scored – two statistical barometers of speed – plus overall talent, quickness, agility and athleticism. Some points might be given for a player’s impact on the game.
1. Billy Hamilton (1888-1901)
Robert William Hamilton was a lifetime .344 average hitter who stole 914 bases over his career – a record which stood for 80 years – with the Kansas City Cowboys, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Beaneaters. Called Sliding Billy, he led the National League in stolen bases 5 times, topped 100 SBs 4 times, and set standards in the 1898 season when he batted over .400 and set the league record for runs scored with 198. He set the single-game steals target for Rickey Henderson a hundred years later, with 7. (Not to be confused with today’s Billy Hamilton).
2. Rickey Henderson (1979-2003)
Rickey Henderson.— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) February 10, 2020
He is the 🐐
He is a mentor.
He is a legend.
He is Oakland.#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/xGgK3H8FIN
Few if any analyses of fastest MLB players would be complete without including The RIckey – the MLB’s all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406), most runs scored (2,295), and most seasons leading the league in stolen bases (12). All are astronomical numbers, placing Henderson in a league of his own in terms of speed. Oh yeah, he had some pop, too: he holds the all-time record for most games leading off with a home run, with a whopping 81.
3. Lou Brock (1961-1979)
The first to overcome many long-established stolen base records, Brock was like Henderson in that he could hit, too – with over 3,000 hits, for instance. He was a 6-time All-Star and 8-time stolen base leader. Brock also was a one-man wrecking crew in the 1967 World Series, hitting .414, scoring 8 runs and setting the World Series record of 7 stolen bases as his St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox.
4. Ty Cobb (1905-1926)
The major league stolen base record-holder for many years until Maury Wills made the SB en vogue in the early 1960s, the Georgia Peach was known as much for his base-running antics and spikes-high slides than he was for getting more base hits than anyone else and toying with a .400 batting average year in, year out.
5. Vince Coleman (1985-1997)
The only contemporary to come close to challenging Henderson for base-stealing superiority (at least for a few years), Coleman logged 110 stolen bases one season, eclipsed only by The Rickey’s MLB record of 130. Coleman was an integral part of a 1980s St. Louis Cardinals team that took advantage of the artificial turf common in those days to emphasize speed over the long ball.
6. Willie Wilson (1976-1994)
Part of a stolen base renaissance in the 1970s, Wilson used his elite speed to propel the fledgling Kansas City Royals into constant contention from his arrival in 1976, continuing for many years thereafter including a World Series appearance in 1980 and world title in 1985. He ranks 12th all-time in steals, and his speed was involved in every area of his overall play including hitting and rangy outfield play.
7. Honus Wagner (1897-1917)
A precursor to Cobb, Wagner is more known for his hitting prowess and for being on the most-valued baseball card ever, but in his day he could fly. He ranks 10th all time in career stolen bases with 723, and is among the list of most runs scored with 1,739. He’s a major reason the Pittsburgh Pirates played in the very first World Series, and for that club’s successes in the years that followed including the 1909 world championship. He also used his speed to become a better-than average shortstop, not a small thing considering his big size for the era.
8. Billy Hamilton (2013-)
Billy Hamilton’s electric debut #SpeedKills #RunBillyRun pic.twitter.com/SV9jUCla8a— Cincy Sports TV (@CincySportsTV) March 23, 2020
The modern Billy Hamilton has amazed with his speed ever since cracking the majors in 2013. Two seasons later he tied Vince Coleman as the only players to steal 6 bases in their team’s first three games. While his stolen base numbers may be stunted by poor hitting, Hamilton was a force on the base paths for quite a few seasons.
9. Tim Raines (1979-2002)
Ranking 5th all-time with 808 stolen bases, Raines may have stolen more if he had not shifted to more of an offensive threat later in his career. However, in his prime, he competed annually with Henderson or Coleman for the league-leader title. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, Raines was a 4-time stolen base champion and 7-time All-Star. He continues to be remembered as among the best baserunners and lead-off hitters in baseball lore.
10. (Tie) Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) and Mike Trout (2011-)
Mantle had elite speed early in his career, in the 1950s, before leg injuries forced him to become known mainly as a fierce switch-hitting slugger. Trout has been destined for the Hall of Fame since being called to the majors for good in 2012, becoming one of few players who could match Mantle in terms of slugging prowess and pure speed. Before Trout even made it to the majors, some baseball insiders said he would be the fastest player in the MLB.
Note: Cool Papa Bell would rank among the top 5, if he was ever allowed to play in Major League Baseball. Former teammate once said Bell was so fast he could flip his room’s light switch and be in bed before the light went out. He starred in the Negro Leagues but failed to crack the majors once Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947.
Honorable Mentions: Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Kenny Lofton, Willie McGee, Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Otis Nixon.
- Among the most memorable stolen bases in history, Dave Roberts is remembered for his daring in the 2004 American League Championship Series. In a pivotal moment in Game 4 against the hated New York Yankees, his Red Sox team down 3 games to none and starting the final inning behind a run, Roberts was called to pinch run. On the first pitch he stole second base, barely avoiding a tag, and then on the next pitch raced home on a base hit to score and tie the game. Boston went on to win the game in extra innings, then took that series and the next, the World Series.
- In July 2019, an Atlantic League player became the first professional baseball player to steal first base under a new introduced just days prior. The “experimental” rule states hitters can steal first base on a pitch not caught in flight; and that the batter also may be thrown out while trying. The batter stole first base on an 0-1 count when the pitched ball sailed straight to the backstop.
Question: Why didn’t more players steal bases from Ty Cobb’s era until the 1960s?
Answer: It was just a playing style that developed, where managers were less inclined to potentially give up an out, in favor of letting the sluggers of the day carry the offensive workload. Maury Wills changed that when he stole 102 bases for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962 – and the stolen base era had begun.
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