By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The fantabulous Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays, who committed more baseball robberies than Bonnie & Clyde performed bank robberies, was once asked to rate his myriad of great catches.
“I don’t rate ‘em, I just catch ‘em,” said Mays while quietly lacing up his baseball spikes.
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton basically thinks the same way, “If it is in the park I think I can catch it,” and doesn’t really rate them, except he is asked all the time to do it.
There was another example in the first inning Saturday night. The second hitter of the game, Paul Goldschmidt, drilled one toward the left center seats. Hamilton, gliding swiftly (how else does he move?) to his right reached the wall, leaped, snagged it. Another great catch, another home run converted into an out.
Well, yeah, a great catch for most guys. For most outfielders that might be the signature catch of their career. For Hamilton it might not make the Top 50 and nobody made much fuss about it.
“That’s what we’ve come to expect from Billy and we take him for granted and we shouldn’t do that,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “But we see it so often we are not shocked when he does it over and over and over.”
Hamilton was dressing in his little corner of the Reds clubhouse Sunday morning when he was asked if he knew about ESPN. The sports network named its Top Ten sports plays of July and that included all sports — soccer, golf, baseball, rodeo, lawn bowling — any even that happened in July. And the No. 1 play for all of sports in July was Billy Hamilton’s above the wall snatching of a home run bound blast hit by Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Really? All of sports? That’s nice,” said Hamilton. “That’s really, really cool. I can see it being in the Top Ten in just baseball, but that’s crazy. I didn’t know that, but that’s nice.”
So, insert the ol’ rate ‘em question here. Is that one at the top of Hamilton’s personal list?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “It is that one or the one I got on Carpenter on Jackie Robinson Day last year,” he said. Carpenter leads the National League with 32 home runs. Without Hamilton, he has 33. Carpenter has 129 home runs. Without Hamilton he has 131.
It is surprising that Carpenter doesn’t have a photo of Hamilton in his locker full of dart holes. It is shocking that Carpenter doesn’t despise the grass Hamilton runs across.
“He is one of those guys who is real with you, a regular guy,” said Hamilton. “He says to me, ‘Man, I hate that you play against me, but those are great catches.’ He gives you credit when I know he doesn’t want to because that’s tough when somebody keeps getting you like I have him.
“He’s a nice guy and he does say, ‘Great catches. I’m mad at you right now but I love watching you play,’” Hamilton added.
“When I’m out there I’m not thinking I’m going to top the play I did last night,” he said. “It is just when I get a chance to make a play, I make it.”
Hamilton has no phobia about outfield walls and there isn’t one he won’t challenge with his bony fat-free body, not even the brick walls of Wrigley Field.
“My mom always tells me, ‘Be careful of those wall,’” Hamilton said. “But I have only one mode and that is just go get ‘em, 100 per cent full speed ahead. If I have a chance to get there, I’m going to go get it. That’s one thing I like about myself — I was raised to play 100 per cent. If I think about getting hurt I am more likely to get hurt. So I just go do it and don’t think about any consequences. And sometimes the wall helps me because I can climb it.”
The catch on Goldschmidt Saturday night came with Dilson Herrera playing left field for the first time in his life. As Hamilton went up on the wall, Herrera was standing right there but stayed out of the master’s way.
Before the game, Riggleman said kiddingly, “I hope Billy go gets everything tonight.” At the same time out in the clubhouse, Hamilton was pulling Herrera’s chain.
“He asked me to borrow a glove, but I didn’t have any broken in other than the one I use,” said Hamilton. “Then I decided to kid with him and I said, ‘You go get everything out there tonight.’ Herrera’s eye’s bulged so much that white could be seen entirely surrounding his brown pupils and he said, “No, no, no. You need to cover me out there.”
As somebody once said about fleet-footed outfielder Garry Maddux, “The earth is 80 per cent covered by water. The rest is covered by Garry Maddux.” Maddux is long retired and now Hamilton covers that ground.
THERE HAS BEEN A different but familiar face sitting in the Reds dugout in recent days. It belongs to former Reds pitcher Mario Soto, King of the Change-up and currently the Reds roving minor league pitching instructor.
But because Soto is so close to starting pitcher Luis Castillo and relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias, Soto is here by request from manager Jim Riggleman.
“Earlier when Luis Castillo was struggling and Raisel Iglesias was going through a little trouble with left handed hitters, I mentioned that it would be nice if Mario Soto could pop in here because he has a great relationship with those two guys,” said Riggleman.
“It didn’t work out at that time because he is so valuable to us down in the minors, hitting all our minor league clubs, but he was able to get in here this week. He is sitting there with them and he is a great mentor for those two.”