Ask any baseball fan who MLB's fastest player is and the answer will pretty much always be the same: Billy Hamilton. Since 2014, the Reds’ center fielder leads MLB with 215 stolen bases, and, according to Baseball Savant’s new baserunning statistic, his top speed of 30.1 ft/s (feet per second) is the fastest in the majors. However, as the sporting world bids adieu to Usain Bolt, who will run his final 100-meter race Saturday and then sprint off into the Jamaican sunset, let’s remember just how much faster track stars are over baseball’s best.
At the 2009 Berlin IAAF World Championships, Bolt shaved a millisecond off his 2008 Beijing Olympic world record, running a blistering 9.58-second 100-meter dash. He ran at an average of 23.35 mph, but from the 60 meter to 80 meter marks, he reached a top speed of 27.79 mph (40.8 ft/s). With a top speed over 10 ft/s faster than Hamilton, if the two athletes hypothetically ran the 390-foot distance around the bases at top speed, Bolt would be safe at home while Hamilton hustles into third.
As for how Hamilton compares to other baseball speedsters, his top speed of 30.1 ft/s doesn’t crack the top five. The five track-stars-turned-baseball-players below all had average track speeds faster than Hamilton’s top 2017 speed. However, as we’ll see at number one, sprint speed and baserunning ability are very, very different.
There has never been a more prolific base-stealer than the legendary Henderson, who swiped an MLB-record 1406 bases over his 25-year career and surpassing the 100-steals mark in three seasons. He regularly turned singles into doubles and, if held up at first, he wasn’t staying there for long. Though he didn’t run track for very long, giving up the sport because it conflicted with the baseball schedule, Henderson once clocked in between 9.6 and 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash (roughly 31 ft/s).
Drafted sixth overall in 1972 by the California Angels, Collins was supposed to become a speedy superstar. He ran a 9.6-second 100-yard dash (31.3 ft/s) in high school, but he never matured into the all-around talent for which the Angels hoped. Over his 16 MLB seasons, he hit .272/.338/.689 with 395 stolen bases, but was stapled to the bench for much of his career, only once eclipsing the 130 games-played mark. He did, however, set a Blue Jays single-season record with 60 stolen bases in 1984.
Coleman burst onto scene as a 23-year-old rookie, swiping a league-leading 110 bags and claiming NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Cardinals. In 13 seasons, he racked up 752 stolen bases - sixth most all time - with an 81 percent success rate. His lightning speed shouldn’t have have been a surprise, considering he once ran a 9.5-second 100-yard dash (31.6 ft/s).
There wasn’t much "Prime Time" couldn’t do. The NFL Hall of Famer played nine MLB seasons, tallying 186 stolen bases and leading the league with 14 triples in 1992. While he starred as a two-sport athlete - becoming the only athlete to hit a major-league home run and score an NFL touchdown in the same week in 1989 - Sanders was also an amateur track phenom. In 1988, while at Florida State, he ran a 10.26-second 100-meter dash (32 ft/s) and at the NFL combine the following year he posted a 4.27-second 40-yard dash.
For all intents and purposes, Washington wasn't a baseball player. After running a then-world record 5.8-second 60-yard dash in 1972 and posting a 9.2-second 100-yard dash (32.6 ft/s) in 1974, Athletics’ owner Charlie Finley decided to make Washington the team’s "designated runner." In 105 games over two seasons, Washington never registered a plate appearance or played in the field. He did, however, tally 31 stolen bases. Unfortunately, the Washington experiment was a colossal failure; his track speed never translated to baseball and he was caught stealing 64.9 percent of the time.