Carey, Hamilton steal their way to Cooperstown
In a year that would see the game’s greatest power record eclipsed, two stolen base kings entered the Hall of Fame.
Max Carey, a 10-time National League stolen base champ, and Billy Hamilton, who swiped 914 bases in just 14 big league seasons, were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee on Jan. 29, 1961.
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The Yankees’ Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle would chase Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs throughout the 1961 season – with Maris eventually reaching 61 – but it was speed that was honored that summer in Cooperstown.
The 71-year-old Carey, then living in Miami Beach, Fla., was at the time of his election recognized as the “modern” National League stolen base leader with 738 career thefts. Hamilton had amassed 784 steals in the National League with Philadelphia and Boston from 1890-1901 to go with 130 steals in the American Association, then considered a major league, in 1888-89.
But pre-1901 marks were often considered not valid due to various rule differences.
Carey, though, was unconcerned with the records after hearing of his election, telling the Associated Press that he was “happy and proud to be selected.”
Carey’s 10 seasons atop the NL stolen base leaderboard remain the league record and trail only Rickey Henderson’s 12 times leading the American League for any big league player.
A .285 career hitter, Carey amassed 2,665 hits and 1,545 runs scored over 20 seasons with the Pirates and Dodgers. Playing mostly center field, he led the NL in putouts among outfielders nine times and assists four times.
At the time of his election, Carey was the acknowledged leader in career games among outfielders (2,421) and assists by an outfielder (339).
Hamilton, nicknamed “Sliding Billy”, totaled 100-or-more steals in four seasons and led his league in on-base percentage five times. In 1894, Hamilton hit .403 and scored 198 runs, still a record for any big league season. His career batting average of .344 ranks seventh all-time, and his on-base percentage of .455 ranks fourth.
Carey and Hamilton were the only two electees in 1961, as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America was then holding elections every other year and did not vote in ’61. Carey had topped the BBWAA election results in 1958 with 51.1 percent of the vote, falling short of the 75 percent needed for election.
The BBWAA did not elect any Hall of Fame candidates between 1957 and 1961.
Hamilton was elected posthumously, passing away in 1940. Carey passed away in 1976.
Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum