CINCINNATI -- Giants assistant coach Shawon Dunston, who spent 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, remembered when virtually every team had a speedster on its roster.
Eric Davis. Juan Samuel. Marquis Grissom. Mookie Wilson. Tim Raines. Kenny Lofton. Even Ryne Sandberg, Dunston's Chicago Cubs teammate who was renowned for aspects of his game other than speed, stole 54 bases in 1985. That was Dunston's rookie year.
So when Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton generates attention with his fleet feet, Dunston doesn't get too excited, though he does appreciate the skill.
"I've seen it before," Dunston said.
After watching Hamilton steal two bases while driving the Giants nuts in Tuesday's series opener, Dunston was suitably impressed. Citing the rising prominence of Hamilton and Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, another extremely fast runner, Dunston said Wednesday, "It's nice to see the game come back to old-school habits."
Among the fastest runners Dunston has seen were St. Louis' Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ("You had to play the infield close -- you couldn't play regular depth"), Deion Sanders ("He'd hit a triple and look like he was jogging") and Willie Wilson ("He could pick 'em up and put 'em down. ... I think he could beat anybody.")
Giants left-hander Javier Lopez, who began his professional career in 1998, said Hamilton compared favorably with the fastest runners he has seen. He also mentioned Gordon, Darren Ford, who had his moments as a Giants pinch-runner, and performers such as Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp at the beginning of their careers.
"These guys aren't just a threat to steal second base, but also third," Lopez said. A pitcher, he said, must try to neutralize top runners by varying the pace of his deliveries to home plate -- releasing one pitch after his normal pause, for example, then waiting an extra second or two before throwing the next one. The problem that pitchers often encounter, Lopez said, is that "all of us tend to get into a rhythm."