A dream roster of automatic runners

Jarrod Dyson, a woman who stole 1,100 bases and a man who's faster than Usain Bolt

August 17th, 2020

Many changes were put in place for the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, one of the more extreme being the installation of the automatic runner: To keep extra-inning games moving along, a runner would be put on second base to begin each half-inning after the ninth.

Unfortunately, it couldn't just be the fastest guy on your team, it had to be whomever made the last out the inning before. But what if it could be your fastest player? What if you had a roster spot just for that person for those specific situations?

Let's go live in that imaginary world. Here's a dream list of current players, past speedsters and sprinters from outside the world of baseball who would make the best automatic runners.

From Today

Jarrod Dyson, Pirates

Dyson is not just one of the most efficient basestealers currently in baseball, he's also one of the most efficient all-time: his 85.18 stolen-base percentage is the best among active players and ranks fifth in baseball history. Last year, at the age of 34, he had 30 steals while being caught just four times. There's an entire YouTube video dedicated to his speed called "Jarrod Dyson Being Unbelievably Fast." He also has the word "ZOOM" shaved into the side of his head, so you know he's quick.

Tim Locastro, D-backs

Although he's played in much fewer games than anybody on this list, Locastro has a perfect stolen-base record. He's swiped 22 bags and been caught zero times. By sprint speed, he was also the fastest among qualified runners in 2019 -- galloping around the bases at a blazing 30.8 feet per second. He was first called up back in 2017 to see if he could be an impact pinch-runner for the Dodgers in the playoffs; that's as close to having a automatic runner position as we can get.

Terrance Gore, Dodgers

Gore is the only one in this current players lineup where Pinch Runner is listed as one of his primary positions. During the first 49 games of his career -- over a period of four years -- he had just 14 plate appearances. He stole 21 bases -- including some big ones during the Royals' 2014 World Series run -- while being caught only four times. He didn't get his first Major League hit until 2018 with the Cubs, five seasons into his career. He's played in two games with the Dodgers this year, one as a pinch-runner and one as a defensive replacement.

Billy Hamilton, Mets

As Jeff Passan put it back in 2012, "sometimes it's as if God couldn't throw out Billy Hamilton." The 21-year-old exploded onto the scene with a record 155 steals in the Minor Leagues for the Reds in 2012 and, although he hasn't quite put it together at the plate with his bat, he's still perhaps the most feared baserunner in the game. He set a Reds rookie record with 56 swipes in 2014 and has recorded 301 in eight years -- the most by any player in that stretch. The very first steal of his career was electric, coming against the golden arm of Yadier Molina.

From the Past

Stuffy Stewart

Stewart was one of the premier baserunners of the early 20th century. He's been called the greatest basestealer in Southern Association history -- leading the league four times in that category. He played sparingly in the Majors because he couldn't really hit, but when he did play, it was mostly as a pinch-runner: 64 of his 176 games came in that position. Playing for the Senators in 1936, he made 34 appearances as a pinch-runner, stole six bases and scored 13 times. He was also one of the first in organized baseball to swipe five bags in one game.

Herb Washington

This is probably as close to a full-time automatic runner as we've ever gotten in MLB history. Back in the 1970s, A's owner Charlie Finley had an idea to bring on players who would only be used on the basepaths. Washington, a sprinter who beat Olympic runners and set world records but never really played baseball before his junior year of high school, was perhaps the most famous of the bunch. He appeared in 105 total games for Oakland from 1974-75 and never once took an at-bat or played the field. He wasn't as successful as Finley had hoped -- just 31 steals and 17 times caught stealing during his career (including two crucial ones during the '74 playoffs) -- but he was able to negotiate a no-cut contract for his otherwise brief MLB tenure. The conversation about it should be in the Hall of Fame somewhere:

"Finley said, 'Herbie, I want you to play baseball and be a pinch-runner.' I said, 'Mr. Finley, I'm going to need a no-cut contract. I know sometimes you just get rid of people.' He said, 'A no-cut contract? The only players who have those are Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson! Are you telling me you're in the same league as those guys?' I said, 'No, but none of those guys can outrun me.'"

Allan Lewis

Lewis was the original and longest-tenured A's Designated Runner during Finley's reign, although, unlike Washington, he did make 31 plate appearances and played 13 times in the field. He stole a then-record 116 bases in the Minors in 1966 and then, after being called up to Kansas City, he swiped an amazing 14 bases in 29 pinch-run appearances. He also won two World Series rings with the A's -- scoring the winning run as a pinch-runner in Game 7 of the '72 Series against the Reds.

Allan Lewis (left) celebrates winning the 1972 World Series with A's owner Charlie Finley and Sal Bando.AP

Sophie Kurys

There was maybe no more prolific basestealer in the history of professional baseball than Sophie "The Flint Flash" Kurys. The second baseman in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League swiped an astounding 1,114 bases, stealing 80 percent of the time she reached base. She had the record for most career steals in pro ball -- more than Ty Cobb and later Lou Brock -- until Rickey Henderson surpassed her in 1994 and ended up stealing 1,406. The one caveat: Henderson compiled his number over 3,081 games, while Kurys did it in a meager 914. She stole more than 150 bags per year and a still-record 201 (in 203 attempts!) in 1946.

Kurys also didn't quite understand the nonsensical rule that players had to wear skirts in the AAGPBL, causing raspberries and bruises all over her legs: “They wanted us to look like Marilyn Monroe and play like Joe DiMaggio."

Sophie Kurys works on her sliding in Spring Training 1948.Getty

From Outside of Baseball

The Freeze

I mean, look at this guy.

Nigel Talton, a college sprinter, became the star of the Atlanta Braves' Beat the Freeze promotion a few years ago -- dominating and embarrassing over-confident Braves fans ever since. Even physicists can't seem to calculate his speed. Maybe a team signs him for the playoffs every year or down the stretch of the season for any pennant-deciding, extra-inning affairs. They'll just have to invest in a spandex version of their uniform.

Usain Bolt

You can't have this list without giving the fastest person in the world a shot.

Although he's a few years removed from his last international race, Bolt is still just 33 years old and could probably provide a couple months of help to teams looking for world-class speed off the bench. He dabbled in another pro sport and has expressed interest in another bat-and-ball pastime in his home country of Jamaica. C'mon, what else could he possibly be doing?

Tony Bowman

What would an opposing team think if you subbed in an 84-year-old as a automatic runner late in the game?

OK, but what if it wasn't just any 84-year-old? What if it was British runner Tony Bowman, the fastest 84-year-old on Earth?

Bowman started running professionally at the age of 42 and hasn't stopped since -- even after suffering two heart attacks in his 70s. Pitchers and catchers might laugh when he came into the game in the 10th inning, but those laughs would quickly turn to looks of terror when they saw his speed and terrifyingly beautiful race-faces.

Srinivasa Gowda

Google might say that Usain Bolt is the fastest person in the world, but Indian Kambal racer Srinivasa Gowda actually surpassed the world-renowned sprinter in a competition earlier this year. He also did it on a slippery wet paddy field instead of a hard racing track.

Sure, the buffaloes he's running with aren't something that would be allowed in a baseball stadium and Gowda's record time was recorded with hand-held stopwatches rather than electronic devices, but he's still extremely quick. You'd think a team might take a chance on him and try to get him in a game -- especially if the field is wet and muddy after a late-night downpour.