Who's the fastest?
It has all the makings of a reality series we'd actually watch: The World's Fastest Baseball Human competition.
We would start on a baseball field, stopwatches in hand. Then we'd stand back and let our contestants motor -- home to first, first to third, second to home.
They would sprint out triples, simulate inside-the-parkers, see who takes the fewest milliseconds to lead off first base and steal second.
Then we'd move the survivors into the Olympic stadium for our spectacular grand finale -- the AL-versus-NL relay race.
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Three active players came into this season working on streaks of at least five straight seasons with 20 stolen bases or more. Three more players have gotten to five by stealing 20 already this season. How many of those six can you name? Answer below.
• Useless Speed Info
"Give me that team," Donnelly laughed, "and I think we could beat Bulgaria."
Hey, they just might. But could that NL team beat the American League? That's what we're wondering.
"I'd like to take Nook Logan, Joey Gathright, Carl Crawford and Chone Figgins," said Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, "put them in that 4-by-100, and we'd crush those National League guys. We'd beat 'em on the way to the race."
And you know what? We would pay to see that race, too. But even if we never actually hold that relay or produce that reality show, we can still ask the question we know you've been kicking around since this column began: Who's the fastest player in baseball?
We've been surveying scouts, GMs, coaches and players over the last week. So it's time now to finally answer that question:
SPEEDY STATS: Has almost twice as many infield hits (60) as anyone in the big leagues. ... More bunt hits (26) than extra-base hits (18). ... Has a chance to join Gerald Young, Cesar Cedeno, Sonny Jackson and Jimmy Wynn as the only Astros 23 or younger to steal 40 bases.
HOWWWWW FAST IS HE?: One scout clocked Taveras from home to first -- from the right-handed side of the batter's box -- in 3.56 seconds on a bunt ("That," the scout said, "is off the chart"). It's ridiculous how many routine ground balls Taveras beats out. "Early in the season," said Houston GM Tim Purpura, "when we hadn't played some of these teams yet, sometimes those infielders who hadn't seen him didn't know how fast he was. So they'd take their time, and next thing they knew, he was a step ahead of them [on the throw]. You'd see them out there, just shaking their heads."
QUICK REVIEWS: "The best way to get Taveras when he's stealing second," Donnelly quipped, "is to just throw it to third and wait for him." ... "His stride is much longer than these other guys," said one scout. "And he really drives through the bag because he runs hard all the way to first." ... "He gets to first quicker than anyone I have seen," said teammate Brad Ausmus. "Even any left-handed-hitting speedsters." ... "Willie Taveras is so fast," Donnelly said, "I think he could beat out an infield single if you made him run all the way to the foul pole. And if he couldn't, it would be bang-bang."
SPEEDY STATS: Leading the league in steals -- so he could be the first Met ever to do that, and the first New Yorker to lead the NL since Willie Mays (as a Giant) in 1957. ... Last month became the first player to steal a base in six straight games since Luis Matos in 2001. ... First National Leaguer with two multi-triple games in the same season since (no kidding) Sammy Sosa in 1990.
HOWWWWW FAST IS HE? Here's your basic Jose Reyes inning: Leads off a June 23 game by beating out a single to short. Then he steals second, moves to third on a ground ball, scores on a balk. ... Runs a consistent 3.9 to first, hitting left-handed -- "but when he's really fun to watch is on those triples," said ex-teammate Mike Stanton. "He takes a second to get going. But once he gets rolling, he's just unbelievable." ... The guy hit seven triples in 10 games in May (only man in the division-play era to do that). Any more questions?
QUICK REVIEWS: "Can absolutely fly," said Ausmus. ... "If he ran in a greyhound race, he'd probably finish third," Donnelly joked. "I think he could beat those dogs -- five of them, anyway."
|WHO ARE THE SLOWEST GUYS?|
|GOLD: Jason Phillips, Dodgers: Five seasons into his career, still has no stolen bases and no triples. "Could be one of the slowest young guys ever," said one player.|
|SILVER: Bengie Molina, Angels: "Talk about timing with an hour glass," said one scout. "When he hits a ground ball, he doesn't even come into the picture. The play's over. Guys are running off the field. And then he gets to first base."|
|BRONZE: Johnny Estrada, Braves: Also triple-less and SB-less in five seasons. "I'd like to see a race," laughed one scout, "between Molina and Estrada."|
|HONORABLE MENTION: Matt LeCroy, John Olerud, Paul Konerko, Travis Hafner, Damian Miller, Sean Casey, Sal Fasano.|
HOWWWWWW FAST IS HE?: Our favorite, prototype Juan Pierre game of the year -- June 15 at Wrigley: Bunt single in the first, stole second and scored. Bunt single in the second, went to second on a wild throw. Two-run double in the fourth, then stole third and scored. ... A 4-flat runner home to first, "he's not quite as fast as Taveras because he's got a real odd running style," said one scout. "But he's right up there with anyone, as far as stealing bases and running the bases." ... Would 83 infield hits over the last two years tell you anything?
QUICK REVIEWS: "Juan Pierre reminds me of me," said Kenny Lofton. "He'll walk around like his body's aching. Next thing you know, he just stole a base."
WATCH OUT NEXT YEAR FOR: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
SPEEDY STATS: Almost as many bunt hits (10) as doubles (12). ... More infield hits (25) than walks (18). ... Needs to work on stealing first base. He was 0-for-his-last-19 through Thursday after earlier stretches of 0-for-17 and 1-for 22.
HOWWWWW FAST IS HE?: The Nookster's finest moment was this: Scored from first on a wild pitch (helped by a wild throw) May 11 in Texas. ... Another candidate: Looped a single to left and then circled the bases on two throwing errors, Aug. 7 vs. Cleveland. ... Recently clocked at 3.74 from the left side, home to first, on a routine ground ball to the first baseman.
QUICK REVIEWS: "He'd run the last leg on my 4-by-100 team," Ricciardi said. "We threw him out at the plate on a ball to the wall, and I don't know how we got him. He looked like one of those sprinters, banking on the final turn." ... "He's fast, but he's got a funny style," said one scout. "He's all arms and legs. But he's a big, long strider. So he gets down there quick."
SPEEDY STATS: After his first 380 professional games (320 in the minor leagues, 60 in the big leagues), Gathright's steal-to-homer ratio was a fascinating 181 to 1. ... What has he done that Scott Podsednik hasn't done this year? Stole a base in four straight games. ... The only AL rookie with more stolen bases than Gathright this year (10) is Tadahito Iguchi (14), who had 261 more at-bats through Thursday.
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ANSWER: Bobby Abreu (now up to seven in a row), Luis Castillo (six in a row through last year, but only eight SB this year). Rafael Furcal (now at six), Jimmy Rollins (now at five), Ichiro Suzuki (now at five) and Juan Pierre (now at five).
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HOWWWWW FAST IS HE?: A slice of Gathright utopia: He just had a game in Anaheim in which he turned a soft hit to center into a hustle double, then scored from second on a wild pickoff throw. ... Recently timed to first in 3.78 from the left side. ... Such a great athlete, he was first spotted by a Devil Rays scout jumping over a car in a parking lot. But his contract now bans him from car jumping (they're just no fun, those Devil Rays).
QUICK REVIEWS: "If Carl Crawford tells me [Gathright is] faster than him," says one scout, "I know he's fast." ... "I can't decide what he is," said one scout. "Omar Moreno. Eugene Kingsale. Tom Goodwin. He may be the fastest guy in the big leagues, for pure speed. But he's as crude as they come."
|WHICH IS MORE INTIMIDATING -- SPEED OR POWER?|
|THE CASE FOR SPEED: "To me," said Houston GM Tim Purpura, "power is almost a one-on-one game. It's all about the pitcher-hitter confrontation. Whereas speed affects everybody. It makes all the fielders a little more on their guard. It creates more mistakes. And the pitcher can really get out of sync when those things happen."|
|THE CASE FOR POWER: "Speed can be unnerving, but I'll take power," said Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi. "Speed is like slow death. You're throwing over. You're holding guys on. You're stepping out. The whole game slows down. Power is quick death. One swing, and you're done. If I had a choice, I'd take power. You look at teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, with all their power. If you don't throw strikes, that power will end up crushing you. When you put those guys on base, they kill you with the three-run homer. That's more dangerous to me than a team like the Devil Rays that tries to create havoc by running the bases. If guys don't get on base, speed is a nonfactor."|
HOWWWWW FAST IS HE?: Crawford is the ultimate "triple" threat. He has hit at least one triple in 18 consecutive months, if you don't count his two games in Japan in March 2004. (Next-longest streak is five, by Juan Pierre -- eight if you don't count his three games last October.) ... Not a home-to-first sprint champ (timed at 3.95-4.0). But that's misleading. "I don't know if he's lightning fast, but he's quicker than everyone else," Stanton said. "He hits those triples because he does it right off the bat." ... "He runs funny," Lofton said. "But man, he runs fast."
QUICK REVIEWS: "When Carl Crawford runs, he looks like a runaway hub cap," Donnelly quipped. "Ever seen a hub cap rolling downhill, leaning to one side? That's him." ... "Best baserunner in the league and best base stealer in the league," said one scout. ... "He hit a triple against us one time," Donnelly said, "and I swear his feet only hit the ground four times. We had skid marks on the infield."
FINALISTS IN FIRST-TO-THIRD SPRINT COMPETITION: Crawford and Figgins
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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