The 1980s was the decade of speed. There were stolen base burners like Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, Willie Wilson, Dave Collins, Willie McGee, but the finest – the most astute ballplayer of the burner group – was Brett Butler. Granted, Butler never stole 100 bases like Coleman, or legged out 20 triples like Wilson, but Butler brought a dynamic that the other fleet-footed ballplayers didn’t bring to the table: on-base skills. McGee and Wilson never drew walks – they were deathly allergic to them – while Butler hit for a solid average while accepting his share of free passes.
In Butler’s rookie 1981 season, he walked more than he struck out, setting the tone early in his career for what would separate him from his Mercury-like peers. His first year as an everyday player, 1983, Brett led the NL with 13 triples. In a rather lopsided trade, the Braves sent a young Brett and Brook Jacoby to the Indians for an aging Len Barker. Brett finished third in the AL in the stolen base department and only Rickey Henderson scored more runs than Brett among AL outfielders.
Brett hit .311 in 1985 and finished second in the AL in triples. He paced the AL in triples the next season, drawing 70 walks with a .278 BA. His on-base skills were on display in 1987, as he led all center fielders with 91 walks. He coupled his high walk total with a .295 BA which was good for a .399 on-base average. Fellow burner Willie McGee hit slightly less than Brett with a .285 average but his inability to draw a walk kept his on-base average at a low .312.
With free agency in full bloom, Brett signed with the Giants in 1988 to be closer to his home. His first year as a Giant, Brett paced the NL in runs scored and finished second in the league with 97 walks. His on-base average was an exceptional .393. The following year, Brett was the only NL center fielder to score 100 or more runs.
In 1990, Brett hit .309 while leading the NL with 192 base hits. He drew 90 walks and had another on-base averge close to .400 – a .397 mark. He attained the elusive .400 on-base average in 1991 by leading the league with 108 walks. Being an on-base stud allowed Brett to cross the plate more than any other player in the NL in ’91 – tallying 112 runs – his fourth straight season of 100 or more runs scored.
Brett posted his highest career on-base average in 1992, posting a .413 mark. His 95 walks were tops among center fielders and he hit for a solid .309 batting average – getting on-base through hits and walks – the classic leadoff man. With the Dodgers in 1994, Brett tied for the league lead in triples and mirrored the feat in ’95. His career came to a crashing halt in 1996 due to cancer but he made a heroic comeback in 1997: hitting .283 with 15 steals.
Brett’s career was splendid – a terrific leadoff man, who like Rickey Henderson – knew the value of a walk. Brett finished in the Top Ten in walks eight times, which allowed him to finish in the Top Ten in on-base average seven times. His supreme wheels kept him up in the leader board in triples and stolen bases. He had twelve straight years of 30 or more steals and finished in the Top Ten in triples an astounding eleven times.
Brett Butler’s career stats: G 2,213/R 1,359/H 2,375/2B 277/3B 131/RBI 578/BB 1,129/SO 907/SB 558/BA .290/SA .376