A speedy flychaser of the 1950s and early 1960s, Bill Bruton led the league several times in stolen bases and putouts. When Bruton made his debut, the stolen base was all but dead. Guys like George Case and Bill Werber tried to keep it alive around World War II but when the fighting ended, so did the stolen base. Bruton helped bring it back in 1953 when he kicked off his Major League career with three consecutive stolen base titles.
The Braves brought Bill up to Milwaukee in 1953 at the age of 27. A veteran of World War II, Bill lied to the Braves about his age when he signed with them because he felt they would pass on him if they knew he was in his mid 20s. The truth fabrication paid off as he was inserted into the Braves everyday outfield in ’53. As a rookie, he led the league in stolen bases and finished second in the triples department. He finished third in putouts, thus showing the league the trademarks he would be known for throughout his career: speed and defense.
Even better as a sophomore, Bruton raised his batting average 34 points, led the NL in stolen bases again and saw substantial raises in his on-base percentage and slugging average. But Bill was a lesser known commodity most of his career. He played center field in the days of Mantle, Mays and Snider and was clearly not on their level, run production wise. Be that as it may, in 1955, Bill led the NL in steals, finished second in triples and with Mays, was the only other Major League center fielder with 100 runs and 170 hits.
Bruton got the green light to run less and less as the Braves built a strong offensive force in the mid 1950s. Why risk getting caught stealing when guys like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock and Bobby Thomson could drive you in with the big hit? Although Bill’s stolen base totals fell, he still legged out three-baggers with the game’s elite. In ’56, Bill led the National League with 15 triples.
The Braves captured the NL flag in 1957 but Bill missed the World Series due to injury. Fortunately for him he got a chance to play in the 1958 Fall Classic when the Braves repeated as NL champs. He was an offensive dynamo in the ’58 World Series, posting a .412 batting average and an astronomically high .545 on-base percentage. But the Braves lost to the Yankees in seven games. Bill hit a career high .289 in 1959 and in 1960 he led the league in runs scored and triples.
Despite his brilliant season in 1960, the Braves traded Bruton to the Tigers after the season. He found Detroit to his liking as he posted new career highs in homeruns and RBI his first year in Motown. In 1962, he posted his third straight year of 90 or more runs scored and established his single season high for runs batted in. Still swift in his late 30s, Bill paced American League center fielders with eight triples in 1963. He played one final year at the Major League level before calling it a career.
G 1,610/R 937/H 1,651/2B 241/3B 102/HR 94/RBI 545/SB 207/BB 482/SO 793/BA .273/SA .393/OBP .328