Around the Cage: Baseball's Usain Bolt

Around the Cage: Baseball's fastest man

Jamaica's Usain Bolt took the title of World's Fastest Human and ran off with it in style last summer in Beijing, winning the Olympic 100 and 200 meters, both going away.

Baseball's men of speed could not help but notice.

"What he did in the Olympics was amazing to watch, not because he won, but by how much he won," Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "I've never seen anybody win by that much in that event."

So who is baseball's Usain Bolt? Who is the game's fastest human?

When reporters asked around, they found a few different answers, and a few different ways at looking at the question.

After all, baseball players aren't opening it up for hundreds of meters on a straight line or a curve -- they're running bases. When it comes to straight sprints, it's hard to ignore the steals, also, so Carl Crawford and his Major League-leading 35 thefts got a lot of attention.

But there's also going first to third, first to home, home to first, and, of course, being that guy in scoring position at second base, poised to sprint home. So others emerged, including one -- Joey Gathright -- who's not even in the Majors at the moment but clearly has made an impression, and another -- Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates -- who's just now starting to make his.

Speed is identifiable over time, and the numbers tell a lot of the story -- but not all of it. Asked what all-time great they'd want to see in scoring position at second base, many went with Rickey Henderson -- the all-time leader in steals and runs scored. But Aaron Rowand might have struck the perfect balance when he went with a player with perhaps an unparalleled combination of speed and Brian Bosworth-barreling-over power.

"Bo Jackson," Rowand said. "Not only is he one of the fastest, if not the fastest, who has ever played, he's also a guy who, if it's a line drive [hit] and the play is going to be close, he'll run through whoever it is that's catching. I like my chances."

Who's the Game's Fastest Human now? Maybe Bo knows. But he wasn't hanging out Around the Cage, so here's a sampling from around baseball:

They Said It ...

Joe Beimel, LHP, Nationals: "I would have to say Carl Crawford. I actually played with him and saw him on a day-to-day basis. It seems like he can turn it up a notch when he is rounding the bases. Before you know it, he is on third base. It's kind of amazing because I never had speed like that. I actually witnessed it and it's pretty cool."

David Eckstein, SS, Padres: "There are a couple ways to look at it. Out of the box, you have to say Ichiro [Suzuki] is the fastest from home to first in my opinion. And then you've got just raw speed, and [Jose] Reyes just turns it on. And Figgy [Chone Figgins] turns it on. We've got a guy hurt right now, Everth Cabrera, and he turns it on. And [for] pure speed, Joey Gathright is fast."

Jimmy Gobble, LHP, White Sox: "I would have to say, Joey Gathright's not up here, but he's the fastest guy I've ever seen. I got a chance to see his athletic ability and how he runs. It's pretty impressive. I've seen him jump over a player. He was running to first and he jumped clear over a pitcher. Like I said, in my opinion, I think he is the fastest guy in baseball right now."

Curtis Granderson, CF, Tigers: "I think there's two different aspects. You have base-to-base guys, and first-to-second guys. I think that would be a combination of Carl Crawford and [Scott] Podsednik. First-and-third guys, the other option, the only reason I don't put Crawford in it is because he gets so fast he almost has to slow himself down to go, which is still a great threat to have. But first-to-third guys, Coco Crisp is one of them. Carlos Gomez, especially on that turf, he's a guy that I've seen be at first on a lot of balls, and these are balls where guys shouldn't score, and they've got to stop him because he wants to score. So, yeah, I think he's one of the best first-to-third guys in baseball and one of the fastest guys overall."

Mike Jacobs, DH, Royals: "Crawford's fast but some new kid from Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen, has got to be. He was flying around the bases the other day on TV. Probably faster than Crawford."

Joe Mauer, C, Twins: "When I think of fastest player and best base stealer, I think [they] are two different things. But the fastest player I think would probably be Carlos Gomez. If it were for best base stealer, I would say Jacoby Ellsbury. He's fast and it seems like he usually picks good pitches to go and gets good jumps."

Brian McCann, C, Braves: "I'd have to say the fastest guy in baseball right now would be Michael Bourn or Willy Taveras. If you're looking for the fastest guy in sports, I think you'd have to go with a cornerback. I'll say Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from the Cardinals."

Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers: "[Crawford's] actually fast. Some guys like me, I don't think I'm like that fast guy, but I steal bases. I don't know, I think I get [good] reads and stuff like that. But as far as a footrace, I think there are probably about four or five guys that'd probably beat me in a footrace just straight away. I would say [Crawford] is up there. If he's not the fastest, he's one of the top-three fastest."

Bo Porter, Marlins third-base coach: "If you were in class and you were taking roll, Bonifacio's name wouldn't be too far down the list. The new kid in Pittsburgh, too, McCutcheon, I hear he's real fast. I think Crawford's right up there, too. Baseball speed and track speed are two different things. Reyes, when healthy, comes to mind and Taveras in Cincinnati, too. I've seen him bunt a ball three feet in front of the plate and beat it out."

Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants: "Joey Gathright. He flies. He's unbelievably fast."

Ramon Santiago, SS, Tigers: "I'd say Crawford. He's pretty fast. I'd say he's fastest on base."

Daron Sutton, D-backs broadcaster: "Emilio Bonafacio is the fastest player that I have ever covered. He hasn't been able to hit and use his speed more and that's what I think every team that gives him a chance hopes for. He is a guy that will always be given an opportunity and given a chance, like a guy like Alex Sanchez was given all those opportunities, because he can fly."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. Several reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.