Wednesday, November 16, 2005

November 16th, 1951

Herb Washington Born

One of the most unique players in the history of the game, Herb Washington was the first and only designated runner. Washington was a world class sprinter, who had won a NCAA Championship while at Michigan State University and broken several indoor track records. Charles Finley decided his A's--coming off two straight World Series victories--needed a speedy pinch-runner for those times when the A's really needed a steal. As Finley's ideas go this one had more in common with his suggestion that Major League Baseball switch to orange balls or his "Three-Ball Walk, Two-Strike Strikeout" rule change than his decision to change the A's to their current green-and-gold uniforms.

Washington was fast, even outdoors and in a baseball uniform. The problem was that Washington wasn't an especially good base runner. He wasn't Jorge Posada bad or anything (Posada runs the bases in a manner suggesting the Yankees might consider a Second Base Coach to go along with those at the corners) but he simply wasn't a baseball player. Obviously his speed could make up for some of these mistakes, but Washington's final 1974 line features an impressive twenty-nine steals (and an equal number of runs) but also sixteen times caught stealing. None of those CS was worse than during Game Two of the World Series. With the A's down one run and rallying in the ninth, Washington came on as the tying run, running for Joe Rudi. However, in a disastrously embarrassing moment, Washington was picked off by Dodgers' reliever Mike Marshall and after Angel Mangual struck out, the A's lost the game, their only loss in the 1974 World Series.

Washington returned to the A's in 1975, but only briefly, going 2-for-3 in steal attempts before Charlie Finley decided he'd had enough of his own novelty and Washington was released in early May. He would--unsurprisingly--never play in the Majors again, although he retires with the unusual distinction of being the man with the most steals (31) and runs (33) without ever having come to the plate, and of course, he has a World Series ring. He ran on the pro track circuit until 1976 and today is a businessman in Rochester, NY where he owns several McDonald's.

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