Oakland Athletics 1974-75
One of the most unique performers in baseball history, Herb Washington
became the games first and only "designated runner" when the Oakland Athletics maverick owner Charles O. Finley signed the
world class sprinter in 1974. Washington appeared in 105 games over two seasons in Oakland, but never made a plate appearence.
Herbert Lee Washington was born on November 16, 1951 in Belzoni, MS, and sometime thereafter his family moved north
to Flint, MI. It was at Flint's Central High that Washington first gained national attention when he tied world class sprinter
Charlie Green in the 50 yard dash at the Milwaukee Journal Indoor Track Meet.
After high school, Washington attended
Michigan State University on a track scholarship. At MSU, he broke the indoor records for both the 50 and 60 yard dash several
times. During his decorated collegiate career, Washington was named an All-American four times, won seven Big Ten titles,
and an captured an NCAA championship.
A superb all-around athlete, Washington also suited up for the Spartans' football
team as a wide receiver in 1971 and 1972. Although he caught only one pass for 41 yards, the Baltimore Colts drafted the speedster
in the 12th round of the 1973 draft. Washington, however, never pursued a career in pro football.
Meanwhile in Oakland,
the Athletics had just captured their second consecutive World Series title, and owner Charlie Finley was, apparently, bored.
Finley, who came up with several wacky ideas such as using an orange baseball, decided his team needed a "designated runner";
a player whose sole purpose is to pinch run and steal bases.
Herb Washington, even though he had not played baseball
since his junior year in high school, fit the bill. Two weeks before the 1974 season, Finley signed the track star and
placed him on the 25 man roster.
Although Washington was fast, he was not well versed in the finer points of base
stealing. Nevertheless, the fleet footed specialist managed to swipe 29 bases in 1974, but was caught 16 times.
Washington appeared in 92 games that season, all as a pinch runner.
The Athletics won their third straight AL pennant
that season, before facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. After winning Game 1, the A's were down 3-2
in the bottom of the 9th with one out in Game 2 when Washington was inserted to pinch run for Joe Rudi, who was on first base.
Washington, however, was quickly picked off by Dodgers' reliever Mike Marshall who then struck out Angel Managual to end the
game. Oakland went on to win the Series in five games, but Washington's pick off lives on in World Series infamy.
Washington opened the 1975 season with Oakland, but was released on May 5, when the organization felt keeping a roster
spot for a runner was no longer justified. The former Michigan State track star appeared in just 13 games that season,
stealing 2 bases in 3 attempts. All told, Herb Washington appeared in 104 games, stole 31 bases, and scored 33 runs
without ever batting, pitching, or fielding.
Following his brief baseball career, Washington joined the pro track
circuit and remained in competition until 1976. Today he is a successful business man, owning several McDonalds franchises
in the Rochester, NY area. In 1997, he was awarded the prestigious NCAA Silver Anniversary Award which recognizes former
student athletes who have distinguished themselves 25 years after their collegiate career.
Washington is also a member
of the Michigan State University Hall Fame, the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame, and an interesting footnote in our
National Pastime's rich and colorful history.
-David Zingler, November 2003
Washington @ Baseball-Reference.com
Simply Baseball Notebook
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