Lured by A’s owner Charlie Finley from a track career to become the “designated runner” for the then two-time World Champion Oakland A’s, world-class sprinter Herb Washington had a brief career in Major League Baseball in 1974 and 1975.
His history at Michigan State included being a four-time all-American, winning a NCAA title and seven Big Ten titles. He also tied or broke the world record in the 50- and 60-yard dashes several times, which is what caught Finley’s eye. His teammates, who acknowledged his talents as an athlete, felt his presence as a player was considered somewhere between a danger and a joke.
After crashing on to the MLB team with no professional baseball experience, the A’s brought in legendary base stealer Maury Wills to mentor Washington, who had to learn tendencies of opposing pitchers and aquaint himself with base running techniques.
The 22-year-old Washington appeared in 92 games for the ’74 team, stealing 29 bases in 45 attempts. Of his 29 runs scored, 13 either tied the score or put the A’s ahead.
While Washington may have helped the A’s reach the World Series again, where they defeated the Dodgers in five games, there’s no doubt to baseball fans that his most memorable moment in the brief career was a dubious one. In the ninth inning of Game 2 in the 1974 Series, with the A’s down by a run, Manager Alvin Dark – presumably on orders from Finley – had Washington pinch-run for a surprised and reluctant-to-leave Joe Rudi, who was no slouch in the area of speed himself. Washington was then promptly picked off first base by Dodger pitcher Mike Marshall while representing the tying run.
“The only thing embarrassing about that is that it happened in front of 60 million people watching on television,” Wills said in a news article.
Washington played in 13 more games in 1975, stealing only two bases and scoring four runs, before the A’s released him in early May.
“I’d feel sorry for him if he were a player,” A’s Captain Sal Bando said at the time.
Washington is one of only seven players (not pitchers) to have more game appearances than plate appearances. Alan Wyatt, also featured in this piece, is another one of the seven.
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