Allan Lewis, the “Panamanian Express”. When A’s fans think about the “designated runner,” minds go to Herb Washington and 1974. But prior to the ’74 season, the Oakland A’s had another player whom they often called in for pinch running situations, from 1968 to 1973.
Allan Lewis, classified as an outfielder, was brought into MLB by owner Charlie Finley. Finley required managers to use the speedster in late inning situations where a stolen base could lead to wins. Lewis was nicknamed “The Panamanian Express” by Finley for his country of origin, in reference to the train run called the Panama Limited.
Lewis appeared in 156 games in those six season, and actually had 29 at-bats – remember, this was prior to the DH when rosters were depleted in extra-inning games and Lewis would actually have to play the field and hit after being called in. He even hit one home run in his career, which is more home runs than Herb Washington, Tony LaRussa and Shooty Babbit hit, combined.
Lewis only averaged about 7 steals a season and stole 44 bases in 61 attempts for his career – a 72-percent success rate when baseball wisdom holds that a success rate of 67-percent is your basic player. (Rickey Henderson had an 81-percent average and other speedsters who could play and hit were higher).
In 1970, after Lewis was picked off base twice in a September series against the Angels, one sarcastic newspaperman remarked, “The Panamanian Express is a local that stops between first and second.”
Many A’s players (and fans too) felt Lewis, a one-dimensional player, was wasting a roster spot that could have been more effectively filled to benefit the team. This lead 1971 Manager Dick Williams to quip, “He can fly around the bases, but can’t do much of anything else.”
In 1972, after Reggie Jackson got hurt in Game 5 of the ALCS and put on the DL, Lewis was activated for the 1972 World Series. He appeared in six of the seven games, getting thrown out twice by Johnny Bench attempting to steal but did score two runs in other pinch running situations, however better-than-average speed may not have contributed to those runs scored. Because of his limited contributions throughout the season and believing the World Series roster spot should have gone to an all-around position player, Lewis only received a 1/10 share of the Series earnings.
In 1974 Lewis was replaced as the “designated runner” by track star Herb Washington.
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