This Date In Transactions History: Herb Washington

Most of us are familiar with the story of Archibald Graham, the New York Giants outfielder who appeared in just one game in 1905 — without making a plate appearance — before moving on to other endeavors in life. For this distinction, "Moonlight," as he was nicknamed, was immortalized in W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe and later its film adaptation, Field of Dreams.

Graham's story was exhumed and canonized by those stories, for sure, but it hasn't been entirely unique. Here's an even weirder one: former Athletic Herb Washington. Notice I didn't include a position to describe Washington — because he didn't have one. Despite playing in a whopping 105 Major League games with Oakland in 1974-75, Washington never made a plate appearance, played in the field or threw a pitch. He was a so-called "designated runner," used exclusively as a pinch-runner.

Washington was a decorated sprinter as a student-athlete at Michigan State University, and despite not having played baseball since he was a high schooler in Mississippi, his blazing speed apparently made him fit for the Major Leagues in the eyes of eccentric Oakland owner Charles O. Finley. Thus, Washington would parachute into games and, often times, attempt to steal bases.

The only problem was, Washington wasn't terribly good at it. Sure, he swiped 31 bags in his 105 games, but that was in 48 attempts — good for an underwhelming 65% success rate. Stolen-base profiency is still a topic of debate, but most research shows that a 65% success rate won't add much, if anything, to your team's chance of winning — not exactly what Finely had in mind when he signed the speedster. Most notably, Washington was picked off first base late in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series, the only game of that series that Oakland lost. 

Finley and the A's had apparently seen enough of Washington on this day in 1975, because they released him from his contract. Perhaps they weren't over the pickoff, or maybe they just realized a precious roster spot wasn't best spent on a designated runner. Nevertheless, Washington didn't sign elsewhere and thus never appeared in the big leagues again, cementing his place among baseball history's many oddities.

Let us ease his pain.


20 Responses to This Date In Transactions History: Herb Washington Leave a Reply

  1. Blue387 3 years ago

    Charlie Finley was a creative man.

  2. EdinsonPickle 3 years ago

    Great article. Very interesting as I have never heard of Herb Washington before.

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

      The running A’s were great.. I remember Washington very well and he was replaced by another non talent otherwise named Matt Alexander as pinch runner for them.

      Those running A’s teams stole ALL the time, even slugs like Sal Bando even stole 20 bases 1 season! Shows what being the ‘tail end” of a double steal will do for you! HAHA

      Edit:

      I forget if it was Chuck Tanner, or Billy Martin (later on A’s manager) who had this play devised on stolen bases, but here is how it went…

      Runner on 1st and 3rd..

      Runner on 1st would fall down between 1st and 2nd.. Runner on 3rd would break for home when whomever went to tag out the fallen down runner when the fielder who had the ball generally was caught off guard.. That actually worked a couple of times.. Am thinking it was a Tanner play…

      • Jay Rock 3 years ago

        You have forgotten about Allen Lewis, aka the Panamanian Express.  He was the A’s designated runner before Herb Washington, though Lewis did have 29 AB’s and 10 games in the outfield.

  3. I would like to make it clear that I am not being aggressive or insulting, just commenting the first thing that came to mind when I read this post. It seems to have many backhanded slaps to the face of a man who was fortunate enough to play for the A’s, win the World Series, and otherwise have a better life than internet people who have no chance of ever playing professional baseball.  The passive insults to Herb Washington are loaded with speech just soft enough to get by the policy against freedom of opinion.  I hope he doesn’t see this memorial to his “underwhelming” career.  I think this article might somehow be “newsworthy”.  Its a good article, a “terribly” and embarassingly good article.

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

       The man had no baseball skills. It wasn’t a slap at him. Finley got him only because he could run… He couldn’t even steal bases when the A’s signed the guy.. Billy North (A’s CF) worked with him unceasingly to TRY and teach him how to utilize his speed, but it is HARD to teach reads..

      Finley would use ANY idea he could to get an upper hand in anyway he could.. He didn’t spend a dime more than he could, even before FA and if he thought stealing bases would work? He would use the speed route, so he went with the pinch runner scheme whenever his base slugs would come up, hence Washington and later Matty Alexander.. neither could hit, nor play any position on the field.. They were there because they could flat out run in a straight line and they had Billy North trying to teach them HOW to utilize their speed and read pitchers.. Something it took him years to do almost overnight.

    • I respect your opinion but disagree. I was merely trying to capture the absurdity of the situation.

      • johnsilver 3 years ago

         I appreciate it.. Have brought up both Matty Alexander and Herb Washington here before in posts as base stealers..

        Nice to see at least *1* get named in a prominent topic. HAHAHA

      • johnsmith4 3 years ago

        Good job. I remember Herb Washington. Stealing A in Strat-O-Matic without a Strat card.

        I was thinking of Herb Washington this spring when reviewing Toronto’s lineup. This year’s Blue Jays bench reminds me of 74 A’s bench. I equate Rajai Davis to Herb Washington along with Omar Vizquel=Dal Maxvill and Jeff Mathis=Ray Fosse/Larry Haney. Keep up the good work.

      • yeah, your observation of absurdity from about 40 years ago is a good trade rumor, so I respect that, good point. I’d like to call the appearance of this post an “oddity”. nice report.

  4. I remember Herb Washington.  Growing up in Detroit, were were informed that he went to high school in Flint, went to Michigan State, and was a national track star with blinding speed.

    He also has done quite a bit since his retirement from baseball.
    He owned most of the McDonalds franchises in Youngstown, Ohio and was Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

       Glad he did well after baseball, not all players transform very well.

      For those not familiar with “the wrath” of Finley.. It was common for
      him to fire players..He released Mike Andrews in the middle of the ’73
      series after making a key error.. Nope.. He wasn’t a very kind owner at
      all..

      • johnsmith4 3 years ago

        He wasn’t highly regarded as a hockey owner. The assessments from those who worked for him are too unkind to mention.

    • Thank you for sharing this here as a sort of post script (I’ve also seen it mentioned on Twitter). I’m genuinely happy that Washington led a productive life after baseball and considered including it in the post, but it’s not especially relevant to the story.

      •  You’re right. Nothing really to do with baseball, or the eccentric Charles O. Finley.  I just thought it was an interesting aside to note that a player who was pretty much laughed out of the game by some, went on to have a distinguished career. 

        Of course, there were many crazy-ish ideas that Mr. Finely had, from moving the A’s out of Kansas City, to orange baseballs to white cleats and staunch resistance to free agency.

        • johnsilver 3 years ago

          Don’t forget the mule with the straw hat as the team mascot he would parade before many games onto the playing field…

          It was almost as funny as ex Reds owner’s Marge Schott pet dog named “Schotzie” :-)

        • hartvig 3 years ago

          Don’t forget that many of the nicknames that those Oakland players had (Catfish Hunter,Blue Moon Odom) were also creations of Charlie O…

  5. Rashomon 3 years ago

    Great post, Dan. And I don’t understand the criticism, since Herb never fielded or had a plate appearance. We assume every major league baseball player at one time “played ball”, but Herb only “played base”. I don’t think it’s disrespect to acknowledge the distinction. I think the unusual circumstances, and Herb’s contributions within those bounds, only add to why we love this odd little game.

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