W is for baseball’s Herb Washington

Washington-HerbI was leafing through the book The SABR Baseball List & Record Book. It lists “Baseball’s Most Fascinating Records and Unusual Statistics.” I purchased it from Amazon the year it came out, 2007, Amazon tells me, but does not appear to have been updated. Truth is that most of the career records have not changed.

One item early in the book is “More Career Games Played than Plate Appearances by Non-pitchers since 1900 (minimum 100 games).” This is usually a function of a defensive substitution entering the game, replacing a good hitter who is not the best fielder with a good glove man. A guy named Allen Lewis, who I had never heard of, played in 156 games between 1967 and 1973 and had only 31 chances at the plate.

Herb Washington, though, was even more specialized. He played in 105 games in 1974 and 1975, and NEVER had one appearance at the plate. Nor did he ever play on the field. Washington, a track star at Michigan State, was hired by Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Oakland Athletics, to be solely used as a pinch runner.

From the website of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Statistics.

Included in the contract was a clause that required him to grow a mustache before Opening Day. Washington, however, couldn’t grow one little hair. To get the $2,500 bonus that came with growing it, he used an eyebrow pencil to draw a believable mustache and got the bonus. He also got a base-running tutor in former base-stealing champ, Maury Wills…

Washington’s career as “designated runner” got off to a shaky start… he [was] unsuccessful in four of his first five attempts [to steal a base]… For the rest of the season, both Washington and Oakland rolled. He ended up playing in 92 games, stole 29 bases, and scored 29 runs.

But he got too big a lead off first base and was picked off in Game 2 of the World Series by Dodgers pitcher Mike Marshall, tagged by Steve Garvey. All three were MSU graduates.

“The next season …the A’s were rolling when Finley cut the struggling Herb Washington on May 5, 1975. He had played in 13 games with only two steals that season. Said A’s team captain Sal Bando, “I’d feel sorry for him if he were a player.”

Deadspin dubbed him one of the 100 worst baseball players of all time, which seems harsh.

ABC Wednesday – Round 19