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

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

14 thoughts on “W is for baseball’s Herb Washington”

  1. Baseball is something of a mystery to me but the real mystery is why there was a clause in his contract requiring him to grow a moustache? Is that a baseball thing?

  2. All of the Oakland A’s of that era had mustaches, some of them quite elaborate, so it became a trademark (not legally) of the team. Whereas the Yankees don’t allow facial hair at all.

  3. Um …eh…well, I know nothing of baseball, since I didn’t grow up here, and my interests do not include sports. But your comment about the moustache was interesting:)

  4. Interesting. Got me trying to think of other sprinters transferring to other sports but the old grey cells aren’t working, I know there a few in bobsled. Usain Bolt has expressed an interest in playing soccer and that certainly would be a terrifying sight for the defence.

  5. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Herb Washington and sports as you are about a capella music. Unfortunately, we left all British sports behind when we left in 1960 and just never picked up on them over here 🙁 But I’m glad you are still blogging annd have to tell you that the Home Free group have a good number of videos on You Tube. Their Christmas ones are outstanding — give a fantastic new slant on the old carols. “Do you hear what I Hear” and “O Holy Night” are my absolute favorites.

  6. I love baseball, and even played softball in my younger days either on girls’ teams or office teams. Unfortunately, it’s not as big a sport in Canada as it is in the states, so I have never seen a major league game in my life! But I sure would love to!

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  7. Roger, Charlie O. was certainly a character. But relief pitcher Rollie Fingers’ had the trademark mustache. Thanks for sharing and bringing to memory a piece of baseball history.

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