Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baseball Card of the Week: 1975 Topps Mini Herb Washington

Former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley was always looking for a marketing edge for his club.  Whether coming up with orange baseballs, flashy nicknames and uniforms, bonuses for players growing mustaches, ball girls or having a mule as a team mascot.  Finley was one of major influences in getting the designated hitter established and playing World Series games at night and Herb Washington was also beneficiary of another one Finley's grand ideas.

Herb Washington was a world class sprinter during his days in college at Michigan State University where he was a four-time NCAA All-American, won one NCAA title and seven Big Ten conference titles. He also broke world records in the 50 and 60 yard dashes.  Despite not having played organized baseball since junior high, Finley signed Washington as a "designated pinch runner."
Oakland hired former stolen base champ Maury Wills to tutor Washington in baserunning. Washington got off to a slow start in the 1974 season as he was caught stealing in four out of his five attempts. Oakland also struggled early, but both the team and Washington rebounded nicely. Oakland did end up winning the pennant and Washington ended the season with 29 stolen bases and 29 runs scored in 92 games.  Washington became known for being picked off as a game tying run in Los Angeles Dodgers lone victory against Oakland in the 1974 World Series.  He did not steal a base in the playoffs and was released by Oakland early the following year.
A's manager Alvin Dark did offer Washington to go hit after Oakland clinched the division in 1974, but Washington declined the offer as he knew one plate appearance would ruin his significance in baseball history.  Washington is the only person to play in 100 or more games without going in the field or up to bat.
After his playing days, Washington used his baseball salary for buying franchises in the McDonald's fast food restaurant chain and later became one of the first minority owners in professional hockey as he founded the Youngstown Steelhounds.

As for the card itself, Topps test marketed a miniature version of it's regular set in 1975 in several markets including California and Michigan.  The 1975 mini set is the exact same set as it's standard counterpart and is the only year Topps produced it.  Even with the scarcity of the mini set compared to the regular, there is minimal added value between the two.  The Herb Washington card is the only one ever to designate the position as "pinch runner."

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