Thursday, May 04, 2006

Finley's Designated Runner Never Got Out Of The Starting Gate

Back in the late-1970's, the San Francisco Giants had a slow-footed catcher named Marc Hill. And when I say slow-footed, I mean in the way that molasses running uphill is slow-footed. Anyhow, when Hill finally stole the first -- and only -- base of his career, the team decided to have some fun and later set up a ceremony in which Hill was presented with the base, in a glass case, complete with a plaque commemorating the event.

If former Oakland A's owner, the late, great Charlie O. Finley, had his way, the only running guys like Hill would have had to do would be to jog to and from their positions. For Finley espoused the notion of a Designated Runner, in the same spirit that the American League adopted the Designated Hitter rule in 1973. In Finley's grand plan, the DR would literally be situated just outside the batter's box, near the hitter with the square wheels. At the crack of the bat, or upon ball four, the DR would set his feet in motion and function as that hitter's ghost runner for the remainder of that inning, and for every subsequent at-bat.

I swear I'm not making this up.

Finley and his prototype orange baseballs

Finley came as close as he could to employing his own DR when he hired Herb Washington -- a fleet track star from Michigan State University --to run exclusively during the 1974 season. Washington appeared in 92 games in '74, and scored 29 runs. He had zero plate appearances. As a base stealer, the unrefined Washington did okay, swiping 29 bases in 45 attempts.

But Finley's sideshow became even more derided when Washington was picked off first base in the '74 World Series against the Dodgers. Although, the A's won the series, so Washington's gaffe was overshadowed. Herb Washington was released 31 years ago today -- May 4, 1975 -- and that's strange, because I didn't know that until after I started writing this post. Spooky.

For his career, Washington appeared in 105 games, scored 33 runs, and had 31 stolen bases.

Finley ditched the notion of a DR about the same time he dumped Washington as an employee.

Finley also pushed for orange baseballs for night games, wanted pitcher Vida Blue to legally change his first name to "True," and his team was the first -- and only -- ballclub to wear white shoes. In fact, Finley's hockey team, the NHL's California Golden Seals, was the first -- and only -- club to wear white hockey skates. Finley also had a classic line about former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: "I was in New York once, and an empty cab pulled up, and Bowie Kuhn got out."

Finley was baseball's Designated Looney -- a different kind of DL.


Blogger Ian C. said...

Greg, I think the designated runner is a fantastic idea and should be brought back.

Nook Logan

3:18 PM  
Blogger Ozz said...

Hilarious! Good one, Ian!

9:34 AM  

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