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  Eff ell wyeing on the bases

Sprinter Herb Washington is off the blocks but not up to the tape yet as a pinch runner for Oakland

by Kenny Moore

Excerpt from June 10, 1974

It is with studied gravity that Chicago's Dick Allen stalks this slender Oakland rookie who has come, in the eighth inning of a cold night game in spring, to run the bases for Sal Bando. "Lord," says the moody, intimidating White Sox first baseman, squinting in sober admiration. "They say you can absolutely fly."

1974washington.gif (26k) Herb Washington, recently of the WJIM radio sports report in Lansing, Mich., has not played baseball since his junior year in high school, seven years past. He takes a small lead. "Eff... ell... wye," he says softly, staring at the damp, sandy earth of the base path. "Fly. And I can."

Allen speaks sharply, his urgency overdone. "Gonna go? Gonna go?" But Washington reacts to the pitcher's foot leaving the rubber and gets back to the bag before the pick-off throw. Allen leans close and slides a hand down the back of Washington's left leg, from the lower hamstring to the curve of the ankle where the Achilles tendon is attached to the muscles of the calf. "I have some experience with racehorses and I know thoroughbreds," he murmurs and goes to visit with the pitcher.

Back in position behind the bag, Allen asks once more, "Goin'?"

"Bye-bye," says Washington as the pitcher begins his delivery, and suddenly he is sprinting for second. His slide is headfirst but controlled and clearly beats the catcher's throw. He rises upon the bag, slapping dirt from his uniform, and turns toward first. Allen, shaking his head, gives him the power sign. It is Herb Washington's first major league stolen base.

It must be mentioned at this point that Washington is distinguished from your local sportscaster by his world indoor records for the 50-and 60-yard dashes (5.0 and 5.8). Yet, because the best athletes in one sport are usually spectators in others, Washington's current employment as a pinch runner for the world champion A's ought to engage the sympathies of everyone who has dreamed of uprooting one life and undertaking another.