Monday, September 24, 2018

The 1974 Topps Rookie All-Star Team - Claudell Washington

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" by a vote of fellow MLB players following the 1974 season and featured in the 1975 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2018 Series Two, at least all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy. 

Topps decided to skip the Trophies on the 1974 Topps Set, but they made a triumphant return in 1975. I wanted to show my appreciation for this expression of good judgement, so for the 1974 Lineup, I will do a separate post for each player. This was a pretty good crop of players, so let's dive in! 

Washington did not play organized baseball in high school - instead he was a track and field star. Similar to the grooming of Herb Washington, Claudell was a speedster that was destined to be a pinch runner for Charlie Finley's A's. There was just one problem with that plan - the guy could hit pretty well, too!


Despite his limited experience, Washington breezed through several levels of minor league ball and wound up on the MLB roster in his 2nd full professional season. He stole 80 bases in the minors and was a major leaguer for good at age 19. He was used as the team's 4th outfielder and Lefty DH in the second half and was a key part of Oakland's third straight World Series title.


That would be his only trip to the World Series in his 17 year career. He did show impressive speed and power early on, however, and made his first All-Star appearance in 1975 at just 20 years old. While base stealing was considered his biggest asset, it was his tape measure home runs that really caused fans and rival GMs to take notice. His power potential made him an attractive trade piece 5 times in his career. He was swapped for other outfield bats like Bobby Bonds (in a trade from Texas to the White Sox) and Ken Griffey, Sr. (from Atlanta to the Yankees).


The Braves signed Washington to a five year, $3.5MM contract after the 1980 season, in which he stole 21 bases and hit 11 homers for the White Sox and the Mets. The contract had some scratching their heads, but the truth was that Washington had not been given a regular starting role at any point in his career and was motivated to show what he could do. In 6 seasons in Atlanta, Washington had 647 hits, and 115 stolen bases including his 2nd and final All-Star selection in 1984. It was also during this stint that he hit a memorable foul ball at Wrigley Field, the footage of which was used for the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off.


Washington did have some off field issues in the 80s, and was one of several players implicated during the infamous Pittsburgh cocaine trial. For his part, Washington sought treatment and donated a portion of his Braves' contract to drug treatment and prevention programs. His character and reputation was damaged but not destroyed, and it was his years in pinstripes that saw a late career renaissance. His 1988 season in particular was a return to his early career form, batting over .300, while stealing 15 bases and hitting 11 homers. He had worked diligently over the years on his defense in the outfield, his one glaring weakness as a player had become a strength.


Another season of double digit homers and steals pushed his career totals to 163 round trippers to go along with 308 steals. Some highlights from his career include 3-Homer games in both the AL and the NL, hitting the 10,000th homer in Yankees' history, as well as a walk off blast in the 18th inning for a marathon victory for New York over Detroit in 1988. He would finish his career in 1990, with a brief stint with the Angels before being traded to the Yankees for his final 33 games. He finished with over 1,800 career hits, 334 doubles and 824 runs batted in. 

3 comments:

  1. Dang. Didn't play organized baseball in high school and he still made it to the Bigs by 19. That's impressive.

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