Every year at the end of the World Series, there in inevitably a group of veterans who put in many many years and finally won their first ring. Those are always touching moments.
And every year there is a kid who just got called up from the minor leagues who picked up a ring and never have to wonder if they will ever win one during their career. Players like Derek Jeter, Buster Posey, Dustin Pedroia and Cal Ripken for that matter won a ring early and got weight off of their shoulders right off the bat.
Then you have someone like Claudell Washington who before he he could legally drink, checked off major accomplishments on the big league level and then played long enough to become a distinguished veteran. Born in LA, he was signed as an unsigned free agent out of Berkeley High School by the A’s in 1972.
The local kid tore up single AL ball in 1973. He was 19 years old in 1974 when he was assigned to Birmingham of AA. He batted .361 there with 11 homers and 33 stolen bases while posting an eye popping .976 OPS.
The A’s at the major league level were the two time defending World Champs, but they found room for 19 year old Washington on the big league roster. And unlike his unrelated namesake Herb Washington, whose role it was to be a pinch runner and never take the field or bat, CLAUDELL Washington could play. He appeared in 73 games and did not embarrass himself, batting .285 with a .702 OPS. He didn’t homer but he tripled 5 times.
That October, the 19 year old was in the post season. He started Game 2 of the ALCS and singled and scored against Baltimore’s Dave McNally.
He appeared in all 5 World Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In game 4, he reached base 3 times and scored, helping the A’s win 5-2. He also got a hit in the Game 5 clincher.
By 19 years old, he was a World Series champion.
In 1975, the 20 year old batted .308, stole 40 bases, hit 10 homers and was named to the All Star team.
His new teammate that year was future Hall of Famer Billy Williams. He was 37 years old and had played 16 years without one single post season game to his name. I always wondered what he thought of Washington checking World Series winner off his to do list before his 20th birthday.
The A’s won the Division again that year but were swept by Boston.
Washington would play 15 more seasons (17 in all) and bounce from team to team. He had some incredible highs, such as being a major part of the 1982 Braves playoff run and being named to his second All Star team. He had some lows, like being named in the Pittsburgh drug trials (which almost seem quaint now.)
By the time he was a New York Yankee in 1988, he was a 33 year old distinguished veteran, being a reliable performer in centerfield between Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield.
With the Yankees clinging to a thin hope for the AL East on September 9, 1988, Washington hit a walk off homer in the 9th against the Tigers to win the game. Two days later, he hit a walk off shot in the 18th inning. He became a Yankee fan favorite with those heroics.
Between 1989 and 1990 he went back and forth between the Yankees and the Angels before calling it quits.
Washington played with many Hall of Famers and did so over three decades and accomplished a lot in his 17 year career. But the hard stuff? He got that out of the way early.