Claudell Washington passed away far too young on Tuesday at age 65. He first gained notice as a teenage sensation on the Swingin’ A’s, the man for whom Charlie Finley predicted enduring greatness. I last saw him at an A’s reunion a couple of years back; he was wearing a thick sweater on a warm day, looked strong and conversed easily. The East Bay legend will be missed.
From Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic:
The 19-year-old Claudell Washington had been lighting up the Double-A Southern League with stats almost too good to believe: a .362 batting average with 11 homers, 23 doubles, 55 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases in only 73 games. The best part: he was a local kid—a Berkeley High School graduate—and a success story for part-time scout Jim Guinn, the Berkeley policeman who went on to sign Rickey Henderson. Washington didn’t even play for his high school baseball team; Guinn found him via local legend. The kid could dunk two basketballs in one leap, it was said, and was rated among the fastest men in the East Bay based on a single season of prep track. As if to give himself a character quirk, the six-foot, 190-pound Washington swung a comically heavy 42-ounce bat; among big leaguers, only Dick Allen’s had similar heft. “He’s the best player for his age I’ve ever seen or known,” admired Jackson upon taking a gander.
Washington’s first start was not an enviable matchup. It pitted the A’s against Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry, who, after losing his first start of the season, had won every time since. The right-hander was 15-1, one victory away from the American League record of 16 straight. That and half-price Monday tickets produced the Coliseum’s largest crowd of the season: 47,582.
Perry did not reach his mark. Vida Blue pitched ten innings of four-hit ball, and the A’s new prodigy—who had until very recently never heard of Gaylord Perry—made a quick impression. Starting at DH, Washington’s first major league hit was an eighth-inning triple. His second hit, a tenth-inning single off a still-strong Perry, drove in Blue Moon Odom to win the game, 4–3.
For a true feeling about what kind of impact Washington made on the East Bay scene upon his arrival, take a gander at the Oakland Tribune from July 2, 1975. It wasn’t a noteworthy day, per se, but it’s representative of the kind of whirlwind Washington inspired. (It’s also representative of the kind of gold that beat writer Ron Bergman spun daily.):
Claudell Washington has picked up an extra $10,000 on his way to the All-Star game, the Hall of Fame, possible sainthood, and, who knows, perhaps the seat of his own in the United Nations general assembly.
Nothing seems impossible for the 20-year-old, who raised his batting average to .306 with two hits last night, scored three runs, drove in another and stole bases number 30 and 31 as the A’s beat the White Sox, 10-1, widening their lead in the American League West to eight games.
In the seventh-inning, A’s owner Charlie Finley climbed up to the press box from his first-base box seat in White Sox Park and announced that he was giving Washington a retroactive $10,000 raise.
This marked the third midseason raise Finley has given his young star, who will reach one year in the big leagues in three days. Last year, Finley gave him a $2,000 raise for wrecking Gaylord Perry’s bid for a 16th straight victory, and $5,000 for going 5-for-5 in Detroit. That left Claudell well past $22,500, the figure for which he signed the past winter. Welcome to the land of $32,500.
Not one of the A’s players resented the raise. Not Vida Blue, who was given a Cadillac in 1971 as a midseason raise. Blue: “All I know is I’m going shopping with him tomorrow.”