As many of you know, the Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds have a bit of history between the two. 1972 saw the A’s defeat the Big Red Machine in the World Series four games to three, but in 1990, the Reds got their payback, sweeping the A’s in the World Series.
The A’s, last night, wrapped up an 18-3 win over the Minnesota Twins while the Reds beat the Cubs 6-0 earlier in the day. The A’s have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games and so have the Reds. The A’s are up three games in the AL West and the Reds are sitting comfortably in the NL’s second wild card slot, six games ahead of the Nationals.
I know this is completely too early to be thinking about, and is an opinion of my own that probably doesn’t coincide with many others’, but with the Reds currently one of the hottest teams in the NL and the A’s one of the hottest in the AL, it makes it a little intriguing to know that there could be a potential World Series matchup between the two, again.
Now, the teams have even more of a story-line together.
Even with the Reds hot streak, the focus hasn’t entirely been on the team, so much as it’s been on speedster Billy Hamilton. Hamilton broke the professional baseball stolen base record last season when he snagged 155 bases.
Oakland A’s legend Rickey Henderson stole 130, himself, but his stolen bases were in the majors, while Hamilton’s were with the Reds’ high A and AA affiliates. While Henderson and Hamilton are easily comparable, there’s another member from a past A’s team with a history for stolen bases: Herb Washington.
Now, my dad is the type of guy who loves to throw around random facts, whether it be about politics, movies, and states, but the ones that stay with me are his sports facts. My dad told me years ago about Washington, whom Charlie Finley and the A’s made history with, when they signed the Michigan State University track star to be the team’s “designated runner” (the first and last time that position has been mentioned). Washington joined the A’s in 1974 and remained until he was let go a short time into the 1975 season.
But I don’t think Hamilton will have the same issues as Washington when it comes to sticking with his club. Before the 2013 season started, Hamilton was ranked the Reds’ top prospect; at the time of Washington’s signing he hadn’t played baseball since his junior year of high school. Hamilton is coming off a spectacular 2012 season and with AAA this season he has had a triple slash of .256/.308/.343.
When Hamilton got the September call up for the Reds, the 23-year-old’s ridiculous speed was thrown right into your face. Hamilton started his career with a pinch-run stolen base and later scored the winning run in the 7th inning of a Reds victory over the Cardinals. He would then steal two more bases in his next two pinch-running appearances. In his fourth game, though, Hamilton would be even more important as he pinch-ran, stole second and scored the walk-off run in a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. After four stolen bases without an at-bat, Hamilton was on pace to possibly contest with Washington’s record of 31 stolen bases without a plate appearance… until September 10, when Hamilton went to the plate twice and ended that possibility. Still, with the talent and boost that Hamilton has, no one is going to argue he can swipe a bag and change an entire game, and that’s why you can expect to see him in late-inning situations.
Right now, since his career is so early, I wouldn’t plan on seeing him take too many at bats in the bigs, so to an extent he can be the modern day Washington, with a few plate appearances here and there. I mean, Washington was undrafted; Hamilton was a second round draft selection, I doubt the Reds utilized the pick for a player who couldn’t play.
With all of the game’s evolutions, with lefty-righty platoons, infield shifts and what-not. There will always be a place for the defensive specialists, such as a Kurt Suzuki, or the pinch-hit specialists, like a Mark Sweeney.
I guess Herb Washington will remain the one-and-only designated runner in the history of Major League Baseball.