One of the things I love about baseball is that every now and then something will happen that makes you go, "You know, I don't think I've ever seen that before." And sometimes, the reason I don't remember seeing it happen before is that it's never happened before. Like when Alex Cobb struck out every batter he faced in an inning, yet still gave up a run. Baseball is, like, weird, man, you know?
And that's what I want to write about. The weird stuff of baseball. Sometimes it will be about the Rays, and sometimes not. Whenever possible, I'll try to at least make a loose, tangential Rays connection.
What kind of weird stuff? Well, let's start with late last season and into the post-season, when Royals manager/idiot-savant Ned Yost unleashed a rarely seen game-changer. I'm talking about designated runner Terrance Gore, of course. Gore stole five bases in the regular season (scoring five runs) while receiving only two plate appearances. Then he stole two bases and scored three runs in the playoffs without receiving any plate appearances. He has yet to be caught.
That made Gore just the twentieth player since 1900 to tally more steals than plate appearances in a single season, and the first to do so since . . . well, since the Rays' Freddy Guzman in 2013. (See! A Rays' connection!) Unfortunately for Guzman – like most of the other eighteen men on the more steals than plate appearances list – he barely got a chance to strut his stuff. Our dear Freddy only got into one game, swiped a bag, came around to score, and was never heard from again.
Another name on that list, the (not so) legendary Dutch Schirick of the 1914 St. Louis Browns, pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with the home team down 12-2, drew a walk, swiped two bags . . . and was promptly stranded at third. To add insult to non-GTMI-ing, that was the Flying Dutchman's only plate appearance. And not just for that season either. It was his only professional plate appearance ever. At any level. The poor guy doesn't even show up in any minor league records.
What I'm saying is, most of these guys were more Moonlight Graham than Terrance Gore. To find a game-changer like Gore, you have to set the wayback machine for the 1970s. Because the entire purpose of the 70s was so weird stuff knew when to happen. Disco. Disco demolition. Rollie Finger's mustache. Oscar Gamble's hair. And Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley's greatest contribution to the game (no, not orange baseballs): the designated runner.
His name was Herb Washington, and he is the answer to today's Bar Bet: "Who holds the record for most runs and stolen bases without ever recording a plate appearance." In a little over a season with the A's, Hurricane Herb appeared in 105 games, scored 33 runs, and stole 31 bags, all without ever stepping into a batter's box or putting on a glove.
Funny thing: Though Washington is probably the best known of Finley's pinch-running specialists, he wasn't the first, or the last. He probably wasn't even the best (he was also caught 17 times, and nets a career Offensive Runs Above Replacement of -4). The best of Finley's designated runners was probably be Larry Lintz, who in 1976 found his way into 68 games and swiped 31 bags while only being caught 11 times, and despite recording only four plate appearances, somehow still managed a positive oRAR (of one) .
But for the look of true weirdness I give you 1975. During that one season, Washington, Don Hopkins, and Matt Alexander combined to get into 158 games, steal 40 bases, and score 45 runs. And together, the trio combined for just 19 plate appearances. That's some serious disruption on the basepaths.
So does Gore's ascendancy signal that pinch-running is the new Extra 2%? Maybe, though it's doubtful that with the deeper bullpens of today a team could afford to give up a roster spot for a pure designated runner. True specialists will most likely remain scarce before September roster expansion.
Then again, after watching the havoc Gore wreaked against the Angels and the Orioles in the playoffs last year, you do have to wonder. I mean, if anybody is stupid/brilliant enough to go all in on this strategy and make it work, it's Ned Yost, right? And in the unlikely event that the designated runner does become a thing again, you can bet that Matt Silverman will be watching and evaluating. Probably with Thomas Coyle on speed dial.