The first time I ever heard of Herb Washington was at the exact moment I “discovered” the 1975 Topps Mini set.
It was at a dank but sprawling junk shop (the owners called it an “antique shop”) in one of the towns near where I grew up. The owner’s son had commandeered a dark corner and set up a couple of display cases full of baseball cards he was selling from his personal collection.
As you might imagine, there was plenty of eye candy to make a young kid drool, including vintage cards of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Boog Powell (that name!), Sandy Koufax, and dozens more.
It was dizzying, and so were the prices.
Among all the golden era cardboard, though, I kept coming back to the two rookie cards with multi-colored borders … the 1975 Topps Robin Young and George Brett issues.
Yount had just won the 1982 AL MVP award, and Brett was a legend for his fiery attitude, status as the likely next .400 hitter, pine tar, and … well … hemorrhoids.
It was the cards themselves that kept pulling me in, though. The design was gaudy but pure 70s in its flamboyance, and I loved that 1975 set from the moment I laid eyes on it.
Those borders always made me crave Chiclets, too
After several minutes ogling the cards in the display cases, I turned my focus to the cards in plastic sleeves and slotted into boxes on the counter top. These carried much lower price tags and were thus more realistic targets for me at the time.
As I flipped carefully through the cards, I was thrilled to see that there were several 1975s among the more reasonable offerings. On of them was Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, who never quite got the baseball card respect he deserved. I eventually bought that card, but not on this particular day.
That’s because, a few cards later, another 1975 Topps caught my eye.
What Position Do You Play?
It featured a lanky young man leading off first base in a runner’s crouch, ready to make a break for second at any moment. He was Herb Washington of the Oakland A’s.
Even among the wild 1975 Topps cards, this one’s color scheme stood out. The yellow type face added extra pop to purple and pink borders, and the yellow and green Oakland uniform ramped up the craziness.
Something else blared at me from the front of his card, too: Washington’s position, which was listed as “Pinch Run.”
I knew that players could pinch run for other players, but could players actually be pinch runners as their only position? The card back told me that maybe they could:
Signed by Oakland Owner Chalres Finley strictly for pinch-running duties last season, Herb was personally responsible for sinning 9 games for A’s in 1974 with his speed.
Maybe Mike Trout should just focus on his running game and forget about all that pesky hitting and fielding that he does?
Anyway, I knew the Washington card was going to be my purchase for the day. I think it cost a dollar, which seemed like a bargain just for curiosity’s sake.
So I set the card on the counter beside me and looked through the rest of one of the boxes. When I turned my attention back to the speedster, I caught a glimpse of the Brett rookie lurking in the glass case underneath, and something clicked in my mind.
The two cards weren’t the same size — the Washington issue was noticeably smaller, in fact.
It was then that I remembered reading in my Beckett price guide something about a “mini” set issued in 1975. It was rare, I recalled correctly.
I scooped up my Washington and we paid for our baubles and then headed home where I could research my find.
What I could find was that the minis were an exact parallel of the regular 1975 Topps set, except each mini card measured 2-1/4″ by 3-1/8″ rather than the standard 2-1/2″ by 3-1/2″.
The cards were a test issue sold only in (reportedly) California and Michigan.
And, as I thought, they were considered scarce. I saw various price multipliers over the years, ranging from 1.5-2 times the value of a corresponding base card.
The value mattered to me, of course, but not nearly as much as the novelty. While 1975 Topps cards were already cool beyond belief, the minis were mind-blowing to me. I mean, they were like baby baseball cards, for goodness sake!
They were the MG Midget next to the MGB.
They were Gold Mine gum next to Chiclets.
They were an Apple computer next to a mainframe.
They were — and still are — my favorite parallel issue of all time, and the Herb Washington card is a perfect exemplar of the set’s quirkiness.
Even though the values of the minis and most cards from my youth have softened over time, my Herb Washington rookie card is still priceless to me.