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Take one look at the 1979 Topps Horace Speed baseball card, and you just know the man could run.

I mean, he’s sitting in the dugout, elbows braced on his knees, mouth opened, eyes focused. You can almost see him heaving to force extra air into his lungs after, what … rounding the bases on an inside-the-park-home-run? … racing from second base to the outfield wall to rob a home run when the center fielder fell down? … successfully evading Morganna the Kissing Band?

And that name!

How could Horace Speed have been anything but a thoroughbred? Why, he was going to be a combination of Herb Washington and Ron LeFlore.

1979 Topps Horace Speed

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The highlights of Speed’s Major League Baseball legend do little to dissuade that notion, either …

His first Big League appearance came as a pinch runner for the San Francisco Giants when he replaced catcher Dave Rader late in a game against the San Diego Padres.

His final Big League appearance came as, yes, a pinch runner for the Cleveland Indians when he replaced designated hitter Cliff Johnson late in a game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Pinch running … that’s the purview of burners, right? And if a guy starts and ends his career with a “PR” designation, that means he kept his wheels revving all throughout.

Sounds reasonable, but the first problem in assigning that profile to Speed is that his capstone appearances in the Majors came just over four years apart (April 1975 through June 1979).

Even more limiting is the fact that he spent all of 1976 and 1977 in the minors.

And if we roll back all the way to the beginning of Speed’s professional career, we can see that, although the Giants picked him in the third round of the 1969 MLB draft when he was just 17, it took him six years to finally bump Rader off the base paths in the Majors.

During those seasons, he did put up some decent stolen base numbers — 85 steals v. 26 caught stealing — but Speed was more of an early Sabermetrics guy than a runner. In particular, he logged double-digit dingers every year in the minors except 1969, struck out a lot, walked a decent amount, and regularly recorded an OPS in the .800 range.

1979 Topps Horace Speed (back)

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When he made it to the Majors, though, it kind of all went away.

Over three seasons in the The Show, Speed appeared in 113 games and collected 160 plate appearances, managing to hit just .207 and post a .576 OPS. He stole four bases, got caught five times, and didn’t hit even a single home run.

He did, however, make the most of that final Major League appearance in Baltimore.

After Johnson reached first base on a groundout (driving in Rick Manning in the process), Speed took his place and stole second against Don Stanhouse with Indians catcher Ron Hassey at-bat. When Hassey grounded out to second, Speed cruised into third and was poised to score what would have been the tying run.

Alas, after Mike Hargrove coaxed a walk from Stanhouse, Jim Norris grounded out to second to end the inning.

And thus, the Speed-iest man in baseball was stranded at third, with nowhere to run but back to the minors.

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