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Ron Washington is one of those guys who was born as a 40-year-old man.

Or maybe it just seems that way because he was actually 30 before almost any of us ever encountered him.

Signed as an amateur free agent by the Kansas City Royals way back in 1970, the wispy (5’11”, 155 pounds) infielder spent five seasons in the KC minor league system without ever sniffing the Majors.

In November of 1976, the Royals finally gave up on him and sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for the immortal Steve Patchin.

That was a great move for Washington, at least in the short term, because he got a late-season call-up from LA as the Dodgers made their pennant run.

Despite a steadily climbing batting average and Major League speed, though, the Dodgers just didn’t have room on their Big League roster for a 26-year-old rookie in 1978. Washington bounced back to the minors and stayed there until LA traded him to the Minnesota Twins in March of 1980.

The Twins stationed Washington with Max Klinger’s Toledo Mud Hens, and he stayed there all through 1980 and most of 1981. Finally, toward the end of that strike-torn season, Washington got the call from the Twins.

At age 29, Ron Washington was in the Major Leagues for good, more or less.

And, after another season in Minnesota, collectors got our first look at Washington when Topps included him in their 1982 Traded set:

1982 Topps Traded Ron Washington

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Man, that was an old-looking rookie!

But we know now that’s because Washington was more seasoned than green, regardless of what the stats on the back of #124T said.

Indeed …

As the Twins built toward the team that would eventually win the 1987 World Series, Washington was a reliable veteran — though with little Big League experience — whom managers Billy Gardner, Ray Miller, and, finally, Tom Kelly could call on all over the left side of the infield.

Whenever Tim Teufel or Greg Gagne or Gary Gaetti needed to come out of the lineup, for whatever reason, Washington was ready to go.

Alas, with the Twins on the cusp of greatness, even if no one realized it, they released Washington just before the 1987 season began.

A week later, on April 6, he inked a free agent deal with the Baltimore Orioles and logged 81 plate appearances for an awful O’s team that lost 95 games. The sting of disappointment must have grown throughout that fall and winter as, not only did the Orioles wreak, and not only did the his former team shock the world by winning the Series, but Baltimore released Washington just before Christmas.

At nearly 36 years of age, Washington could have retired, but he gave it one more go and signed with the Cleveland Indians before the New Year.

It was a new lease on baseball life, but with a caveat — the only AL East team with a worse record than the O’s in 1987 were the Indians, who dropped 101 games. If Washington flamed out in Cleveland, the bottom of the swamp, he was likely done.

He didn’t flame out.

In fact, Washington picked up 241 plate appearances in 1988, his most in the Major Leagues since 1983. He managed to hit .256 and smack a couple of home runs, too, but it wasn’t enough for a Cleveland team hoping to climb above .500.

After helping the Indians improve by 17 games from 1987, Washington found himself on the baseball streets again that November.

He managed to convince the Houston Astros that he had something left to offer, and they signed him to a free agent contract in February of 1989.

About that time, the new year’s baseball cards were starting to hit store shelves across the nation.

And, while most collectors clamored for the Gary Sheffield and Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie cards, and while everyone with a pulse chased after the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken F-Face monstrosity, folks looking for a little cardboard honesty could turn to the 1989 Donruss set.

1989 Donruss Ron Washington

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There, nestled between John Cerutti and Jeff Reed, Ron Washington emerged from the dark Cleveland baseball wasteland into the light of day on card #468.

His eyes were squinted, a mixture of resentment, fear, trepidation, and sorrow blasting through the slits under his Chief Wahoo cap. The deep lines on his face told you it had been a rough ride, last season, and for the 18 before that, and Washington expected it to be rough in 1989, too.

Even the beaming, now-banned Wahoo and curly locks that streamed in the summer air when Washington sped around the bases couldn’t overcome the gloom of his face.

And Washington was right.

He spent most of 1989 with the Triple-A Tucson Toros before making seven appearances and collecting one hit with Astros. Then they released him.

It was a rough year.

Washington would hook up with the Texas Rangers in 1990, spending the entire season with the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers. It was a relationship that would eventually lead him back to the Big Leagues as a skipper, but his playing days were done.

Ron Washington took a very long road to the Major Leagues and, even when he made it, his spot was never really secure.

Every walk of life has its struggles, even that of a professional baseball player.

And sometimes, like on Washington’s 1989 Donruss baseball card, those struggles are etched right on your face, for the whole world to see.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

Ron Washington #409 1986 Fleer

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Ron Washington #292 1985 Fleer

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