Player: It's not terribly rare for an undrafted player to make it to the major leagues. At any given time there are 10-20 players on big league rosters who never had the honor of being drafted. Not only wasn't Claudell Washington drafted, he didn't even play high school baseball. Despite all this, Washington was playing in the big leagues before he turned 20 years old. Not including international signees, most undrafted guys have to plug away in the minors, repeating levels and debut in their late 20's. Not Washington, plucked by the A's from the California sandlots, he spent parts of three seasons in the minors before debuting at age 19 in 1974 for Oakland.
Prior to his call up Washington was destroying double-A pitching at a .361 clip. The lanky outfielder proceeded to hit .285 in 73 games of major league action. The young phenom had some big games in the postseason and helped the A's win a third consecutive World Series.
He had an excellent second year as he started everyday for the A's, mainly in leftfield. Washington hit .308/.345/.428 with 10 homers and 40 stolen bases, and had a hit in his only at bat in the 1975 All-Star game.
Washington would never quite duplicate the success of his '75 campaign but would have a lengthy career playing for seven different franchises. He hit just .257/.302/.424 in '76 and was traded to the Rangers the following spring training when the A's dismantled their franchise. Washington had a better year in Texas (.284 average), but lost his starting job and was traded again, this time to the White Sox. He finished '78 with the worst rate stats of his career thus far. He bounced back with a .280 average and new career highs in doubles (33) and HR (13) while playing everyday in rightfield.
Despite his decent season the year before, with the 1980 season underway Washington found himself in a platoon arrangement and was then traded to the Mets for a minor leaguer. He finished the year with familiar stats and headed into the offseason as a free agent.
Washington signed with the Atlanta Braves with whom he is probably best remembered. He spent five and a half years in Atlanta where he took advantage of the launching pad to hit around 15 homers a year while twice stealing over 30 bases. Washington was a key part of the Braves division winning '82 season, establishing a career high with 80 RBI even though he led off in 71 of his 150 games played.
Washington's playing time dwindled in '86 and was traded to the Yankees for Ken Griffey. Once again platooning, Washington hit only .237 for the Yankees in '86 as he adjusted to the new league. He improved to .279 and .308 the next two years. After the '88 season he signed with the Angels and turned in one more typical Claudell Washington season: .279 average, 13 HR, 13 SB.
Time was running out on Washington's career as he hit just .167 in 1990 as he split time between the Angels and the Yankees. New York released him as soon as the season ended and Washington, now 36 years old, retired with a career line of .278/.325/.420 with 164 HR and 312 SB.
Flipside: Washington is listed at 6' and 190 lbs but in my memory he always seemed taller and thinner.
Oddball: Who were the first three players in MLB history to hit three home runs in a game in both leagues? Babe Ruth, Johnny Mize, and... Claudell Washington.
Mario Soto once punched Washington in the head... with a baseball. You can read more about it here.
History: Washington won a World Series ring as an Athletic and was a two-time All-Star. He had a strange career arc, peaking during his age 20 season with 4.6 WAR. He would have only two more seasons with more than 1.7 WAR and that came when he was 29 and 33.
Most scouting reports during his career regarded him as a rangy defender with a good arm. The defensive metrics today sure don't agree as baseball reference has him at -13.6 dWAR.