Allan Lewis got it started, as Finley had the idea while the organization was still in Kansas City. Lewis got just 7 ABs in 1967, but played in 34 games, scoring 7 runs and stealing 14 bases. Lewis only pinch hit and pinch ran; did not play an inning in the field. He would precede to play in 26 games, 4 ABs, scoring 9 runs and stealing 8 bases for the Oakland team in 1968. After an injury held him to 12, 1, 2, 0 (games, ABs, runs, SB) in 1969, he was used a little bit more in 1970, finishing with 25, 8, 8, 7. Lewis's best success came in the years of 1972 and 1973, as he played in both World Series for the A's. 1972 saw him gain a career high in ABs with 10, in 25 games scoring 5 runs and stealing 8 bases. He played in 6 games in the 1972 World Series, scoring 2 runs but getting caught stealing 2 times. 1973 was different, and revolutionary. Lewis would have a career high with 35 games played and 16 runs scored. However, he did not record a single plate appearance, finishing with 7 steals. He would appear in a total of 5 games in the ALCS and World Series that season, scoring two runs while not attempting a stolen base. (No postseason plate appearances either).
The most interesting choice for a pinch runner came before the 1974 season. Lewis was let go and replaced by world class sprinter Herb Washington. The only problem was that Washington never played baseball before, even at an intermediate level. Using Lewis only as a runner the year before allowed the team to make this transition to keep a runner on the team who was not a baseball player. He appeared in 92 games in 1974, recording 0 plate appearances, but scoring 29 runs and stealing 29 bases in 45 attempts. His lack of baseball instincts led him to be picked off and thrown out stealing more than the Athletics wanted him to. He was used in 2 games in the ALCS against Baltimore, getting caught stealing both times. He PRed in 3 games of the 1974 World Series, not attempting a SB. However, he was picked off in the 9th inning of game two of the series, by Mike Marshall. He appeared in 13 games, 0 ABs, scoring 4 runs and stole 2 bases in 1975 before getting his release. Washington remains the only non pitcher to appear in more than 100 games without getting a single plate appearance.
The decision to replace Washington with Don Hopkins seemed very logical. It was only logical because Hopkins was a baseball player. Hopkins did not have the talent to make the major leagues, but was fast enough to serve this role. He appeared in 82 games in 1975, getting 8 plate appearances (6 ABs, 2 BBs). He scored 25 runs and stole 21 bases. However, he was caught 9 times. In the game 1 of the 1975 ALCS, he got a mysterious chance to pinch hit for Billy Williams, with the A's being down considerably in the game. Hopkins would appear in 3 games in 1976, getting 0 ABs, 0 RS, 0 SB and 1 CS.
Matt Alexander also made the team in 1975, at first being Washington's replacement. The team still chose to go with Hopkins, with Alexander having more value with his ability to play multiple positions. Before coming to Oakland, he played with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .203 in 57 games (80 plate appearances, 59 ABs, 13 BBs, 7 SAC, 1 HBP) in the 1973 and 1974 seasons. Whie Alexander had more baseball talent than Washington and Hopkins, he never showed he was a good hitter in his brief opportunities to bat over his first two seasons in Oakland. In 1975, he played in 63 games, batting 10 times, scoring 16 runs and stealing 17 bases. He was caught 10 times as well. In 1976, he was 1-30 in 61 games. He scored 16 runs and stole 20 bases that season, only getting caught 7 times. 1977 saw him get some more playing time, particularly in center field. He played 90 games, getting 42 ABs, with 24 RS, 10 hits and 26 SBs. He was caught, however, 14 times that season, which was his last in Oakland. He ironic thing about Alexander was that he played for the Pirates from 1978-1980, and hit .444 (12-27) in 103 games and stole 30-37 bases for Pittsburgh. 1976 A's manager Chuck Tanner took over in Pirates, taking Alexander along with him in 1978. He was also part of the 1979 World Series Championship team, joining Lewis and Washington as A's PRs with World Series rings. Alexander holds the MLB record for most appearances as a pinch runner with 271, as well as PR stolen bases (91) and PR runs scored (89).
In 1976, the A's brought over Larry Lintz, an infielder who had previously played for Montreal (1973-1975) and St Louis (1975). He stole 50-57 bases for the Expos in 1974, drawing the attention of A's owner Finley. Prior to joining the A's, Lintz played in 238 games, batting 585 times. In 1976, he played 68 games, getting 1 official AB, while scoring 21 runs and stealing 31-42 bases. His role changed a little bit in 1977, as he demanded more of a chance to play the field and bat. He was 4-30 in 41 games, scoring 11 runs and stealing 13-18 bases.
Ironically, when he sold the A's, Finley was replaced as General Manager by Billy Martin. Martin, of course, was known to be a big proponent of the stolen base and speed in general. However, Martin did not want to clog a roster spot for a player who was so one dimensional. Neither did prior managers Bobby Winkles and Jack McKeon. McKeon used the idea to a point with Alexander and Lintz in 1977. The A's designated PRs lasted from 1972-1977 with five players designated in that role.
Player Years GP AB RS H SB CS
Lewis 1972-1973 59 10 21 1 15 7
Washington 1973-1974 105 0 33 0 31 17
Hopkins 1975-1976 85 6 25 0 21 10
Alexander 1975-1977 214 82 56 12 63 31
Lintz 1976-1977 109 31 32 4 44 16
Totals 1972-1977 572 129 167 14 176 71