Former Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop U.L. Washington – famous for playing with a toothpick – dies aged 70 after battle with cancer

U.L. Washington – a former shortstop for the Kansas City RoyalsPittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos – has died from cancer at age 70.

Known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth, Washington, who died on Sunday, joined the Royals – his first MLB team – in 1977 after successfully trying out for the team. His older brother, James, who was an usher at Royals games, had convinced Lou Gorman – Kansas City general manager at the time – to give Washington a shot.

To this day, Washington is one of only three MLB players, along with Ron Washington (no relation) and Frank White, to have been products of the Royals Academy.

His best offensive season in Kansas City was in 1982, when he batted .286 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs – all career highs.

Washington was on first base and scored on George Brett’s ‘pine tar’ home run in 1983. In his eight seasons with the Royals, Washington hit .254 with 26 home runs and 228 RBIs.


Ex-Royals star U.L. Washington died on Sunday - 42 years on from being part of Kansas City's 1980 World Series team
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Ex-Royals star U.L. Washington died on Sunday – 42 years on from being part of Kansas City’s 1980 World Series team

Known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth, Washington helped the Royals to their first AL pennant
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Known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth, Washington helped the Royals to their first AL pennant

He was in four postseason series with the Royals – the 1980 ALCS, 1980 World Series, 1981 ALDS, and 1984 ALCS – batting 12-for-43 (.279 overall). Kansas City lost to the Phillies in six games in the 1980 World Series.

In 1985, Washington was traded to Expos for pitcher Mike Kinunnen and Ken Baker – an outfielder in the minor leagues. He played in 68 games for the Expos as a utility infielder, batting .249 with one home run in 17 RBIs.

After becoming a free agent in the fall the same year he joined Montreal, Washington signed with the Pirates in April 1986.


Washington was given a roster spot on the Royals after having tried out for the team in 1977
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Washington was given a roster spot on the Royals after having tried out for the team in 1977

Washington worked for several MLB teams' minor league organizations, including the Boston Red Sox's (2013-14) in his post-playing career
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Washington worked for several MLB teams’ minor league organizations, including the Boston Red Sox’s (2013-14) in his post-playing career

During his two seasons in Pittsburgh, he appeared in a total of 82 games, batting .207 with no home runs and ten RBIs, again in a utility infielder role. He was released by the Pirates in October 1987.

‘I won’t go back to the minors, but I haven’t said I’ve officially retired. If someone called and said they wanted me to play in the majors I’d go. I spent nine straight years in the majors, so going back to the minors was the toughest thing for me the past two years. At my age it got to where every time out, I was fighting pain off here or there anyway. I really admire the guys who play until they’re 40,’ Washington said early in the 1988 season.

In his post-playing career, Washington worked for several minor league organizations of the Royals (1991-09), LA Dodgers (1999), Minnesota Twins (2001-02) and Boston Red Sox (2013-14).

Working for the Greenville Drive in 2013, Washington advised Mookie Betts’ on his batting form, helping him change his swing to become more of a power hitter.


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