Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#475 Jack Harshman

San Diego native Jack Harshman began his baseball 'life' as a power hitting, free swinging first baseman for the San Diego Padres of the PCL in 1945. After a year or so of playing on the west coast and a short Navy stint Harshman was obtained by the New York Giants in 1947 and he slugged his way through the Giants' chain for several years. He had modest success in his brief shots in the majors and finally his minor league team owner suggested that Harshman, who pitched batting practice to his teammates regularly, might try pitching full time as a way to return to the majors.

He became a full time pitcher in 1953 and went 23-7 for Class AA Nashville. Despite those lofty numbers the Giants sold him to the White Sox that fall and Harshman began a second life as a major league starting pitcher. In his first season as a major league starter, 1954, Harshman struck out 16 Red Sox in one game and pitched a 16 inning complete game 1-0 shut-out against the Tigers. It is estimated that Harshman threw 245 pitches in that one. 

He went 48-34 in 4 seasons with the Sox and then was traded to the Orioles for 1958. His 12-15 record doesn't compare to his 2.85 ERA that year. A rocky start in 1959 earned him a trade to the Red Sox in June and a waiver ride to the Indians in July. He pitched sparingly for Cleveland in 1960 and had a few minor league appearances in '61 before he retired. 

He never lost his power at the plate. He twice had six homer seasons and that number was good for fifth best among all players on the 1958 Orioles. Among his 76 major league hits are 21 homers! That's quite a ratio. 

Harshman is truly a fascinating guy. Lots to read about in his personal life and professional career. As always there is his SABR bio and then there is a multi-part blog series that I found pretty interesting. You can get to through this site

Here is a 'teaser' from one installment, a quote from the Saturday Evening Post:

Jack Harshman could hit the ball a mile, but his batting average was anemic. Then, aided by the uninhibited girl he married, he turned into a surprisingly crafty pitcher.
"Uninhibited" didn't have the same connotation back then. In this case, it's because she gives advice and shares opinions about his pitching performances.
 There may never have been a baseball wife quite like Frances DeVee Oldman Harshman. She is pert, pretty -- and candidly ambitious for Jack. Her terse, matter-of-fact husband refuses to blow his own horn, but this uninhibited little blonde has been doing it for him ever since they were married in 1950.

Finally, check out this great picture of Harshman as a Giants 1B prospect:

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