Thursday, February 2, 2012

#325 - Tommy Harper

Tommy Harper is the third AL guy in a row which has been pretty rare so far in this set. He does break one streak though, in that his '73 season was a pretty big one. In a sort of comeback year Tommy boosted his offensive numbers pretty considerably in Boston and led the AL in stolen bases, setting a Red Sox record in the process. He gets a sunny spring training shot here, which is appropriate because he was generally a well-spoken, thoughtful guy. He got good props in "Ball Four" and his profile would get raised years later after he was done playing but we can get to that below.

Tommy Harper came out of California where he played high school ball with Willie Stargell and Curt Motton. He was all-league in both football and baseball at Encina Alameda High near Oakland and continued reaping league awards at San Jose Junior College. He then transferred to San Francisco State and was hitting over .500 when he was signed by the Reds in '60. He had a deceptively good first summer that year in B ball, hitting .254 while playing second, but with a .427 OBA, 65 runs, and 26 stolen bases in only 79 games. He spent '61 at the same level and position, boosting his average 70 points and showing some good power from his leadoff spot with 15 homers and 65 RBI's. The next year he jumped all the way to Cincy, starting the opener at third but after a few games was admittedly overwhelmed and sent down to Triple A the rest of the season. There Tommy had a big year, hitting .333 with 120 runs, 26 homers, 84 RBI's, and a .450 OBA while working on his game at third. The next season he went up for good.

In '63 Harper took over right field for the Reds, becoming, with fellow rookie Pete Rose, the first of a new generation of Reds that would ultimately become The Big Red Machine. Tommy put up pretty good numbers on offense, most of them approaching those of Mr. Rose, who won that year's NL Rookie of the Year. Tommy did get named to the Topps rookie team. In '64 he moved to left, switching positions for the most part with Frank Robinson, and suffered a bit of a sophomore setback. Then in '65 he turned it on and though hitting a relatively - for a leadoff guy - light .257 led the majors in runs scored with 126. A bunch of those runs were knocked in by recent post subject Deron Johnson. In '66 Tommy boosted his average a bunch but in '67 he did a big about face and after the season he was traded to Cleveland for Brad Raudman, George Culver, and Fred Whitfield.

For the Indians Harper pretty much bottomed out. The Cleveland outfield was a bit messy in '68 - eight different guys started at least 55 games - and Tommy was used mostly against lefties which didn't work too well. So when the new Seattle Pilots nabbed him in the expansion draft that winter, Tommy wasn't unhappy. In the Pilots first - and only - season he played everywhere, primarily at second and third. His average wasn't anything special but he put up a .349 OBA - the highest of his career to date - and led the majors with 73 stolen bases, the highest AL total since Ty Cobb swiped 96 in 1915. Then in '70 Tommy rewrote the Pilots/Brewers record book - it WAS only a year old - when he had his best overall season. Settling in pretty much at third, he hit .296 with 104 runs, 31 homers, and 82 RBI's to make his first and only All-Star team. He finished pretty high in AL MVP voting and became the fifth guy - and first infielder - to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season. After a discounted '71 in which he again became itinerant Tommy was part of a big trade that sent him, Lew Krausse, and Marty Pattin to the Red Sox for Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Don Pavletich, George Scott, Billy Conigliaro, and Jim Lahoud. Inserted into center field his stats in '72 were almost identical to those of the prior year. After the big step-up in '73 he slowed down a bit in '74, playing mostly left field and DH. After the season he went to the Angels for Bobby Heise. For California he played mainly first base and did a notch better than in '74 until mid-August when he was sold to Oakland for their then-annual pennant run. Tommy did a nice job, hitting .319 the rest of the way and stealing a perfect seven bases. He got his first post-season appearance and walked but that was pretty much his last hurrah. In '76 he signed as a free agent with Baltimore for whom he DH'd and pinch hit. He was released at the end of the season and retired with a .257 average, 146 homers, 567 RBI's, 972 runs, and 408 stolen bases.

In '77 spring training Harper went to Oakland, hoping to hook up with the decimated former champs. When that didn't work he took a scouting gig with the Yankees. In '78 Boston hired him away into their sales organization and from '80 to '84 he was the Sox first base coach. In '85 he moved back to the admin side, this time as an assistant GM. That tenure got stormy, however when Tommy complained to management about the team's long-standing policy in spring training of offering passes to the local Elks Club, which only admitted whites (in '85?!!). He was fired that December and in response filed a discrimination suit through the EEOC the following January. There is an interview with Tommy linked to here when he was working at an auto maintenance place as a follow-up gig. He won the case in December and the Sox stopped using the club. By '88 Tommy was back in baseball as a consulting base-running coach for the Expos. From '90 to '99 he was a Montreal coach proper. In 2000 he returned to Boston and remained on the coaching staff through '02. Since then he has worked as a roving and consulting hitting coach for the Sox, most recently bailing David Ortiz out of his 2011 slump.

Tommy gets the solo star bullet and it came up on top. His cartoon is kind of lame. In "Ball Four", a book Tommy has disavowed but is presented quite well in, it is explained that he showed up in Seattle's spring training camp fresh from his military tour in the Air Force. The service thought so highly of him that they invited him back offering him the position of staff sergeant if he re-upped. Tommy's response was "You can make me a general and I'm not coming back."

In music news on this date, Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" took over Number One in the States in '74. Sorry about that Tommy.

Since we are still all-AL, this one should be quick:

1. Harper and Danny Cater '72 to '74 Red Sox;
2. Cater and Steve Kline '70 to '71 Yankees.

No comments:

Post a Comment