Harshman in 1952
|Pitcher/Pinch hitter/First baseman|
Born: July 12, 1927|
San Diego, California
Died: August 17, 2013 (aged 86)|
|September 16, 1948, for the New York Giants|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1960, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Earned run average||3.50|
|Runs batted in||65|
John Elvin Harshman (July 12, 1927 – August 17, 2013) was an American Major League Baseball pitcher with the New York Giants, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians between 1948 and 1960. He batted and threw left-handed.
Harshman was born in San Diego, California, in 1927. He began his professional career at the age of 17 in 1945 for the San Diego Padres of the minor league AA Pacific Coast League. For his first five seasons, Harshman was being trained and conditioned to be a major league hitter instead of a pitcher. Harshman's short stint in San Diego ended with a .254 batting average in 67 at-bats.
In 1946, Harshman moved over to the Class C Modesto Reds, where he hit .288 in 56 games before being shipped back to the PCL San Diego squad for only 3 games. 1947 was his first busy season as he played in 151 games for the Victoria Athletics in the Winter Leagues. Harshman smashed 36 home runs while batting a modest .306. He then moved up yet again to the San Diego squad for just 11 games and a poor .148 average. Despite the sluggish ending, the major league New York Giants purchased his contract as a first baseman in December 1947.
1948 had a change of scenery for Harshman. He went to the Jersey City Giants of the AAA International League. He posted fairly average but modest numbers for the squad, hitting 24 home runs, driving in 76 runs, and batting .245. He received a brief call up to the Giants, but only batted .250 in 9 plate appearances.
1949 was a breakout year for the young 21-year-old slugger. In 150 games for the AA Minneapolis Millers, Harshman smashed 40 home runs and had 111 RBI. 1950 saw an unexpected change in Jack's progression. He batted a terrible .193 in 35 games for the Class A Jacksonville Tars and a below average .230 for Minneapolis. His second Major League stint with the Giants went even worse, batting just .125 in 32 at bats.
It was around this point that management thought about changing Harshman's role in the organization. During his sluggish 1949 season, he was brought in to pitch two games for the Jacksonville Tars. He threw for 12 innings and a 6.75 ERA, splitting his 2 games for a 1–1 record.
In 1951 Harshman got back on track with his slugging career. In 154 games for the Nashville Volunteers, he crashed 47 home runs with a fair .251 average. However, his manager once again experimented with Jack potentially being a pitcher, letting him take the field in 5 games. He posted another 1–1 record, but lowered his ERA to 3.94.
Despite bringing a huge bat in the previous season, the decision was made to give Harshman double duty as a pitcher and occasional utility hitter. He batted .222 with 8 home runs and 15 RBI in just 135 at bats, but most of his work for the 1952 season came from on the mound. Harshman pitched in 26 games with 14 starts, threw a total of 131 innings with 78 strikeouts, a 4.67 ERA, and an average 6–7 win-loss record.
Despite his successful transition from a first baseman slugger to a young phenom pitcher, the New York baseball Giants allowed the Chicago White Sox to purchase Harshman's contract. Jack made his White Sox debut against the Cleveland Indians on April 14, 1954. He started the game, but only lasted 32⁄3 innings after being tagged for 4 earned runs on 8 hits. After another poor 21⁄3 innings start on April 19, Harshman was demoted to the bullpen. He continued to struggle until he was given another start on June 6. He responded by throwing a 7-hit shutout against the Washington Senators. On July 25, he struck out 16 Red Sox hitters, including the great Ted Williams in a complete game for a 5–2 win. At the time it was the most strikeouts in the long history of Fenway Park. The record would stand for 32 years until a young flamethrower named Roger Clemens fanned a Major League best 20 batters. After that, Jack settled down and had a largely successful season overall, including an exceptional performance for the month of August. Jack posted a 6–0 record with 47 strikeouts and a microscopic 0.77 ERA. His first full season posted some impressive numbers: A 14–8 win-loss record, a 2.95 ERA, 4 complete game shut-outs, and 134 strikeouts, which was good enough for 5th in the American League.
Harshman found moderate success in the 1955 season by putting up an 11–7 record and a 3.36 ERA while finishing 9th in the AL in strikeouts with 116. On June 21, 1956, at Comiskey Park, Jack achieved a rarity in Major League Baseball that had only happened twice before in the modern era. Both he and the opposing Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Connie Johnson threw a one-hit complete game. Harshman picked up the win 1 to 0. Jack would go on to throw three more shutouts in the season, compiling a 15–12 record with a 3.10 ERA and 143 strikeouts, good enough for 8th in the league.
1956 turned out to be the last solid season for Harshman, as the rest of his career was downhill from thereon out. Following an 8–8 season with the 1957 White Sox, Harshman, Larry Doby and Jim Marshall were traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Billy Goodman, Tito Francona and Ray Moore at the Winter meetings. When it was discovered by the Orioles that Harshman was suffering from a slipped disc, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ordered the Chisox to send either $20,000 or an acceptable player to the Orioles. Russ Heman was sent to Baltimore to complete this deal.
In 1958 many of Harshman's numbers improved. His ERA was a career-low 2.89, 3rd best in the AL, and he compiled a career-high 161 strikeouts to go with 3 shutouts. However, run support was scarce and he ended the season with a 12–15 record.
Harshman became a journeyman in 1959, playing for three different teams throughout the season. Jack got off to an awful start for the Orioles with an 0–6 record and a 6.85 ERA before being traded to the Boston Red Sox for Billy Hoeft on June 15, 1959. Harshman would only spend one month with the Red Sox, going 2–3 with a 6.57 ERA in 2 starts and 6 games of relief.
1960 would prove to be the final season for Harshman in the majors. At the age of 32, his back problems were catching up with him. He was forced onto the disabled list on April 24 after checking into the Cleveland Lakeside Hospital to treat problems connected to slipped discs. It would take three months before he would take the mound again. Right from the start, he could not regain his groove. On July 24, the Red Sox teed him off on 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks before being pulled after just 3 innings. He would never get back on track, ending his final season with a 2–4 record and a 3.98 ERA.
In October, Harshman was released by the Indians. In 1961, Jack participated in spring training in an effort to make the Los Angeles Angels roster, but instead ended up with a familiar team from his first professional year, the AAA Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. He would go on to pitch in only 4 games, compiling a 0–1 record and a 6.00 ERA.
Harshman was married to his wife, Virginia. He had three sisters and one brother. He was related to the actress Margo Harshman, and former Washington State University and University of Washington basketball coach Marv Harshman. Jack has a daughter Patricia "Patty" Michaels (née Harshman) born in 1947. And three grandsons, Michael "Mike" Lydon, Charlie Lydon, and Johnny Lydon.