Greg Harris (harrigr01)

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Greg Allen Harris

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Biographical Information[edit]

A useful swing-man throughout his career, Greg Harris is best known for having once pitched using both arms in a single game. Typically a right-handed pitcher, he had previously acquired a special six-fingered glove that could be placed on either hand and allowed him to pitch with the other. He had worn it in games since being forbidden by Boston Red Sox GM Lou Gorman from throwing both righty and lefty in an appearance; apparently, this was Harris's way of tweaking the Red Sox executive. Finally, though, Harris found himself pitching for the Montreal Expos in the last season of his career, and on September 28, 1995, against the Cincinnati Reds, in his final career appearance, he fulfilled his career-long ambition of pitching ambidextrously, respectively walking and retiring the two batters he faced as a southpaw, in between beginning and ending the inning, and as a right-hander. In 2015, Pat Venditte became the next "switch pitcher" in the major leagues and managed to forge a decent career in spite of mediocre stuff, thanks to his unique ability.

Harris always had to work hard to find a major league job, because he was never able to light up the radar gun, but still managed to pitch for 15 seasons in the Show. He was an undrafted free agent, first signing on with the New York Mets in September of 1976, and managed to reach the majors with them in May of 1981. A breaking ball pitcher, he was first used as a starter, going 3-5, 4.46 in the role during the strike-shortened season. He was sent to the Cincinnati Reds as part of the trade for slugger George Foster after his rookie season and went 2-6, 4.83 in 34 games for the last-place Reds in 1982. He then spent most of 1983 in the minors, making only one appearance in Cincinnati, before being claimed off waivers by the Expos with a few days left in the season. He didn't suit up for the Expos that year, but in 1984 managed to make the team's opening day roster as the last man on the pitching staff . He pitched well as short reliever, going 0-1, 2.04 with 2 saves in 15 games, but he wasn't a favorite of manager Bill Virdon and in early June he was sent down to the minors to allow the Expos to add an extra position player to the roster. A few weeks later, he was traded to the San Diego Padres in return for diminutive infielder Al Newman, whom the Expos had sent to San Diego in a trade the previous off-season.

Harris ended up in the right place at the right time with San Diego, as he continued to pitch well the rest of the year, albeit rarely when the game was on the line, going 2-1, 2.70 with 1 save in 19 games. The Padres won a division title for the first time in their history that year, and he found himself on the postseason roster. His lone appearance in the 1984 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs was disastrous as he gave up 8 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks in mop-up relief in a 13-0 drubbing in Game 1. However, he was a lot better in the 1984 World Series. He came on in relief in Game 3 against the Detroit Tigers in relief of Tim Lollar and Greg Booker, who had both been awful, with San Diego already trailing 4-1 in the 3rd and the bases loaded. He plunked the first batter he faced, Kirk Gibson, to force in a fifth run, but then pitched the rest of the game and allowed no more runs in 5 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, the Padres only scored once in their last six turns at bat, so they could not come back. He allowed 3 walks in his long outing, contributing to a record 11 walks by Padres pitchers in the game. He didn't stay long with the Padres, though, as early in spring training in 1985, he was purchased by the Texas Rangers. He found a home there for a few years, going 5-4, 2.47 with 11 saves in a yeoman-like 113 innings in relief that season, then became the team's closer, mainly out of desperation, in 1986, with more good numbers: 10-8, 2.83 in 73 games and 111 1/3 innings, and 20 saves. His ability to eat up a ton of innings in relief with good ERAs made him quite valuable, but the Rangers decided to use him as a starter again in 1987 and things did not go so well, as he ended up at 5-10, 4.86.

Again underappreciated, Harris signed with the Cleveland Indians for 1988, but the rudderless team thought fit to release him at the end of spring training. The Philadelphia Phillies then gave him a chance and, lo and behold, he was very good, going 4-6, 2.86 in 66 games while logging 106 innings. But because he wasn't a hard thrower, teams tended to dismiss his success as the result of luck or something. The Phillies decided he was disposable in spite of his pitching well in the first five months of 1989, placing him on waivers even though he had gone 2-2, 3.58 in 44 games, giving them a bunch of quality innings. He was picked up by the Red Sox and put up an ERA of 2.57 in 15 games in September.

The Red Sox put him back in the starting rotation in 1990, and this time he did very well in the role, with a record of 13-9, 4.00 in 34 games while pitching 184 1/3 innings. He made an important contribution to their winning a division title, but he was not one of the front-line starters who got to work in the ALCS against the Oakland Athletics. He did make one appearance in the series, and it did not go well. In Game 2 on October 7th, he came in relief of rookie starter Dana Kiecker with two outs in the 6th and the score tied at one with a couple of runners on base. He got out of that jam, but began the 7th by allowing back-to-back singles to Mike Gallego and Rickey Henderson. Larry Andersen, the man who had cost the Red Sox Jeff Bagwell, came on at that point, and allowed Gallego to score before recording the three outs. The Red Sox were never able to tie the game again, ending up 4-1 losers and Greg was charged with the loss. In 1991, he was a swingman, going 11-12, 3.85 in another good season. He then settled back into full-time relief and was one of the busiest pitchers in the American League in 1992 and 1993, logging 70 and 80 games and over 100 innings each year.

However, after years of good results, the bottom fell out in 1994, as he got absolutely lit up, with an ERA of 8.28 in 35 games. He was released, but the New York Yankees gave him a look. However, he had made only three appearances, going 0-1, 5.40, when the 1994 strike brought the season to a premature end. It seemed to be the end of the line for Greg, but the Expos, who had been hurt more by the strike than any other team, gave him a chance in 1995, although at first it was only to help out with their AAA affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx. He pitched well in the Canadian capital, however, and was called on to give a hand in Montreal. It was supposed to be a short stay, but he pitched well enough to remain for the rest of the season, and eventually made 45 appearances with a solid ERA of 2.60. To thank him for his good work, manager Felipe Alou gave him a chance to fulfill his life-long dream of pitching ambidextrously in his final appearance, the 703rd of a much better career than he is given credit for.

Harris was a pitching coach in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' chain from 1996-1998, with the Hudson Valley Renegades in 1996-1997 and St. Petersburg Devil Rays in 1998. He was pitching coach for the Lancaster JetHawks in 1999 [1].

Greg's son, also named Greg Harris, began pitching in the minors in 2013.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Danny Gallagher: "Harris finally got to pitch both ways" in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 213-216.
  • Alan S. Kaufman and James C. Kaufman: The Worst Baseball Pitchers of All Time: Bad Luck, Bad Arms, Bad Teams, and Just Plain Bad, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC, 1993, pp. 61-63. ISBN 978-0899508245

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