Mel Harder

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Melvin Leroy Harder

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Mel Harder spent his entire career of twenty years with the Cleveland Indians and made the All-Star team four times. Over his career, he pitched 13 innings in the All-Star Game and never gave up an earned run. In the 1934 All-Star Game, he pitched 5 innings, giving up a single hit.

He was in the top ten in the league in ERA six times in his career, all during the 1930s; he led the league in 1933 with a 2.95 ERA. He was also in the top ten in the league in wins six times in his career, also all during the 1930s.

Harder was the starting pitcher when the Indians played their first game at Municipal Stadium on July 31, 1932, a 1-0 loss to Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics in front of a crowd of more than 70,000. Sixty one years later, he also threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the ballpark's final game on October 3, 1993. In 1940, he was one of the leaders of the player revolt against manager Ossie Vitt. Slugger Hal Trosky was supposed to present the players' case against Vitt to owner Alva Bradley, but had to go suddenly to his home in Iowa to attend to an illness in his family; Harder, who was universally respected by his teammates, acted in his stead but failed to convince Bradley to dismiss his manager. Word of the meeting then leaked out in the press and the Indians became known as the "Cry-Babies".

Mel's playing career lasted so long that he was on the Cleveland Indians in 1928 along with Deadball Era veterans "Tioga" George Burns and Lew Fonseca, and after World War II in 1947 he was still on the Indians, with the young Larry Doby and Al Rosen, as well as Bob Feller. Then, having stayed with the Indians as pitching coach, he was still around in 1963 when "Sudden" Sam McDowell was a young player. His peak years were in the early and mid 1930s, when Earl Averill was the hitting star. With 223 wins to his name, Harder has won more games than any Cleveland pitcher other than Bob Feller. Even before he formally became a pitching coach, during his last years as an active pitcher, he worked hard with Bob Lemon to convert him from a position player into a Hall of Fame pitcher; Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia, all of whom achieved great success pitching in Cleveland, also praised the help Harder gave them when they first played with the Indians. Joe DiMaggio had much trouble hitting him. Harder was nearsighted and wore glasses.

After his playing career ended, he was the Indians pitching coach from 1948 to 1963 and also went 3-0 in two separate stints as the club's interim manager. He was the pitching coach under manager Al Lopez when the Indians racked up a then-record 111 wins in 1954. He later held coaching positions with the New York Mets (1964), Chicago Cubs (1965), Cincinnati Reds (1966-1968), and Kansas City Royals (1969).

He is currently # 70 on the list of career leaders for pitching wins, tied with Paul Derringer and Hooks Dauss, and one win behind two Hall of Famers, Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter. One of the most similar players to Harder, according to the similarity scores method, is a recent player, Jerry Reuss. There was a push to have Mel Harder elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1990s, when he was still alive and the Veterans Committee still functioned as a small, largely unaccountable club; the effort did not reach fruition before the Committee was disbanded. However, his name still comes up in discussions of players to be considered for future induction in the Hall.

Harder died at age 93 in 2002, in his adopted hometown of Chardon, OH. His ashes were scattered over Mel Harder Field, the local baseball diamond that was named after him.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 4-time AL All-Star (1934-1937)
  • American League ERA Leader (1933)
  • AL Shutouts Leader (1934)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 8 (1932-1939)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1934 & 1935)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 8 (1932-1939)

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1961 Cleveland Indians American League 1-0 5th Cleveland Indians replaced Jimmy Dykes (77-83) on October 1
1962 Cleveland Indians American League 2-0 6th Cleveland Indians replaced Mel McGaha (78-82) on September 30

Further Reading[edit]

  • Walter M. Langford: "Mel Harder, The Pitcher Who Won Historic '34 All-Star Game", Baseball Digest, July 1984, pp. 42-46. [1]
  • Hal Lebovitz: "Loss of Harder is Great One for Tribe", in Brad Sullivan, ed.: Batting Four Thousand: Baseball in the Western Reserve, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2008, pp. 52-54.

Related Sites[edit]