Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Jack Harshman, 1959 Topps #475

On September 23, 1958, Orioles pitcher Jack Harshman redefined the well-worn baseball cliche of "helping your own cause". In a sparsely attended Tuesday home game against the lowly Senators, the southpaw improved his record to 12-14 with a 3-2 complete-game victory. Just 6,478 fans straggled into Memoral Stadium that day, and they watched as Harshman spotted Washington a pair of runs on six total hits in the first two innings. But something clicked for the O's starter after that, and he permitted only three more hits in seven shutout innings thenceforth. For the game, Jack struck out nine Senators and walked none. Though he allowed nine hits in all, none went for extra bases.

But it wasn't Harshman's pitching that was the story of the game; it was his work at the plate. The native San Diegan had played a lot of first base in the minors (and a bit in the majors) before the Giants converted him to the mound in the early 1950s. He clubbed 192 home runs in 3,101 minor-league at-bats, a rate of one every 16.2 at-bats. It's a little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but Frank Robinson's career rate in the big leagues was one homer per 17.1 at-bats. Anyhow, Jack went 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs and an RBI double against opposing starter Pedro Ramos to drive in all three Baltimore runs. The rest of the Birds' lineup was 3-for-27 with three walks, which brings to mind another old saying: "If you want anything done right, you've got to do it yourself."

Harshman's heroics helped him finish the 1958 season with six home runs, matching his career high. His batting line for the year was .195/.330/.427, giving him an above-average OPS+ of 113. On the other side of the ledger, he had a tough-luck record of 12-15 despite a team-leading 2.89 ERA (124 ERA+) and 17 complete games, with 4 saves to boot! The 30-year-old pitcher did get a few down-ballot votes in the American League MVP race as a consolation prize, the only time in his career that he received that honor. 1958 was his only full season in Charm City; the following year he was dealt to Boston and then selected on waivers by the Indians. He finished his career in 1960 with Cleveland, walking away with a career record of 69-65 and an ERA of 3.50 in parts of eight seasons. As a hitter he batted .179/.294/.344 with 21 home runs and 65 RBI in 521 plate appearances (424 at-bats). Just to save you the math, that's one home run every 20.2 at-bats. There aren't many big league pitchers who could do that today...if any.

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