Saturday, February 10, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #91 Greg Harris

Greg Harris, RP, #27 (1989-1994)

287 G, 53 GS, 3 CG, 16 SV, 3.92 ERA

To appreciate Greg Harris's impact on the Boston Red Sox, you have to realize that he was a swingman. He was actually a swingman in two different ways (there may have been a third, but I don't know Greg or his wife well enough to ask). As you can see from the provided stat line, Harris was both a starter and a reliever for the Sox. Yes, he was really only technically a swingman in 1991, but a lot of his value to the club was tied to his versatility and rubber arm.

Harris was selected off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies on August 7th, 1989. He spent the rest of the '89 season in the bullpen, where he provided the Sox with 28 innings and an ERA+ of 160. Ineffectiveness (Wes Gardner and Eric Hetzel) and FA departures (Oil Can Boyd) opened up a spot in the Red Sox rotation for Greg Harris in 1990. He would start 30 games for the '90 squad, giving the Sox just about 6 IP per start at the league-average ERA. He refined and improved his curveball, giving credit to Mike Boddicker for helping him improve the pitch and his overall usefulness.

1991 saw the Red Sox begin to figure out how Harris could be most useful. He both started and relieved, but the improvement in his pitching as a reliever was evident, with an ERA about 2 1/4 runs lower as a relief pitcher. He also averaged about 1 2/3 IP per relief appearance. While Greg could still provide about 6 IP with league-average results as a starter, he was strikingly better as a setup man.

In 1992, Greg had arguably the best season of his entire career. He would pitch 70 games, starting two, with an ERA+ of 169. Harris, seemingly, had found a home with the Red Sox and a spot to call his own. As we all know, however, relievers are a fungible and unpredictable commodity. After setting the Red Sox record for appearances with 80 G(later broken by Mike Timlin in 2005) in 1993, his 1994 season was a nightmare. His ERA jumped to 7.99 (league-average ERA in 1994 was an even 5, and his BABIP was a significantly unlucky .367), he was released and only able to find work with the Yankees in July.

You might be thinking, hey, numbers are great, but why should I care about this guy? I'll tell you. But first, take another look at the picture I've chosen for Greg Harris's bio. See the hand he's shown pitching with? Greg Harris spent 99.9% of his career as a right-handed pitcher. Greg Harris was actually ambidexterous. For reference, the last pitcher in the ML to pitch with both his right and left hands was Tony Mullane in 1893.

This may seem like a huge advantage (provided the pitcher is skilled with both hands), but it was an advantage Lou Gorman was unwilling to use in his tenure as GM. Gorman believed it would "make a mockery of the game". Harris disagreed. In protest, he still wore an ambidexterous six-finger glove when pitching. He also, obviously, would pose for pictures (as in the '91 Score card) as a left-handed pitcher. Greg Harris never got the chance to use his ability with the Red Sox.

However, in his final season and next-to-last game with the Montreal Expos, maverick visionary manager Felipe Alou allowed Greg Harris to realize his dream. From the online Baseball Library:

The Reds defeat the Expos by a score of 9-7, with Expos reliever Greg Harris pitching the 9th ambidexterously. The Reds don't score against him as he faces two with his (normal) right arm and two with his left. After Harris (right-handed) retires Reggie Sanders on a grounder, manager Felipe Alou permits him to do what he had wanted to try for 10 years. Following a wild lefty toss to the backstop, he walks Hal Morris. Remaining as a southpaw, though, he gets Eddy Taubensee to ground out. Finally, returning the ball to his right hand, he retires Bret Boone on a ground out.
Greg Harris was a useful pitcher for the Red Sox during his tenure. The righty/lefty setup combo he and Tony Fossas provided in those years was a forerunner to the successful duo of Mike Timlin and Alan Embree. Harris also, notably, spelled his middle name correctly.

Allen writes about the Red Sox in a self-important and pretentious way so that you don't have to. You can find him at Over The Monster.


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I think Greg Harris was a freat player, he left his footprint in the history of baseball.
Thanks for sharing!

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