April 24 – Happy Birthday Harry Harper

Harry_HarperHe was known as “Hackensack Harry,” a tribute to the New Jersey based New York City suburb in which he was born. This guy did something voluntarily you’d never see a ballplayer do today. He walked away from his job as a Yankee starting pitcher to manage his own company.

Harry Harper was a tall, skinny southpaw pitcher who was signed right out of high school by the Washington Senators and rushed directly to the big leagues at the age of 18. He remained a Senator for the first seven seasons of his career, joining the team’s starting rotation in 1916. That was probably his best year as a player, as he compiled a 14-10 record with a 2.45 ERA. Unfortunately for Harper, he pitched for Washington during a period the franchise fell into decline and during his final season with the team, his horrible record of 6-21 and his respectable ERA of 3.72 reflected just how far the Senators had fallen.

He was then traded to Boston, a year after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and he went 5-14 but again managed a respectable 3.05 ERA. That’s when he got his big break. Ten days before Christmas in 1920, the Yankees and Red Sox concluded an eight-player deal that sent Harper, Waite Hoyt, Wally Schang and Mike McNally to New York and Del Pratt, Muddy Ruel, Sammy Vick and Hank Thormahlen to Beantown.

One of the interesting things about Harper’s baseball career was that he was religious enough to negotiate a clause in his contract that prevented him from pitching on Sundays. When he came to New York, he became the Yankees only left-handed pitcher with the exception of Babe Ruth, who had been converted by then into pretty much a full-time outfielder. Yankee skipper, Miller Huggins did not give Harper his first Yankee start until May 13th of that ’21 season against the Tigers and the pitcher was sharp enough to get the win, but it was a costly one. In the sixth inning of that game he tried to barehand a line drive and he broke the thumb on his pitching hand. He didn’t get back into the rotation until September and he split his last six decisions, as the Yankees captured the franchises first-ever AL Pennant.

Then in the World Series that followed, with the Yankees holding a 3-games to 2 edge over the cross town Giants, Huggins decided to start Harper in Game 6. He didn’t make it out of the second inning, surrendering three earned runs and the Yankees lost the game and then went on to lose the Series.

As disappointing as his only Series appearance was to both Harper and Huggins, it had no bearing on the pitcher’s absence from the Yankee roster the following spring. It seems that Hackensack Harry was quite the entrepreneur when he wasn’t playing baseball. He and his brother had started a trucking business in their home town and they had won a bid to provide  trucking services for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. In February of 1922 he requested a leave of absence from his baseball responsibilities so he could pay full attention to the Tunnel project. He later started a self service supermarket and successful fuel and beverage companies in his native Garden State. Harper also got involved in politics. In 1927, he was elected Sheriff of Bergen County. He then accepted appointments as New Jersey’s Civil Service and Labor Commissioner. In 1948, he lost a bid to become the republican nominee in an election for one of New Jersey’s two seats in the US Senate.

Harper shares his April 24th birthday with this Yankee outfielder, this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

1921 NYY 4 3 .571 3.76 8 7 1 4 0 0 52.2 52 23 22 3 25 22 2 1.462
10 Yrs 57 76 .429 2.87 219 171 27 66 12 5 1256.0 1100 531 400 26 582 623 40 1.339
WSH (7 yrs) 48 58 .453 2.75 183 141 26 51 11 5 1037.0 877 429 317 12 488 526 36 1.316
BRO (1 yr) 0 1 .000 14.73 1 1 0 0 0 0 3.2 8 6 6 2 3 4 0 3.000
NYY (1 yr) 4 3 .571 3.76 8 7 1 4 0 0 52.2 52 23 22 3 25 22 2 1.462
BOS (1 yr) 5 14 .263 3.04 27 22 0 11 1 0 162.2 163 73 55 9 66 71 2 1.408
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2013.

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