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League Park - Mel Harder - "Chief"

 

"I didn't have much of a curveball until I got to professional ball. I also had to learn a change-up when I made it to the pros. I got a lot of batters out with that fastball sinker. But over the years, I had to mix it up more." - Mel Harder on ESPN SportsZone (July 22, 1998)

Mel Harder

Melvin Leroy Harder* (October 15, 1909 - October 20, 2002), nicknamed "Chief", was an American right-handed starting pitcher and coach in Major League Baseball who played his entire career with the Cleveland Indians. He spent 36 seasons overall with the Indians, as a player from 1928 to 1947 and as one of the game's most highly regarded pitching coaches from 1949-64. He set franchise records for wins (223), games started (433) and innings pitched (3426-1/3) which were later broken by Bob Feller, and still holds the club record of 582 career games pitched; he was among the American League's career leaders in wins (9th), games (8th) and starts (10th) when he retired. He was also an excellent fielder, leading the AL in putouts four times, then a record.

Harder was born in Beemer, Nebraska, graduated from Technical High School (Omaha, Nebraska), and broke in with the Indians as a relief pitcher in 1928. His pitching style revolved around his fine curveball, a hard fastball and excellent control. He joined the starting rotation in 1930, and posted a record of 39-37 from 1930 to 1932; on July 31, 1932, he pitched the first game ever at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In 1933 he finished second in the AL with an earned run average of 2.95, trailing teammate Monte Pearson (2.33); under modern rules enacted in 1951, Harder would have been credited with the league lead, as Pearson only pitched 135 innings. In 1934 he finished with 20 wins, led the league with 6 shutouts, and was again second in ERA (2.61) to Lefty Gómez. In 1935 he was second to Wes Ferrell in wins (22) and innings (287-1/3), and was fifth in the AL with a 3.29 ERA. After developing a sore elbow and bursitis in his shoulder, he won at least 15 games in each season from 1936 to 1939; he led the AL in putouts in 1932, 1933, 1935 and 1938.

Harder was one of the most successful All-Stars of the 1930s, appearing in all four games from 1934 to 1937 and setting a record with 13 consecutive innings without an earned run. He won the 1934 All-Star game after relieving Red Ruffing with none out and two men on in the fifth inning, with an 8-6 lead; one run scored on a double steal, but Harder allowed only one hit in his five innings as the AL won 9-7. He earned a save in the 1935 game, pitching three scoreless innings to finish a 4-1 victory, and another in 1937 with three shutout innings in the 8-3 win; he also finished the 4-3 loss played at Cleveland in 1936 with two innings.

In 1940 he posted a 12-11 record as the Indians finished one game behind the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers, wasting an early September lead amid clubhouse rancor; it would be the only season in his career in which the Indians came within ten games of the AL flag. After several more years in which his record hovered near .500, earning his 200th victory in 1944, Harder ended his career in 1947 with 1160 strikeouts and a 3.80 ERA. In addition to his 223 victories, his 186 losses remain a club record. Ironically, the Indians won the World Series the year after he retired, and the year before he returned as pitching coach.

* - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Highlights

  • Only pitcher to work 10 or more All-Star innings without allowing an earned run
  • Only man in major league history to have both 20-year playing and coaching careers
  • Only Walter Johnson and Ted Lyons pitched more seasons with one club