You know I was just thinking the other day. Why do they always get better? We bring in a guy or bring them up through the system and then after they don’t work out we either cut them loose or let them leave and they go on to be a big piece for some other club. Why do they always get better?
Well, I decided to see how far back this goes and as it turns out you can trace it all the way back to the 1969 Pilots! For realizes! Let’s take a look at one specific example.
Fact, on Oct 15, 1968 we drafted Tommy Harper out of the Cleveland Indians organization. He had roamed around the lower half of Ohio in the form of Cinncinatti prior to his one year stop in Cleveland prior to being selected and was entering the prime of his career. A right handed stick, that didn’t show much in the way of pop but had a good set of wheels, got on base frequently and up to that point in his career played a pretty solid corner outfield.
The Pilots drafted him and of course put him in the fielder where he had displayed the most useful defensive value… at second base. While, he had previously Apparently they didn’t know he was a below average defender. But they figured it out eventually and moved him to a less defensive valunerable position… center field. He wasn’t there but for 22 games and they quickly moved him to third base where he finished the season. All together Sean Smith has him as being a total of -23 runs below average defensively for the entire season.
His offense wasn’t terrible, as he posted a slash line .235/.349/.311 and stole, what is a Seattle record, 73 bases. His base running skills (not to mention his ability to get on-base) got him noticed among those around baseball and even helped him come in 29th overall in MVP voting in ’69, despite being worth a grand total 0 rWAR.
But, as we all know in 1970 due to financial problems, the team was sold to car dealer Bud Selig, and moved out to Milwaukee and renamed the Brewers.Wouldn’t you know that would be the year that Tommy Harper would decide to post some crazy career numbers.
Not only did Harper find a home in Milwaukee, he blasted, what would be a career high, 31 home runs, wOBA of .399 and a wRC+ of 148. He even posted a positive fielding numbers (+7) according to TotalZone at third base, which is where he spent most of the year playing. All in all Harper posted a fWAR of 7.3 and a rWAR of 7.7 and was pretty much the third most valuable player in the American League, despite finishing 6th in MVP voting.
The brightside to all Seattle fans is that Harper didn’t break more than 2 WAR again for the Brewers. He was traded to the Red Sox after the 1971 season and had a rought season in ’72. But came back strong in 1973 when he was worth right around 4 WAR for the Boston Red Sox and that would be the last time he would be worth playing every day and after the bottom fell out of his game in 74 he was traded to the Angels and bounced around the American League for a few seasons.
The real point in trotting out this Marinerism is an example of how inconsistent some individuals production can be. Regardless of the talent that might been seen, he never quite realized that potential, then he finally produced and did so mangificently, then fell off and then produced again only to finally hit the bottom of his career and move on.
Harper was a good offensive asset but lost a lot of that value over his career due to poor defense. I’d love to know more about Harper’s career as it’s one of the more unique that I’ve seen associated with Seattle over the years. Furthermore his career mark of 31 home runs in 1970 is facinating for someone who, in no other year, ever hit more than 20. It brings to my mind Brady Anderson’s 96 season. Though in fairness Anderson posted 6 straight years of above average production and was a solid defensive center fielder and an average fielder.
But this isn’t about Brady Anderson, this is about Tommy Harper. The first guy ever to make a plate appereance for the city of Seattle, as well as record a hit or even score a run (on a Mike Hegan home run). Can’t make this stuff up. He’s the perfect token “Why do they always get better when they leave” guy. He served as a coach with the Red Sox and Expo organization in 90’s and early 2000’s. But he’s someone that has been forgotten and I wanted to take a short time and high light him as the very first guy that “got away”.