Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #18 Mel Harder
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Mel Harder.
By Vince Guerrieri
On July 31, 1932, the Indians played their first game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The cavernous lake front edifice had opened a year earlier, in the depths of the Great Depression, to host a heavyweight prizefight.
The Indians would face the Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s had just won their third straight pennant, and took the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games before losing the World Series the year before. Their ace, Lefty Grove, would be pitching before a crowd of more than 76,000.
The Indians turned to Mel Harder, who was already in his fourth year with the club. Harder and Grove each threw up goose eggs, but future Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane singled off Harder in the eighth to score Mule Haas, giving Harder the loss.
For 36 straight seasons, Harder wore an Indians uniform, as a pitcher and then as a coach. His 20 seasons as a pitcher and 582 career appearances remain club records, and he’s second to Bob Feller in wins, starts and innings.
Harder had back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1934 and 1935, and had a four-year stretch where he pitched in the All-Star Game. His 13 scoreless innings in the Midsummer Classic remain an MLB record.
Harder retired after the 1947 season with a career record of 223-186 and a 3.85 ERA. Ted Williams called him the toughest pitcher he ever faced, and Harder is the only pitcher ever to strike out Joe DiMaggio three times in one game.
After he retired as a pitcher, Harder became one of the major leagues’ first pitching coaches, spending another 16 years with the Indians before retiring in 1963. He was succeeded by one of his former pupils, Early Wynn, as pitching coach.
Harder was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame, and had his number retired in 1990. He died in 2002.
Photo: Associated Press