A New View for Harder With Tribe
Mike B. | On 23, Sep 2013
April 19, 1948
When the Indians take the field tomorrow afternoon to open the 1948 season, Mel Harder will begin the season in the same place he has every year since 1937 — on the bench. However, this year it likely will be a different feeling than he’s ever felt before, yet one he has demonstrated comfort in for years.
If No. 18 strides to the mound tomorrow, it won’t be in relief of Indians ace Bob Feller, it will be to offer advice or talk strategy. After 20 seasons in an Indians uniform, this year Harder no longer is on the active roster; he is in his first year as the Tribe’s pitching coach.
Who better to coach the Tribe staff than their greatest pitcher in the franchise’s history to date? Harder retires as the team’s all-time leader in wins (223), innings pitched (3,426.1) and games (582). Only Addie Joss, whose career was cut short, or Feller can rival Harder’s career. It appears only Feller has a chance to rival many of the marks Harder has already set. All 20 seasons of Harder’s career were in an Indians uniform. Only Walter Johnson (21) in Washington has played more consecutive seasons for one franchise in baseball history.
Aside from Feller, however, Harder will have his hands full with a pitching staff full of question marks. Bob Lemon — Harder’s protégé — will need to assume a much larger role after transitioning from an infielder prior to the World War II. Harder saw Lemon’s ability as a potential pitcher and encouraged the organization transition him from a third baseman to pitcher. After Lemon, Harder and Indians manager Lou Boudreau will be searching for starters among Al Gettel, Bob Muncrief, Don Black and Steve Gromek. Harder has his work cut out for him.
Harder has pitched sparingly over the last three seasons, pitching only 39 games since 1944, often spending more time working with his teammates on their mechanics. What Harder lacks in experience as a pitching coach, he makes up for in resume on the mound.
He debuted in 1928 at just 18 years old for the Indians and grew to lead the rotation by 1933 when he had an American League-low 2.95 ERA. It was the catalyst to four straight All-Star seasons from 1934 to 1937, including being the winning pitcher in one of the most memorable All-Star Games ever. The 1934 game is most remembered for Carl Hubbell striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession, but it was Harder who pitched five innings in relief, allowing only one hit for the win.
Harder seemed to find his way to the big stage several times. He started the first game for the Indians at Municipal Stadium on July 31, 1932, in front of 80,285 Cleveland fans against Lefty Grove and the Philadelphia Athletics. He suffered a tough 1-0 loss. Now, the Indians have called Municipal Stadium their full-time home for the last two seasons, and while they don’t draw 80,000 every game, crowds exceeding 50,000 are something of the norm.
One of his final footnotes to Harder’s career came on May 14, 1941, when Joe DiMaggio went 0-for-3 with a walk, and the Indians won 4-1. The next day, DiMaggio got a base hit, starting his 56-game hitting streak. It would end more than two months later against the Tribe, on July 17, with soft throwing lefty Al Smith on the mound and two great plays by third baseman Ken Keltner.
But tomorrow, when the Indians take the field, for the first time in Harder’s adult life he won’t be a consideration on the active roster. Instead, he will help his former teammate and manager lead a team hoping to contend in the American League. How well Harder adapts to his new role and molds this pitching staff behind Feller might go a long way in determining the Tribe’s hopes for contention.
Harder has 20 years of training for his first day on the job.
Photo: AP Photo