Skip to main content

'56 of the month: Gail Harris


I'm having buyer's remorse over my last card show trip. It's not that I don't like the cards I acquired. They're all still wonderful. It's just that I can't believe I went to one of just three card shows that I get to go to each year and didn't purchase a '56 Topps -- which was at the top of my TO DO LIST.

I had promised to show two '56 cards this month to make up for none last month. But I was only going to do that if I had acquired two key '56 cards at the show. That didn't happen. But I'm showing a '56 anyway. It's one I acquired long ago, and it's another New York Giant. That's my punishment for striking out last weekend.

At least there is no way Gail Harris is retiring that runner in the picture. I've got that going for me.

Harris was a victim of circumstance during his five-year major league career. A power-hitting first baseman for the Giants and the Tigers, he won starting jobs, but never held onto them very long because competition was fierce back then.

With only eight teams per league, plenty of great players never received a chance in the major leagues. In fact, Harris termed himself "mediocre." But anyone who hit 20 home runs in a season, which he did in 1958, is not mediocre.

Hopkins landed the starting first base job with the Giants in 1955. But Bill White took it from him in 1956. Then, in 1958, Orlando Cepeda won the starting job and Harris was shipped to the Tigers. He had that one solid season with Detroit, and then Norm Cash took over the first basemen's role.

The frustration must have been too much. Harris finished his career in the Dodgers' minor league organization in 1961.

Of Harris' 51 career home runs, two stand out. The first came in 1957. It was one of two home runs he hit against the Pirates in a 9-5 Giants victory on Sept. 21st. Harris had four hits in that game and drove in seven of the nine runs.

The second of his two home runs -- hit off of Eddie O'Brien -- was the last home run ever hit by a New York Giant. The franchise moved to San Francisco the next year.

The other home run of note came at the end of the 1958 season while Harris was with the Tigers. Harris had 19 home runs for the season coming into the Sept. 25th game against the White Sox. Harris told White Sox catcher Earl Battey, a friend of his, that he really would like a 20th homer before the season was over. This was in the 9th inning of 6-1 game in favor of the Tigers. The next pitch from Tom Qualters was a fastball, and Harris redirected it over the right field fence.

He had told this story to his next door neighbor, a kid named Garret Mathews, who grew up to be a newspaper columnist. Mathews put that story and several others into a book called "Baseball Days."


Harris is still kicking at 81 years old. His son, Mark, is a minor league baseball instructor.

And, yes, I wonder, too, why he didn't go by the name "Boyd Harris."


(UPDATE: Gail Harris died on Nov. 14, 2012).

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon. I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2. I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too? The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer ha

Heading upstate

  Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.   As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.   We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.   So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all

G.O.A.T, the '80s: 30-21

  I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming. The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament. This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring. (I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netflix or Am