Melvin Leroy Harder (Chief)
Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher 1928-1947
Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs
Throws: Right; Bats: Right
How Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 1928
Left Via: Released, October 24, 1947
Harder was born in Beemer, Nebraska but moved to Omaha when he was just two. He started playing ball in kindergarten, during most lunches and all weekend long, using homemade equipment. He never took a spot on the mound though, until he was ten and joined a church league. He split time between the hill and center field and also started to develop his sinker at that tender age. As a teen, his Tech High School squad won the state title in his sophomore season.
That same year, the Carter Lake Class A amateur club asked Harder to try out. He won a spot, lost his first game and then reeled off six straight wins. Also located in Omaha were the Buffaloes of the Western League (Class A). He made 11 starts and went 4-7 with a gaudy 4.76 ERA. But a Cleveland scout liked enough of what he saw, and the Tribe purchased him for $6750 that September. [Note: Baseball Reference also has him pitching 22 games for the Dubuque (IA) Dubs, a Class D team in the Mississippi Valley League, that same year]
Former boyhood idol, Roger Peckinpaugh liked enough of what he saw with Harder in the spring of 1928, so Harder made the staff as a reliever as an 18 year old. Harder mainly threw a sinkerball when he started out. But he watched and learned from George Uhle and Willis Hudlin. He made his debut in relief of Hudlin and pitched 3.2 shutout innings against the St. Louis Browns. The rest of the season did not go as well as he finished with a 6.61 ERA (63 ERA+) in just 23 appearances. The only claim to fame that season, was giving up Ty Cobb's last home run of his career.
Harder again broke camp with the Tribe in 1929, but pitched sparingly in relief. He had a couple of poor outings in June and was sent back to the minors. He regained some of his confidence by going 7-2 in 16 starts with a 2.50 ERA for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. He was called back in September and made one more appearance, netting his first career win when the Tribe scored three in the bottom of the ninth against the White Sox to win 9-7.
Peckinpaugh finally gave him some starts in 1930, making 19 starts and 17 relief appearances. He finished 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA (114 ERA+) and seven complete games. It wasn't until 1932 when Harder reached towards the upper echelon of pitchers. He finished 15-13 with a 3.75 ERA (128 ERA+), 17 complete games and his first shutout. In 1933 he led the league in ERA (2.95, 152 ERA+), but went just 15-17. By this time, it was his curve that was his toughest pitch to hit. Harder would also be the pitcher on the mound when Municipal Stadium opened that July 31.
He continued his brilliance in 1934, lowering his ERA to 2.61 (second in league), led the league in shutouts with six, and finished 20-12. He finished 16th in MVP voting and nabbed the first of four consecutive All-Star appearances. In that 1934 game where Hubbell famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row, it was actually Harder who was the start of the game. He pitched the final five innings allowed just one hit and one walk, while striking out two and taking the winning decision.
In 1935, Harder continued to pitch very well, this time winning two-thirds of his decisions, 22-11, a 3.29 ERA (137 ERA+), 22nd in MVP voting and another All-Star nod. He also hit two home runs, half of his career total. Chief was now ace of the staff. That All-Star game in 1935 happened to be in Cleveland. Harder pitched another three shutout relief innings, allowing just one hit and earning what is now called a save.
In 1936, Harder was still just 26 years old. He was not off to one of best seasons, but had gotten his ERA down to 4.23 at the All-Star break while completing eleven of his sixteen starts. He pitched two more shutout relief innings, allowing two hits in that All-Star game. In his second start after the break, he felt a twinge in his shoulder. He won that game 6-4 and the next one 6-5, pitching through the pain. But those next four starts were dreadful, an 11.35 ERA in 23 innings. He shut it down for 12 days, made another good start, but again awful the rest of the way, finishing up with 7.34 ERA in 34.1 innings covering six starts and two relief appearances.
Harder believes he had a rotator cuff injury, but that was not a normal diagnosis in those days. He would just rest it in the offseason. He didn't feel much pain the following spring and returned to the rotation, but his days of dominance were over. He did make the 1937 All-Star Game based on reputation and pitched another three shutout innings, but this time allowed five hits. He is the only player ever to record ten or more innings and never to allow a run in an All-Star career. From 1937 to 1940, and in 1942 and 1944, Harder was one of the core starters. But in 1941 he developed bone chips in his elbow and was released. But he resigned with the Tribe the following spring. He also missed significant time in 1943 with another injury.
But from 1937 to 1944, he started 194 games, relieved in 35 more, had a respectable 3.81 ERA (105 ERA+) with 77 complete games and 10 shutouts, pretty respectable considering the bad shoulder. He again missed big chunks of 1945 through 1947, but still made another 38 starts. And at the age of 37, he finally hung them up. Unfortunately it was in 1948 that the Tribe would win that elusive championship.
But he did assume the role of pitching coach in 1948, a role he wished existed when he was coming up. He gleaned his knowledge from just watching other pitchers pitch. Harder was instrumental in the development of Bob Lemon into a pitcher (he'd been an outfielder), and assisting Bob Feller, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn with curveballs that made them more dominating players. Without Harder's instruction, the 1954 staff ("the Big Four") probably would not have won so many games.
Harder's final season as pitching coach with the Tribe was in 1963. So he also got to work with and develop Herb Score, Luis Tiant, and Sam McDowell in their formative years. He managed the final game in 1961 after Jimmy Dykes was fired and again the final two games in 1962 when Mel McGaha was fired too. He is the only Tribe manager with a perfect record, finishing 3-0. He is the only coach ever to be honored as Man of the Year, which occurred in 1962. He was pitching coach for the Mets in 1964, the Cubs in 1965, the Reds from 1966-1968, and the Royals in 1969, with old teammate Joe Gordon at the helm.
There have been many debates on whether or not Harder deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He is the only player to play 20 seasons with a single team and not make the Hall. Only Walter Johnson and Ted Lyons pitched longer for only one club in their career. Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio (who hit .180 against him) and Ted Williams claimed he was the toughest pitcher they ever faced. Babe Ruth was fairly ordinary against him as well. He is also the only man to play for 20 seasons and also have a 20-year coaching career.
Harder was voted onto the Top 100 Indians team in 2001 and had his #18 jersey retired in 1990. He also ended up being the person who made the final pitch (to go along with the first) at Municipal Stadium in a ceremony after the final game there in 1993. He passed away at 93 in his adopted hometown of Chardon, Ohio at the age of 93.
Wikipedia, Voices From the Pastime by Nick Wilson, The Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia by Russell Schneider
Indians Career Stats
- AL All-Star: 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937
- AL MVP: 16th, 1934; 16th, 1938; 22nd, 1935
- AL WAR: 6th, 1934-7.1; 7th, 1935-7.1; 9th, 1933-5.7; 10th, 1932-5.6
- AL WAR Pitchers: 2nd, 1934-7.4; 3rd, 1933-5.9; 3rd, 1935-7.3; 3rd, 1938-5.2; 5th, 1932-5.8; 6th, 1939-4.7
- AL ERA: 1st, 1933-2.95; 2nd, 1934-2.61; 5th, 1935-3.29; 8th, 1939-3.50; 9th, 1938-3.83; 10th, 1932-3.75
- AL Wins: 2nd, 1935-22; 4th, 1934-20; 4th, 1938-17; 6th, 1939-15; 7th, 1933-15; 8th, 1937-15
- AL W/L Percentage: 5th, 1935-.667; 7th, 1938-.630; 8th, 1934-.625
- AL WHIP: 3rd, 1933-1.269; 3rd, 1934-1.281; 4th, 1938-1.329; 6th, 1935-1.274; 8th, 1932-1.355; 8th, 1939-1.332
- AL Hits/9 IP: 7th, 1934-8.671
- AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 1st, 1935-1.660; 2nd, 1938-2.325; 4th, 1932-2.403; 4th, 1933-2.383; 6th, 1936-2.844; 6th, 1939-2.769; 7th, 1934-2.855; 7th, 1940-2.850
- AL Games: 5th, 1934-44; 8th, 1933-43; 8th, 1937-38; 9th, 1935-42
- AL Saves: 4th, 1934-4; 6th, 1938-4; 8th, 1933-4
- AL Innings: 2nd, 1935-287.1; 6th, 1933-253.0; 6th, 1934-255.1; 6th, 1938-240.0; 9th, 1937-233.2; 10th, 1932-254.2
- AL Strikeouts: 9th, 1935-95; 9th, 1938-102; 10th, 1934-91
- AL Games Started: 2nd, 1935-35; 7th, 1932-32; 7th, 1933-31; 7th, 1942-29; 8th, 1938-29; 10th, 1937-30
- AL Complete Games: 7th, 1934-17; 10th, 1938-15
- AL Shutouts: 1st, 1934-6; 2nd, 1935-4; 2nd, 1942-4; 4th, 1933-2; 5th, 1938-2
- AL Home Runs: 10th, 1938-16
- AL Hits: 2nd, 1936-294; 3rd, 1935-313; 3rd, 1937-269; 4th, 1938-257; 6th, 1932-277; 7th, 1933-254
- AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 2nd, 1938-1.645; 4th, 1935-1.793; 6th, 1936-1.183; 7th, 1932-1.324; 9th, 1933-1.209; 10th, 1937-1.105; 10th, 1940-1.288
- AL Home Runs/9: 1st, 1935-0.188; 2nd, 1932-0.318; 3rd, 1934-0.212; 5th, 1937-0.347; 9th, 1933-0.356; 10th, 1931-0.371
- AL Losses: 4th, 1933-17; 8th, 1936-15; 9th, 1942-14; 10th, 1931-14
- AL Earned Runs: 8th, 1936-129; 9th, 1944-81
- AL Wild Pitches: 6th, 1930-5
- AL Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1934-7; 3rd, 1936-6; 3rd, 1940-5; 4th, 1931-6; 7th, 1938-5; 10th, 1937-4; 10th, 1939-3;
- AL Adjusted ERA+: 1st, 1933-152; 2nd, 1934-173; 3rd, 1935-137; 8th, 1932-128
- AL Putouts as P: 1st, 1932-18; 1st, 1933-22; 1st, 1935-18; 1st, 1938-21; 2nd, 1936-13; 4th, 1939-14
- AL Assists as P: 1st, 1932-65; 1st, 1933-87; 1st, 1935-81; 2nd, 1934-61; 3rd, 1938-49; 5th, 1937-48
- AL Errors as P: 1st, 1930-7; 1st, 1934-7
- AL Range Factor/Game as P: 1st, 1933-2.53; 1st, 1935-2.36; 2nd, 1932-2.13
Cleveland Indians Career Leader
- 3rd WAR Pitchers (47.9)
- 49th ERA (3.80)
- 2nd Wins (223)
- 36th W/L Percentage (.545)
- 36th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.937)
- 1st Games Played (582)
- t-25th Saves (23)
- 2nd Innings Pitched (3426.1)
- 7th Strikeouts (1161)
- 2nd Games Started (433)
- 5th Complete Games (181)
- 6th Shutouts (25)
- 7th Home Runs (161)
- 3rd Bases on Balls (1118)
- 1st Hits (3706)
- 31st Home Runs/9 IP (0.423)
- 1st Losses (186)
- 1st Earned Runs (1447)
- 20th Wild Pitches (33)
- t-3rd Hit By Pitch (59)
- t-21st Games Finished (95)
- t-24th ERA+ (113)
Cleveland Indians Season Leader
- 22nd Pitching WAR (7.4, 1934)
- t-23rd Pitching WAR (7.3, 1935)
- t-46th Pitching WAR (5.9, 1933)
- t-48th Pitching WAR (5.8, 1932)
- t-24th Wins (22, 1935)
- t-39th Wins (20, 1934)
- 32nd Bases on Balls/9 IP (1.660, 1935)
- t-31st Innings Pitched (287.1, 1935)
- t-40th Games Started (35, 1935)
- t-11th Shutouts (6, 1934)
- t-38th Shutouts (4, 1935, 1942)
- t-8th Hits (313, 1935)
- 18th Hits (294, 1936)
- t-35th Hits (277, 1932)
- t-43rd Hits (269, 1937)
- t-10th Losses (17, 1933)
- t-34th Losses (15, 1936)
- t-5th Earned Runs (129, 1936)
- t-34th Earned Runs (111, 1937)
- t-9th ERA+ (173, 1934)
- t-34th ERA+ (152, 1933)