Monday, January 23, 2012

Sully Baseball Salutes... Willie Harris

The Cincinnati Reds signed utility infielder Willie Harris today. It is hardly an earth shattering move. His job is to provide the Reds with some depth in their infield to allow them to develop Paul Janish and Zack Cozart.

Harris was a utility player for the Mets last year and has the kind of career that fascinates me.

He was a 24th round pick by the Orioles in 1999.
Very few of the players drafted after him that year played a single game in the majors. Most of those who did had brief cameos (the Sean Henns and Darren Clarkes of the world.) Jason Frasor and Mike Jacobs were drafted after Harris, but no other big leaguer of note.

Instead of being a career minor leaguer with perhaps one cameo in the show, Harris has now played in 11 different seasons in the majors, starting games in left field, center field, second base, third base, shortstop and right field.

He hit for a good average in the minors and stole a lot of bases and made his big league debut on September 2, 2001 where he was in the same lineup as Cal Ripken Jr.

A survivor in baseball, he went from the Orioles, to the White Sox to the Red Sox to the Braves to the Nationals to the Mets.

He played with Ramirez and Ortiz and the Big Hurt. He played under Frank Robinson and Bobby Cox.

(His time in Atlanta must have been sweet for Harris, a Georgia native, as evidently his family roots for the Braves no matter team he plays on!)

Future Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and John Smoltz were his teammates. And when Stephen Strasburg made his electrifying debut on June 8, 2010, he was lifted for a pinch hitter. Guess who the hitter was? Willie Harris.

But of the many highlights, game saving catches and stolen bases in his career, he was front and center in a historic franchise's greatest moment.

For whatever reason, the White Sox are always short changed in the National attention department and the "beloved" status.

But in 2005, a year after the Red Sox lifted their curse and 2 years after the Cubs blew a chance to erase theirs, the White Sox stormed through the playoffs.

In the Division Series against the defending champion Red Sox, Harris smacked a pinch hit RBI single in the 14-2 blow out victory. He didn't appear in the ALCS but stole a base as a pinch runner in the White Sox extra innings victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

Then came Game 4. With the White Sox on the verge of winning their first World Series title since 1917 (and erasing memories of the 1919 World Series scandal), Chicago and Houston were in a scoreless stalemate in the 8th.

Freddy Garcia was masterful but manager Ozzie Guillen lifted him for pinch hitter Willie Harris. He led off the inning with a single to left off of Brad Lidge and moved to second base on a sacrifice by Scott Podsednik. With 2 outs in a game where both teams squandered scoring opportunities, eventual World Series MVP Jermaine Dye hit a 1-1 pitch up the middle scoring Harris. (Picture above).

It was the only run of the game.
The White Sox won 1-0.
They won the World Series.
Willie Harris forever can be called a World Champion.

And it should be noted that three times in that post season he was called off the bench. All three times he delivered. When a runner was in scoring position, he drove him in. When he was asked to pinch run, he stole a base. When asked to lead off, he started a World Series winning rally.

And do you wonder how a 24th round pick always manages to find work in the big leagues? Because he plays every position and delivers when asked.

Is he a star? Nope. Never will be. But he's played more than a decade of major league baseball, was a regular for several of those seasons, has a World Series ring and earned a few million dollars along the way.

Not bad.

I have a feeling the Reds will be happy with this signing.

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