|© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
For one inning, left was right09/28/2005 4:02 PM ET
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Greg A. Harris is a busy man these days.
He gives private pitching lessons and baseball clinics in Orange County, Calif., he's raising an 11-year-old son, he helps out with Little League coaching and he's involved with Connie Mack and Mickey Mantle teams, too.
But there's one subject he'll always find time to talk about, and when he does, it seems like he can put off his hectic life for hours.
The tempo of his voice quickens with excitement until he's overflowing with vivid minute-by-minute details of his most precious memory.
Ten years ago today, Harris pitched in the Major Leagues -- with both hands.
The natural right-hander is the last one to do it and the only one in baseball's modern era. He was the first to accomplish the feat in over 100 years.
It was Sept. 28, 1995, and Harris' team, the Montreal Expos, was 24 ½ games out of first place in the National League East. The opposing Cincinnati Reds were on their way to the playoffs.
Olympic Stadium wasn't exactly rocking with 14,581 in attendance, and it's possible many in the stands didn't even notice what was going on when Harris, then 39, entered the game to begin the ninth inning with the Expos trailing, 9-3, in a game they would lose, 9-7.
But what might have appeared as a joke or prank to some was very different for Harris.
"Talk about jelly legs," Harris says. "I got to the mound and I didn't think I could even stand up out there. Nothing had ever felt like this. Not even my first big-league game. It was absolutely wonderful."
Harris signed with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1976 and went to Hermosillo, Mexico, for winter ball the following year. That's where he learned how to be a Major League pitcher and how to use both hands effectively.
"I developed a good cut fastball down there that I had when I went to Spring Training in 1980 with the Mets," Harris says.
"Then I had 2 ½ years in Puerto Rico, and I started shagging left-handed down there, throwing batting practice to the bat boys. Little by little, I developed all of this."
Harris' first few years in the big leagues weren't exactly stellar. He went from the Mets to the Reds to the Expos within four seasons before hooking up with the San Diego Padres, who were in the midst of a National League pennant run, in 1984.
Harris pitched in the NL Championship Series, allowing an NLCS-record six earned runs in one inning in the opening game against the Chicago Cubs, and the next season he found himself a member of the Texas Rangers.
All of a sudden, Harris clicked. His trademark big curveball baffled hitters and he led American League relievers with 111 strikeouts while putting up a 2.47 ERA, the lowest of his career to that point.
And behind the scenes, he was grooving his ambidextrous act.
"I was warming up with both hands every day and I really felt it helped me stay fresh," Harris says. "I just turned my glove around, shagged, loosened up and got ready to pitch."
Eventually, Harris tired of turning the glove around, so he designed a special six-finger mitt with two thumbs that made for an easy transition from hand to hand. He brought it to his glove manufacturer, Mizuno, and the Japanese company had a prototype produced for him right away.
"You look at my baseball cards from 1986 on," Harris says, "and that's the six-finger glove I used for the rest of my career."
Harris' manager in Texas, Bobby Valentine, was quite a character in his own right, but Valentine never allowed Harris to pull his trick in a game despite the pitcher's urging.
"I don't understand why he never let me do it," Harris says. "Bobby said he'd let me if I could master three things: being able to throw 25 strikes in 30 pitches, which I could do, having a curveball, which I already had, and throwing 80-plus mph, which I could.
"Why the 80 mile-an-hour thing mattered, I don't know. The way the game is now, you can flip it over the plate and you're pitching. The harder you throw, the straighter your ball. What good is that?"
Despite Harris' mastery of Valentine's qualifications, he never got a chance in Texas. Even after Texas had been eliminated from the playoff race and he got the perfect opportunity to try it in the last game of the season, Valentine declined.
"He called it a great distraction," Harris says.
Undaunted, the pitcher kept working. And pushing for his big both-hands break.
"Those who were around me all those years, they knew it was natural what I was doing," Harris says. "My right-handed fastball was about 88 or 89 mph, and I threw a two-seamer, four-seamer, curve and changeup.
"Left-handed, I basically had the same stuff I had right-handed, but we're talking a 7, 8 mph difference. I seriously could pitch."
But it would still be years before Harris' dream was taken seriously.
Harris slogged through two quiet years with the Philadelphia Phillies before coming to the Boston Red Sox, the team for which he'd serve the longest tenure (1989-1994).
The Red Sox turned away the constant requests of Harris -- and the rabid Boston press -- to pitch with both hands, but the Red Sox weren't ashamed of their reasoning.
"(General manager) Lou Gorman said it would be a mockery of the game," Harris says. "I told him it was typical Boston -- too conservative and nobody ever wants to try anything new.
"And it wasn't a mockery. It was natural."
Finally, in 1995, Harris got his chance.
Harris joined the Expos that year and immediately had a kinship with old-school manager Felipe Alou, a former player who had seen just about everything in a long and distinguished playing career.
Harris was getting older, losing some effectiveness and considering retirement. But he had one goal left, and it wasn't exactly a secret.
"He prepared himself to do it," Alou says. "He was throwing on the side, hoping that one day before the season was over that I would let him do it."
With the Expos going nowhere and Alou continually impressed with Harris' bullpen sessions from both sides of the mound, the time came.
"I had tremendous liberty to do it because we had a bad season that year, so that wasn't going to turn anything or damage anything, so I said 'Do it,'" Alou says.
"And he worked hard to do it. He deserved it. He was a good guy. He was a well-balanced kind of guy. He was no half-lefty, half-righty."
Even the Expos' front office lauded the move.
"It was a totally harmless, fun thing that people wanted to see," says Bill Stoneman, the current Angels general manager who served as the Expos' vice president of baseball operations in 1995.
"Greg Harris wasn't going to impact that game whether he pitched well or didn't, so why not?"
So when the game was out of hand that Thursday night in Montreal, Harris was summoned from the bullpen at Stade Olympique and given the ball.
"I started turning numb," Harris says. "I wanted to go out, be pitching right-handed, and turn around, but Felipe had me throwing in the 'pen with both hands, so the surprise was over."
The first batter was Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders, who says now that he has no recollection of the moment.
Harris remembers just fine.
"I had to get the first batter out, which was Reggie, who bats right-handed. He got in the box and said, 'Are you going to throw left-handed?' So I said, 'Are you going to bat left-handed?'"
Harris, pitching right-handed, got Sanders to ground out on his first pitch.
"So I walk behind the mound, because (left-handed batter Hal) Morris is coming up," Harris says. "I turn around, put the glove on the other hand and say, 'Here we go.'"
Harris' first pitch in the Major Leagues as a left-hander flew wildly outside the right-hander's batter's box, skipped and went straight to the backstop. Harris says he got "a little closer on the outside corner" during the at-bat but still walked Morris on four pitches.
"But I was getting closer to the zone with each one," Harris says.
The next batter was catcher Eddie Taubensee, another left-hander. Harris assumed the stretch position with a runner on first.
"I said, 'I've got a chance to redeem myself,'" Harris says. "First pitch strike, fastball right down the middle. Second pitch ball. Third pitch ball. Fourth pitch, Eddie hits a screaming line drive just right of foul pole.
"I got to 3-and-2, threw the next pitch, he hit it off end of the bat, the catcher picks it up, throws him out at first, and Morris goes to second."
Unlike Sanders, Taubensee recalls the event.
"My main thing was that I didn't want to be the guy to strike out," Taubensee says. "He was throwing so slow that it was hard to wait on the pitches. It was a little bit embarrassing, because it looked like a guy that was just having fun, and he made me look goofy.
"I know he was very serious about what he was doing. He wouldn't have been out there doing it if he couldn't throw strikes and if he didn't think he could get people out."
Taubensee says he's happy to be associated with it now.
"Why not?" he says. "Any way to get my name in the record books. I never set any records, so at least I'll be remembered for something."
After Taubensee, with two out and a runner on second, right-handed-hitting Bret Boone entered the batter's box and Harris switched once again.
"I remember being angry, thinking he was turning this place into a circus," Boone says. "It was one of those things like when a position player comes in to pitch -- it's a no-win situation for the batter. I was hoping he would walk me."
"The first pitch he fouled back, and it broke the plexiglass behind home plate," Harris says. "The second one he hit a comebacker."
Harris had escaped his historic inning in scoreless fashion.
"Two righties, two lefties and no runs," Harris says proudly. "I couldn't ask for a better scenario."
Neither could the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which surprised Harris by asking for his glove. You can still find the six-finger oddity in Cooperstown, celebrating the first switch-pitcher in the modern era and first one since Tony Mullane, who gave up three runs in the ninth inning of a 10-2 loss while pitching for Baltimore of the NL against the Cubs on July 14, 1893.
Harris still talks about his feat with a good deal of pride.
"It's one thing to play catch with both hands, which I think a lot of people probably can do," Harris says. "But to get on a mound and actually do it, it's a whole different world. It's very difficult.
"It seems like everything else in this game has been mastered, but not this, so it's pretty special."
Harris hasn't been in pro ball since he left a coaching position with the Seattle Mariners in 1999, but he's happy to be known for his one quirky moment in the game's annals.
"It's been wonderful to be recognized," Harris says. "I'm pretty sure I'm an answer to a Trival Pursuit question, and there have been some clever things written about me, too."
Harris' favorite comes from a Red Sox fan magazine called "Diehard" dated June 1998.
"Greg Harris," he recites with a laugh, "is the only pitcher who could relieve himself."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.