YORKTON - Former major league pitcher Rich Harden was recently announced among those to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June.
“It’s definitely a big honour,” Harden told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview.
Harden said when he heard of fellow Canadian players such as Jeff Francis and Justin Morneau being inducted in recent years he realized “it was a possibility at some point,” but the call was still unexpected.
“It was definitely a surprise. I was pretty excited.”
Harden, who was born in Victoria, played in parts of nine MLB seasons, and while plagued by injuries, put together some fine numbers, albeit in limited games.
In all, in parts of nine major league campaigns, Harden had a 59-38 record and a 3.76 ERA in 170 appearances. His 949 strikeouts and 17.9 WAR rank sixth all-time among Canadian big-league pitchers, while his 160 starts ranked 10th among Canucks. He also retired as one of four Canadian major league pitchers to have averaged more than a strikeout per inning (minimum 100 innings), notes www.baseballhalloffame.ca
The recent announcement has had Harden thinking back on his career which concluded in 2011.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed,” he said, adding of course he has thought about his playing days before, often thoughts spurred by a conversation with someone, but the call from the Hall of Fame has had him more generally reflective.
The thoughts though are not so much about what he did on the field in the majors, but rather on all the people who helped him get to the big leagues and be successful once there.
“It’s all the people who helped make it happen,” said Harden, adding it starts with minor league coaches and includes those who helped define him as a pitcher at the major league level. “. . . No one does it on their own . . . There were so many people who were influential in my being able to make it.”
Harden said when playing he really didn’t think about those people a great deal.
“You’re just along for the ride, enjoying, and working hard,” he said.
Now with some years having passed those people come to mind more completely, and Harden said he is even left to wonder what might have happened had he not had the support? Could he have made it on his own?
“But, at the time you’re not thanking about that,” he added.
But Harden did make it, joining a still somewhat exclusive list of Canadians to play major league baseball.
Again, looking back Harden said he does hope him making it may have inspired others in Canada.
“I hope it did help some kid want to get into the game, that some kid from the island made it to the big leagues,” he said.
But, are there games or moments that still stand out for Harden who pitched for the Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Texas Rangers?
Well, Harden was drafted by the Athletics in the 17th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball Draft, and signed by the team on May 28, 2001, shortly after graduating.
He’d make his major league debut on July 21, 2003 and permit just one run on four hits in seven innings against the Kansas City Royals in a 6-1 A’s victory, a game he said remains sharp in his mind.
“There were a number of moments that were highlights . . . Making my major league debut was such a big moment for me. It’s something you never forget,” he said.
But before that was a chance to play close to home he still recalls fondly too.
In his first professional season as a 19-year-old Harden played with the Vancouver Canadians in Single-A, where he had a 2–4 record in 18 games (14 starts), a 3.39 ERA, allowed only 47 hits and struck out 100 batters in 74 innings.
“It was great to do that, me pitching close to home,” he said. “It was definitely a nice place to be playing.”
Then, again in his rookie year was a chance to play playoff baseball.
In 2003 Harden pitched in two games in relief with the Athletics in their Division Series matchup with the Red Sox. In his playoff debut on October 1, Harden earned the win, pitching a scoreless inning. However, in his second appearance, he pitched only 1⁄3 of an inning, and allowed two runs and was tagged with the loss.
Harden said the highs and lows of the game were really reflected in those two outings as a rookie.
Another moment of note has to be June 8, 2008, when Harden became the 38th major-league pitcher to throw an immaculate inning, striking out all three batters on nine total pitches, occurring in the first inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Harden was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 8, 2008, in a six-player deal. The Cubs traded Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, and Josh Donaldson to Oakland for Harden and Chad Gaudin. He made his Cubs debut on July 12, against the San Francisco Giants, leaving the game with a 7–0 lead after pitching 5+1⁄3 scoreless inning and striking out 10.
Harden said having a chance to pitch for the Cubs in fabled Wrigley Field is also something he looks back on as special.
The last game of the string resonates too.
“My last time, I knew it was probably my last one,” he said, adding he knew off season surgery he had put off for years awaited him, and the likelihood he’d pitch again was remote. “. . . I was walking off the mound, just taking it all in.”