Tommy Harper (born October 14, 1940 in Oak Grove, Louisiana) is a former multi-position player in Major League Baseball who played with the Cincinnati Reds (1962-67), Cleveland Indians (1968), Seattle Pilots (1969), Milwaukee Brewers (1970-71), Boston Red Sox (1972-74), California Angels (1975), Oakland Athletics (1975), and Baltimore Orioles (1976). He batted and threw right-handed.
High School and College
Harper played at Encinal High School in Alameda, California, where his teammates included Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Stargell and MLB player Curt Motton. He starred collegiately for San Francisco State University.
Harper signed as an amateur free agent with the Reds before the 1960 season (as Major League Baseball had yet to institute a draft) and was assigned to Class B Topeka, where he had modest success. After hitting .324 for Topeka the following season, he was promoted all the way up to AAA San Diego where he hit .333 with 24 home runs and was even called up to the major league club, where he started 6 games at third base.
In the 1963-64 seasons Harper was a platoon player for the Reds, working mostly as an outfielder. 1965 was his breakout season, as he became the Reds' starting left fielder and leadoff hitter, hitting 18 home runs, stealing 35 bases, and leading the National League with 126 runs scored. He would occupy the leadoff role for the next 3 seasons for the Reds, starting at all three outfield positions and serving as backup infielder until being traded to the Indians for 3 players following the 1967 season.
Harper played only one season with the Indians, starting mostly in left and right field and seeing playing time at center field and second base as well. Although he struggled both with the bat and on the basepaths, he was drafted by the Seattle Pilots as the 3rd pick in the 1968 expansion draft.
Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers
Harper was the first player to come to bat in Seattle Pilots history when he led off the top of the 1st against right-hander Jim McGlothlin of the California Angels. In that inaugural at bat, he was also the first Pilots player to record a hit, doubling to left field, and then scoring the Pilots first run on a home run by Mike Hegan. Harper led the American League with a career-high 73 stolen bases—the most by an American Leaguer since Ty Cobb's 96 in 1915 and a mark that still stands as a Pilots/Brewers record 30 years later. He also showed his versatility in the field, making over 50 starts at both second and third base, 21 starts in center field, and also seeing playing time at both corner outfield positions.
When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee and changed names the following season, Harper was also the first player to come to bat in Milwaukee Brewers history. On April 7, 1970, he led off the bottom of the 1st against California Angels right-hander Andy Messersmith. He hit a ground ball to third baseman Aurelio Rodríguez, who threw to first baseman Jim Spencer for the out. The 1970 season was probably the best statistically in Harper's career. He recorded career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, and RBIs on his way to the lone All-Star game appearance of his career. He also became the first and only Brewer, and just the fifth major leaguer at that point, to join the 30-30 club by hitting 31 home runs and stealing 38 bases and come in 6th in the AL MVP voting. After his numbers fell off during the 1971 season, Harper was traded to the Red Sox as part of a 10-player trade following the season.
Boston Red Sox
Harper became the Sox' starting center fielder and leadoff hitter from 1972-74, playing well enough to earn him votes in the AL MVP ballotting in '72 and '73. 1973 was his best season with the club, as he led the league in stolen bases for the second time in his career, setting an all-time Red Sox mark with 54, until Jacoby Ellsbury broke the record on August 25, 2009. After the 1974 season, at age 34 and appearing to be in decline, he was traded to the California Angels for journeyman infielder Bob Heise.
Harper played only part of the 1975 season for California. The Angels, well on their way to a last-place division finish, sold him for cash to the contending Oakland A's.
Revitalized by the trade to a contender, Harper hit .319 in August and September for the A's and became their starting 1st baseman, also seeing spot duty in the outfield and at third base. Harper was also a perfect 7 of 7 in stolen base attempts. Harper was a key in Oakland's AL West championship drive not only because of his help with the bat, but also because his versatile fielding allowed the As to use the aging Billy Williams at DH where his still powerful bat was useful and where his play in the field was not a liability.
Harper finally saw his first playoff action at age 34 after 14 major league seasons but would be limited to one plate appearance, a walk, as the A's were swept by his old team, the Red Sox. Harper was released by the A's after the season.
Harper signed with the Orioles shortly before 1976 spring training. He played sparingly at DH, but his trademark blend of power and speed were gone, rendering him mostly a light-hitting pinch hitter. He was released by the Orioles following the season.
Harper served as a coach for the Red Sox (1980-84; 2000-02) and the Montreal Expos (1990-99). As of the start of the 2010 season, he remained with Boston as a player development consultant. Ironically, Harper had successfully sued the Red Sox for firing him in 1985 for complaining in the media about the club allowing the segregated Elks Club in its spring training base of Winter Haven, Florida, to invite only the team's white personnel to its establishment.
- 24-consecutive-game hitting streak (July 17-August 8, 1966)
- sixteen games with 4 hits
- 4 stolen bases vs. the Chicago White Sox (June 18, 1969)
- three games with 3 stolen bases
- All-Star (1970)
- Led National League in runs (126, 1965)
- Twice led American League in stolen bases (73, 1969; 54, 1973)
- Became the fifth 30-30 club member (31 home runs and 38 stolen bases, 1970)
- Boston Red Sox MVP (1973)
- Top 10 American League MVP (1970)
- His career 408 stolen bases ranks him 61st on all-time list
- Single-season stolen base records for the Brewers
- Top 500 home run hitters of all time
- 30-30 club
- List of Major League Baseball runs scored champions
- List of Major League Baseball stolen base champions
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career stolen bases
- Bryant, Howard, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Baseball Library (profile)
- "Tommy Harper charges discrimination" from the WGBH series, Ten O'clock News
- List of All-Time Career steals leaders in MLB
|American League Stolen Base Champion
|Red Sox First Base Coach