SWEDESBORO, N.J. (CBS) – Terry Harmon was a popular member of the Philadelphia Phillies who served as a key utilityman for the squad from the lean years of the late ’60s and early ’70s to the division championships in 1976 and 1977.
He recently made an autograph signing appearance at BD Sports in Swedesboro, NJ, where he reminisced about his career.
Harmon was drafted by the Phillies in 1965 out of Ohio University. He got his first taste of the big leagues with a couple of hitless at-bats in 1967. But he arrived to stay two years later.
“In ’69 I was already sent down in spring training,” Harmon recalls. “Then Bobby Wine got traded to Montreal and they wanted Larry Bowa to spend one year at AAA. Don Money was the shortstop and I got called up to be the utility infielder. They told me the day before Opening Day, it was in Chicago, so I caught a flight at like 4:00 in the morning to go to Chicago with all my stuff. Got to Wrigley Field, sitting on the bench in the 7th inning, and then I pinch-hit against Fergie Jenkins, got a base hit to centerfield.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s full interview with Terry Harmon in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
Harmon would go on to spend the next nine seasons in the big leagues with the Phillies, sticking around as the team developed from an also-ran to division champ.
A true utilityman, the righthanded-hitting Harmon played second base, shortstop, and third base. He never was an everyday player; the closest he came was in 1972, when he hit .284 in 73 games, platooning at 2nd with Denny Doyle.
But he did get his share of the limelight. Like on June 12th, 1971.
“I set a Major League record for chances in a nine-inning game by a second baseman. I had 18 chances in a game that Jim Bunning pitched. And I had no idea that it happened,” he says.
The Phils won that game over San Diego, 3-0, and, as you would expect, Harmon handled each of those record-setting chances flawlessly. It’s a record that still stands.
“At the time I didn’t think it was a big thing, but now I look back at it, that’s a record that might last forever. Or for a long time.”
Harmon also had to deal with the tough side of being a utilityman: not getting regular work. This was made most apparent during the 1974 season. Despite being on the Phils’ roster the entire season, Harmon played in only 20 games.
“There was four guys that played (all) 162 games (that year) in the National League. Pete Rose was one, he was in Cincinnati. The other three were (Phillies’ shortstop Larry) Bowa, (Phillies’ second baseman Dave) Cash, and (Hall of Fame Phillies’ third baseman Mike) Schmidt. So that year I had 15 at-bats and might have played in the field 15 innings. That was a long year,” Harmon recalls.
But it was also one of the years that saw the Phillies steadily transitioning from worst to first. Harmon looks back at the rise to the top of the NL East fondly.
“It’s much more fun winning than it is losing. I was lucky enough to be there for the Carlton stage and the Schmitty stage, and Bowa maturing into a terrific shortstop and Garry Maddox, and I saw a lot of terrific players.”
Harmon and the Phils finally won the division in 1976, getting swept in the National League Championship Series by a dominant Reds team.
The next year (Harmon’s final in the bigs), the Phils once again won the East. This time they played the Dodgers in the NLCS. Of course that series featured Bruce Froemming’s bad call, a 9th inning that Phillies fans still get weird talking about, and Tommy John throwing ground ball after ground ball in the rain.
The Phillies eventually lost in four games.
“Those losses (to the Dodgers) were real tough,” Harmon says. “We could’ve won that series, and we didn’t. And we made a few mistakes, and that’s usually the difference in a short series — whoever makes the fewest mistakes usually wins — and we made a few more than they did.”
Does that loss to the Dodgers still grind at Harmon?
“No, not really. That was a long time ago, that was another lifetime ago, so I’ve moved on.”
Harmon still keeps a close eye on his former team, and he really likes what he sees in the 2011 Phillies.
“They’ve got a monster together right now, and this Hunter Pence sure was a nice addition to the team. From my standpoint, I think he brings an enthusiasm that wasn’t there. As good as they are, I think they had kind of settled in, it was kind of business as usual, ‘Let’s go to work today’.
“But he comes in like a kid in a candy store, like he is in heaven, went from a last place team (Houston) to a first place team, gets a standing ovation when he goes out to the field, gets a standing ovation at home plate. He’s beyond himself, so it’s a lot of fun watching that, too.”
After baseball, Harmon went on to work for the cable sports network Prism, QVC, and Jewelry Television down in Tennessee. He is now retired and lives in South Jersey.
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060