Tuesday, February 1, 2011
#552) LENNY HARRIS
Lenny Harris was traded to the New York Mets from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for John Hudek on July 3, 1998. The Mets best pinch-hitter, Matt Franco had broken his toe and was forced to the disabled list. Lenny came as an established left-handed bat off the bench. "He is one of those veteran players you like to add to your club down the stretch," General Manager Steve Phillips said. "This gives Bobby some options. He's a more experienced outfielder than some of the guys we have been forced to run out there. And he improves our bench, certainly."
Harris proved his versatility by appearing in the outfield, first base, second base and even ten games at shortstop to close the season with the Mets. Surprisingly the veteran hitter only managed a .232 batting average during 75 games that year. Lenny left New York when he signed a free agent contract with the Colorado Rockies on November 9, 1998.
He was given a second chance with the Mets when they acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Bill Pulsipher on June 2, 2000. "I am always excited to go back to New York," Lenny said by phone following the trade announcement. "It's a place that motivates me." Harris joined a club that would capture the National League Wild Card entry into the post season. He was a contributor to that success with a .304 batting average in 76 games. His three triples and eight stolen bases were both tied for the team lead that season.
Lenny would not get a hit in the postseason, but made headlines with his reaction during the disgraceful incident of World Series Game 2. Earlier in the season, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens had intentionally beaned Mets star Mike Piazza during an interleague series. He struck the slugger in the head with a high fastball. "It seemed to me like if Clemens was concerned, he should of walked up to Mike and asked him if he was alright,"Lenny Harris said. "He just stood there. That was bad." The pair faced off for the first time following that in the first inning of the World Series contest at Yankee Stadium. This time Clemens threw inside, but Piazza was able to break his bat in defense. When the broken barrel flew towards the mound a deliberate Clemens picked it up. As Piazza ran towards first base the pitcher threw the barrel at him. An embarassed Roger immediately shouted "I thought it was the ball." Both dugouts emptied and Lenny Harris had to be contained as he charged towards Clemens. Harris said he spent the rest of that night's game "trying to hit a ball off his forehead." The Mets would lose the series to the Yankees, and Roger Clemens still contends that he can not tell the difference between a baseball and a shard of wood.
During the 2001 season Lenny Harris found himself chasing a record he never envisioned. "This has been a strange season, to be honest with you," he said in July. "Everywhere I go, people mention me breaking the record, but it's gotten so bad that people don't realize that we were the National League champions last year." During the final game of the season, on October 6th at Shea Stadium, Lenny came to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the sixth-inning. Harris delivered a single that was his 151st career pinch-hit and established him as the all-time major-league leader. "I've been the goat plenty of nights," said the 14-year veteran. "But tonight, I feel like a hero." Mike Piazza led the charge of Mets to congratulate him. "A lot of milestones are being achieved this year," Piazza said, "but this is definitely one of the most significant." The Hall of Fame asked the Mets for the baseball, though Lenny considered keeping it. "I don't think I can catch a cab all the way up to Cooperstown to see it," he said.
The Mets traded Lenny along with Alex Ochoa and Glendon Rusch to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff D'Amico, Lou Collier, and Mark Sweeney on January 21, 2002.
Lenny has enjoyed a career as a hitting instructor after his retirement from the game. First with the Washington Nationals and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most recently he was named the hitting coach for the minor-league Great Lake Loons team in 2011.