Sunday, September 4, 2011
#478) PETE HARNISCH
Pete Harnisch joined the Mets when he was traded from the Houston Astros to the New York Mets in exchange for Juan Castillo and Todd Beckerman on November 28, 1994. Due to a new labor agreement for Major League Baseball the Astros felt it necessary to move the impending free agent. "It's become pretty obvious that they want to get rid of as much as payroll as they can, and whatever happens happens," observed Pete. "It's kind of a shame."
The New York native made his Mets debut at Shea Stadium on April 29, 1995. He started the fourth game of the season following resolution of the longest work stoppage in baseball history. The Mets charged only $1.00 for all seats, and drew an attendance of 44,636. Harnisch left the game with a 4-1 lead after pitching six effective innings. He would come away with a no-decision in the eventual 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 11 innings.
Pete pitched pretty well for a Mets club that finished second in the National League Eastern Division with a 69-75 record. He finished the season with a 2-8 record, and 3.68 ERA. Harnisch developed a torn labrum in his right shoulder that forced him to the disabled list on August 2nd. The righthander would have later have surgery to repair the shoulder that winter.
A tough rehabilitation, which was even slowed by a bout with Lyme disease, was completed late in spring training. Harnisch first took the mound again for the Mets on April 14, 1996 in Colorado. He pitched a gritty 94-pitch performance for the New York victory over the Rockies. "I was able to get solid innings in and give the team a chance to win," Pete said. "This gives me a lot of confidence going into my next start." Mets manager, Dallas Green agreed. "He knows when he throws pitches where he wants to throw them, he's going to be more successful than not," Green said. "He gave us exactly what we wanted."
A struggling New York club replaced Green on August 26th with new manager, Bobby Valentine. "As far as I'm concerned this is what happens when you have a bunch of guys who aren't doing their jobs," Pete observed. "We weren't performing, As they say, you can't fire the players. Dallas took the fall for us." Harnisch would finish the 1996 season with 31 starts, a 8-12 record, and 4.21 ERA.
Early in spring training the next year, Valentine announced that Harnisch would be the Mets opening day starter for 1997. Pete struggled during training camp and it was reported that his manager criticized a lack of "pitching inside" to hitters. In response to a presentation of the dangers of smokeless tobacco by Major League Baseball the veteran stopped his habit "cold turkey" on March 12th. His withdrawal resulted in severe insomnia.
Despite the hardships it was indeed Harnisch who was given the ball to begin the new season on April 1, 1997 in San Diego. Pete explained afterward that he had only gotten 90 minutes sleep the night before the game. "It's been nothing but absolute insomnia," Harnisch shared. "I just sit in a dark room and stare. I can't even think about anything." He pitched five shutout innings, but in the sixth, exhausted, he gave up three consecutive home runs and was replaced. The Padres would score a total of 11 runs (off a combined four Mets pitchers) in that sixth inning and cruise to a 12-5 victory.
The team was extremely concerned over his physical issues and sent Harnisch to be reviewed by doctors. "I decided he wasn't prepared to pitch in a big league game," Valentine said after Pete had offered to make his next start. "He has a situation that needs to be taken care of before he does pitch in a big league game." Further evaluation diagnosed the hurler with clinical depression. "I've been diagnosed with depression," bravely announced Harnisch on April 26th. "It's being treated medically and with therapy." With no definite timetable for return he ceased pitching for the club. On May 5th he returned to Shea Stadium to visit his teammates. "I've been generally, day by day, getting better and better," said Pete. "The anxiety might be the biggest problem at this point. But I'm learning to deal with that too."
The veteran returned to pitch for Triple-A Norfolk before earning an opportunity to rejoin the Mets on August 5th. "I feel really good now, like my old self," said Harnisch. "I'm still taking medicine, but I'm slowly being weaned off of it..." Pete pitched effectively in the Mets victory at Shea Stadium his first game back, but flatered after that. A decision to move him to the bullpen led to a renewed feud with Bobby Valentine. "Playing for people that you don't have a lot of respect for," Harnisch stated. "is not a lot of fun." The Mets chose to trade the disgruntled pitcher to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor-leaguer, Donny Moore on August 31, 1997.
After the trade Valentine called Harnisch's criticism "the end of a very frustrating period" for the usual jovial pitcher. Pete would go on to pitch very successfully for the Cincinnati Reds before retiring from baseball in 2001.
"I loved it. I would have to say my first year and most of my second year I had a great time."recalled Harnisch in a 2009 interview. "The team was terrible...The Mets were at a crossroads. We had a fun bunch of guys. I had a blast. I enjoyed Dallas Green. Prior to butting heads with the other guy who was hired everything was great. I was coming home. I would have lunch every day and drive into Shea. It was great."
In retirement he has enjoyed time with his family and coaching his two sons in various sports. Harnisch is also involved in the youth programs around his New Jersey home. "I've been coaching baseball. soccer, and basketball in Colts Neck for 4 years, and I love it. I love the interaction with all the kids." explains Pete. "It's really turned into a passion for me."
Pete Harnisch signed his card in the set from a request sent to his home on September 3, 2011.