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Top 100 Indians: #41 Toby Harrah

LGT's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history continues with Toby Harrah, who posted the best season by any Indians hitter of the 1980s during his five years in Cleveland.

Colbert Dale Harrah (Toby)

Third Baseman, 1979-1983

Height: 6'0" Weight: 175 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Trade, December 8, 1978: Traded by the Texas Rangers for Buddy Bell

Left Via: Trade, February 5, 1984: Traded with Rick Browne (PTBNL) to the New York Yankees for Otis Nixon, George Frazier and Guy Elston (PTBNL)

Toby Harrah was born in West Virginia, but grew up in Marion Count (a two-hour drive southwest of Cleveland), one of nine children in the family. He was heavily scouted in high school, but wasn't signed upon graduation, as teams had the impression he intended to attend college. Instead though, he wound up taking a job at a local factory instead. By December, the Phillies learned of his status and signed him. At the end of 1967 he was selected by the Washington Senators in a draft of unprotected minor league players. He appeared briefly for them in 1969, used primarily as a pinch runner during the season's final couple weeks, but it was 1971 when he really broke into the league.

His manager that year was baseball legend Ted Williams, who was initially against starting a rookie at shortstop, but was won over by Harrah's strong play during spring training. Harrah may have been wound tight on opening day, "He's in there tight as a drum," said Williams, "He's so tight everybody is trying to help him," but he managed to single in his first AB, and reached base twice more, and with that, Harrah was on his way. He didn't have a great rookie season, but he got better and better each year, making his first All-Star team in 1972 (by which time the Senators had moved to Texas and become the rangers) and truly breaking out in 1975.

That season, Harrah basically doubled his walk rate and put up a line of .293/.403/.458, finishing 4th in the American League in OBP, 7th in OPS, and 15th in the MVP balloting. He also hit 20 home runs, after hitting 21 the year before. Shortstop was viewed as almost entirely a defensive position, and Harrah was only the second shortstop in fifteen years to hit 20+ HR in consecutive seasons. Harrah continued to draw a lot of walks. In 1977 he led the league with 109 of them. He also switched to primarily playing third base that year, something he'd previously fought against, when the Rangers acquired Bert Campaneris, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. "Bert Campaneris is the right move," said Harrah, "I consider it a pleasure to play next to him in the infield."

Harrah struggled in 1978, and the Rangers were going through a housecleaning. In December, Texas dealt Harrah to the Indians for Buddy Bell, one of the best defensive 3B in history, but a player who lacked Harrah's abilities on offense. The trade was highly unpopular in Cleveland, where Bell was beloved. Newspaper headlines included "The People's Choice is Gone," "Fans Ignored," and "Stupid Deal." Harrah had been a fan favorite in Texas though, and in time he hoped he'd win them over in Cleveland too. "I don't care how the fans feel about me in April. What matters is how they feel about me at the end."

Harrah got off to a slow start with the Indians in 1979, at the end of May his batting average was a limp .209, and he'd hit just 4 home runs. On June 1st though, he collected a pair of hits, including a home run, and from that point on, he put up a line of .311/.412/.500, while scoring 80 runs in 103 games. He finished the year with the team's second-highest batting average and on-base percentage, placing 3rd in home runs and stolen bases, with 20 of each (believe it or not, Harrah and Bobby Bonds became the first 20/20 players in franchise history that season). After hearing plenty of boos in April, Harrah had the city's support. Harrah's 1980 season was quite similar to his 1979. He struggled through May, but hit well after that. His power dipped though, not just in those early weeks, but throughout the year. After hitting 20+ home runs in four of the previous six season, Harrah had just 11 in 1980, his lowest total since 1973.

His 1981 season got off to a better start than either of the two previous seasons, but again Harrah really took off as the season went along. A labor dispute halted the season, and for two months there was no baseball. Harrah's line for the first half was .250/.343/.364. After play resumed, he put up a robust .330/.417/.411 line, also stealing 10 bases in 11 attempts. His BA and OBP were each among the top ten in the league over that time, and he finished the season second on the team in BA, OBP, and SLG.

He'd also become frustrated with playing on mediocre teams, as the Indians had finished in 6th place for each of his three seasons with the team. "I am tired of playing .500 ball or being the spoiler. It has been the same every year and I'm sick of it," he announced, "We need a more balanced bullpen... We need a team that doesn't have 12 designated hitters and 6 first basemen. All of this is management's fault." He was rumored to have asked for a trade, and the front office may have considered it. Whatever the case, it's a good thing he didn't go anywhere, because he was about to have his best season.

Harrah came firing out of the gates in 1982, batting .397 in April, with 6 home runs and 17 runs in 18 games. His line at the end of May was .388/.481/.612. He was named to the All-Star team for the fourth time of his career (first with the Indians). He had four 4-hit games on the season, the first Indian with so many since 1977. His batting average steadily fell during the second half, but he continued to get on base and the power re'd rediscovered stuck around all year. He finished with a .304 average, .490 slugging percentage, 183 hits, 29 doubles, 25 home runs, and 100 runs scored, each of which was a career high. Another 6th place finish for the Tribe kept Harrah from the top five finish in MVP voting that his production merited (he finished tied for 20th), but Harrah cared not to claim about such awards or his personal statistics. "Stats are an ego thing and really don't mean much if you are on a multiyear contract."

Unfortunately, that off-season would be the most difficult of Harrah's career. Shortly after the season ended, he had open heart surgery to correct a murmur. The operation was a success, and six weeks later he was back to a fairly normal routine. In February though, Harrah's home caught fire, destroying many of the family's possessions and forcing them to move into a hotel for months. The very next day, Harrah's father was killed in a car accident. Harrah entered 1983 with a heavy heart.

He got off to a quick start, with 4 hits on opening day and 3 more a couple days later. Less than two weeks into the season though his hand was broken by a pitch from Baltimore's Dennis Martinez, causing Harrah to miss a month (and ending a streak of 476 consecutive games played). Upon his return, he slumped, batting just .240 with 1 home run in his next 34 games. His batting average and OBP recovered after that, but the power didn't really return. He ended the year with just 9 home runs, and would never again hit more than that.

In February the Indians worked out a trade that would send Harrah to the Yankees. He had a 'no trade' clause in his contract, and took a while to decide, but ultimately agreed to the move, in hopes that he might finally make the playoffs. He played just one season in New York, putting up career-low numbers while in a platoon at third base. He was then traded back to the Rangers and had a strong 1985 season, finishing 3rd in the league with a career-high .432 OBP.

Harrah's play tailed back off in 1986, and after the season, the Rangers declined to pick up their option on him. Instead, they offered him a managerial job in their farm system. After exploring his options, Harrah accepted, beginning a coaching career that continues to this day. He was in the Rangers system for years, but in 1996 he was the Indian third-base coach. From there he moved into the Tigers system; he now serves as their assistant hitting coach.

Indians statistics

1979 30 CLE 149 635 99 147 25 1 20 77 20 9 89 60 .279 .389 .444 .833 125
1980 31 CLE 160 675 100 150 22 4 11 72 17 2 98 60 .267 .379 .380 .759 109
1981 32 CLE 103 427 64 105 12 4 5 44 12 1 57 44 .291 .382 .388 .770 124
1982 33 CLE 162 708 100 183 29 4 25 78 17 3 84 52 .304 .398 .490 .888 143
1983 34 CLE 138 615 81 140 23 1 9 53 16 10 75 49 .266 .363 .365 .728 99
CLE (5 yrs) 712 3060 444 725 111 14 70 324 82 25 403 265 .281 .383 .417 .799 120

Provided by View Original Table

Selected American League Awards/Leaders

  • All-Star: 1982
  • MVP: 1982-20th
  • WAR: 5th, 1982-6.5
  • WAR Position Players: 4th, 1982-6.5
  • oWAR: 2nd, 1982-7.0; 9th, 1979-5.6; 10th, 1981-3.5
  • Batting Average: 9th, 1982-.304
  • On Base Percentage: 2nd, 1982-.398; 7th, 1981-.381; 10th, 1979-.389
  • OPS: 9th, 1982-.888
  • Runs Scored: 4th, 1981-64; 7th, 1980-100; 8th, 1982-100
  • Hits: 7th, 1982-183
  • Bases on Balls: 5th, 1980-98; 6th, 1979-89; 9th, 1981-57; 9th, 1983-75
  • Singles: 9th, 1982-125
  • OPS+: 7th, 1982-143
  • Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1982-12; 5th, 1979-8; 6th, 1983-7; 8th, 1980-7
  • Intentional Bases on Balls: 6th, 1981-8
  • Win Probability Added: 3rd, 1981-2.9; 4th, 1982-4.1; 7th, 1979-3.8

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 37th WAR Position Players (18.5)
  • 24th oWAR (23.0)
  • t-17th On Base Percentage (.383)
  • 39th OPS (.799)
  • 40th Runs Scored (444)
  • 43rd Home Runs (70)
  • 27th Bases On Balls (403)
  • 26th Stolen Bases (82)
  • t-29th OPS+ (120)
  • 46th Runs Created (443)
  • t-24th Hit By Pitch (35)
  • t-22nd Sacrifice Flies (25)
  • t-28th Intentional Bases On Balls (21)
  • t-38th Double Plays Grounded Into (55)
  • 10th Win Probability Added (14.3)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-43rd WAR Position Players (16.5, 1982)
  • t-17th oWAR (7.0, 1982)
  • t-20th Plate Appearances (708, 1982)
  • t-21st Bases On Balls (98, 1980)
  • t-49th Bases On Balls (89, 1979)
  • t-42nd Runs Created (123, 1982)
  • t-20th Hit By Pitch (12, 1982)
  • t-49th Intentional Bases On Balls (8, 1981)
  • t-30th Win Probability Added (4.1, 1982)
  • t-36th Win Probability Added (3.8, 1979)


Sporting News archives (various dates between 1971 and 1987)