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Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Harder logged two decades as both pitcher, coach
CLEVELAND -- Mel Harder, who won 223 games during a 20-year career with the Cleveland Indians and pitched against such greats as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, died Oct. 20. He was 93.
Harder died at his home in Chardon, about 25 miles east of Cleveland, at 3:30 a.m., according to his grandson, Dan Itschner.
Harder, who held DiMaggio hitless the day before the New York Yankees' star started his 56-game hitting streak in 1941, was in failing health the past few years, and was hospitalized a year ago with pneumonia.
Harder appeared in four All-Star games from 1934-37 and didn't allow an earned run in 13 innings -- a record that still stands. The right-hander won one game and saved two others.
"Mel Harder was a great pitcher," the late Ted Williams told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview. "He had a great curveball, great control. And the thing about Mel was that every one of his pitches did a little something. He was so tough."
In his final years, Williams, a member of the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, pushed for Harder's induction. But Harder never made the Hall of Fame.
From 1928-47, he was one of the American League's most consistent pitchers. Harder won 15 or more games eight times and had 20-win seasons in 1934 and '35.
Harder was the only major leaguer to complete two separate 20-year careers -- 20 as a pitcher and 22 as a coach. He coached for the Indians, Mets, Cubs, Reds and Royals before retiring in 1969.
"If Mel Harder couldn't teach you a curveball, then no one could," said Herb Score, the 1955 AL Rookie of the Year.
Harder's No. 18 was retired by the Indians in 1990.
"Mel Harder and the Cleveland Indians are synonymous," Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said. "Such a gracious gentleman who was always there for us when we came knocking on his door. It's a sad day. We will miss Mel."
DiMaggio, a .325 career hitter, batted just .180 against Harder.
"I outguessed him all the time, I guess," Harder recalled in a 2000 interview. "Even if I do say it, I had a pretty good curveball. But I had a natural sinker. I don't know why, but when I threw it, boy, did it sink."
In 2001, Harder made his last appearance at Jacobs Field when the Indians honored their 100 greatest players. Hall of Famer and former teammate Bob Feller pushed Harder to the mound in a wheelchair, where Harder received an ovation.
Afterward, other honorees such as Score, Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, and Orel Hershiser listened to Harder's every word.
"Babe tried to pull everything, so I kept the ball away from him," Harder told them. "Lou Gehrig was much tougher. He would go the other way with a pitch. He'd hit my sinker to left and pull me if I pitched him tight."
The Beemer, Neb., native made it to the majors at age 19 in 1928 and had the longest playing career in Indians history. He pitched 3,426 innings, striking out 1,160 and had a career ERA of 3.80.
Only Feller had more wins with the Indians and only Hall of Famers Walter Johnson (Washington) and Ted Lyons (White Sox) pitched longer with one team.
Visitation will be at the Burr Funeral Home in Chardon on Thursday. Itschner said there will be a private ceremony this week.
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