Harnisch was born September 23, 1966 in Commack, New York on Long Island. Commack is also the hometown of Bob Costas.
He attended Fordham University in the Bronx, which also produced Hall of Famers Frankie Frisch and Ed Walsh. In three seasons, he went 21-3 with a 2.29 ERA for the Rams with 213 strikeouts in 204 innings. He held the school's K record for 20 years before it was broken in 2007. The 21 victories are tied for fifth on Fordham's all-time wins list and the 2.29 ERA is second. He was inducted into the Fordham Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.
The Baltimore Orioles chose Harnisch with the 27th pick in the first round of the 1987 draft*. Pete is still the only first-round draftee in Rams history.
* That '87 draft was the one in which Ken Griffey Jr. went first overall to the Mariners. Other first rounders included Jack McDowell (5th), Kevin Appier (9th), Delino DeShields (12th), Craig Biggio (22nd) and Travis Fryman (30th).
Pete started in Bluefield in 1987 right after the draft and went 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in nine starts. In 52.2 innings he held Appy League opponents to 38 hits while striking out 64. That earned him a promotion to A-ball to finish the season with Hagerstown. After pitching to a 2.45 ERA between AA and AAA in 1988, he was called up to the major leagues in September.
He made his debut for the Orioles on September 13 at Fenway Park. Harnisch allowed five runs on six hits in seven innings, taking the loss as his only real mistake was a third-inning grand slam to Jim Rice.
Harnisch split the '89 campaign between Baltimore and Triple-A Rochester. After taking four losses and two no-decisions through his first six ML outings, he finally notched his first career victory on July 17 against the Mariners. He allowed four runs and came two outs shy of a complete game. The Orioles had surprising success, winning 87 games just one year after a miserable 107-loss season that began with 21 straight losses.
They sat two games behind the Blue Jays with two to play at the end of the season. Harnisch was tabbed to start the penultimate game in Toronto, but he stepped on a rusty nail the night before and was scratched. Dave Johnson started the game instead and pitched great, but the Blue Jays came back from 3-1 down in the eighth to win and clinch the division title.
After an 11-11 season in 1990, Baltimore traded him and two others to Houston for first baseman Glenn Davis. All three players that left the O's had productive careers, but not so much with the Astros. Outfielder Steve Finley had a couple of good seasons, but really broke out with the Padres and Diamondbacks. Righty Curt Schilling lasted one year in Houston, then had a likely Hall-of-Fame career with the Phillies, D-Backs and Red Sox. Davis only played 185 games for Baltimore and retired three seasons after the trade.
At 24, Harnisch was terrific in his Astros debut in 1991. He went 12-9 with a 2.70 ERA that was good for fifth in the National League. He led the Senior Circuit by allowing only 7.02 hits per nine innings, and also finished fourth in strikeouts (172), third in K/9 IP (7.145) and seventh in pitching bWAR (4.3).
He made the All-Star team and pitched an inning in the Midsummer Classic at Skydome. He retired Harold Baines on a groundout and struck out Ruben Sierra to start the sixth. Back-to-back singles by Ken Griffey Jr. and Carlton Fisk put Harnisch in trouble, but he got Roberto Alomar to fly out to end the threat.
Near the end of the '91 season, Harnisch pulled off an impressive feat. In the seventh inning against the Phillies on September 6, he struck out Wes Chamberlain, Dickie Thon*, and pitcher Jose DeJesus on nine pitches. That has only been done 46 times by 43 pitchers (Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan did it twice). It's much more common now, as it's occurred 20 times since. In the 21 seasons prior to 1991, it had only been done seven times. Here's the complete list.
* Dickie Thon played shortstop in the 1980s, mostly with the Astros. He finished in the NL's top five in bWAR in 1982 and 1983, even leading the league in the second year. But on April 8, 1984, he was hit in the eye by a Mike Torrez pitch and sadly was never the same. He did come back and play another nine seasons, but he had a 109 OPS+ before the injury and it was 88 after. I made this Thon side-note because his son, Dickie Joe, was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round in 2010 and spent last year in the Gulf Coast League in rookie ball. He could very likely suit up for Bluefield this year
To start the 1992 season, manager Art Howe gave Harnisch the Opening Day start against the reigning NL champion Atlanta Braves. Harnisch matched Tom Glavine zero for zero for seven innings before the Braves broke through with two runs. Glavine pitched a two-hit shutout to beat Harnisch. It wouldn't be a great season for the righty (91 ERA+), but he did rate in the league's top ten in starts (34, 4th), strikeouts (164, 8th) and K/9 IP (7.142, 5th).
There was a return to form in '93 as Harnisch hit career highs with 16 wins and 217.2 innings. For the second time in three years he led the league in hits per nine innings (7.07). His 2.98 ERA was sixth in the loop and his 185 K's were fifth. He led the major leagues with four shutouts, which included these two one-hitters. He took a no-hitter into the seventh in the first one and took one into the sixth in the second.
From 1991 to 1993, Harnisch had the fourth-most strikeouts in the National League behind Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Jose Rijo. He outpaced all NL hurlers (min. 400 IP) with a 7.33 H/9 mark.
A torn tendon in his pitching arm ruined his 1994 season and was then traded to the Mets. He put up a 100 ERA+ in his first two seasons at Shea.
When I was nine years old, Harnisch started the first National League game I ever attended. He held the Braves to two runs in seven innings at Shea Stadium on June 11, 1996. It was the eighth career start for young Atlanta righty Jason Schmidt and he allowed three runs in seven frames.
Fred McGriff hit a home run about 9,000 feet to dead center early on, but the Mets tied it on a Lance Johnson triple. It was tied into the 13th, when Tom Glavine had a pinch-hit bunt single to load the bases and Tony Graffanino lifted a sac fly to put the Braves up 4-3. Terrell Wade, who signed my scorecard before the game, set down the Mets 1-2-3 to record his first, and only, major league save.
Harnisch had a rough start to the '97 season (8.06 ERA in six games), then disclosed that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression. Doctors believed it "might have become acute when the 30-year-old pitcher quit using smokeless tobacco at the end of spring training."
It took a lot of courage for Harnisch to talk about it publicly, and in recent years this has become a more visible issue in baseball. Zack Greinke, Joey Votto, Justin Duchscherer, Ian Snell and Taylor Buchholz are just a few players that have suffered similarly.
1997 was a lost season and Pete was traded to the Brewers to finish it out. He signed with the Reds right before spring training in 1998 and had a couple of fine seasons in his thirties.
He made 32 starts with Cincy in '98, going 14-7 with a 3.14 ERA (giving him a career-best 138 ERA+ that was seventh in the NL). His bWAR of 4.9 was also a personal best and also was seventh in the league. He also ranked in the league's top ten in WHIP and H/9.
1999 was another excellent season as he went 16-10 to match his career high in wins. He finished tenth in the NL in wins, starts (33) and H/9 (8.6) as the ace of a 96-win Reds team. He got the win on the last day of the season to pull Cincinnati into a first-place tie with the Mets for the wild card. The next night however, Al Leiter pitched a two-hit shutout in a one-game playoff to send New York to the playoffs.
Harnisch got the Opening Day nod in 2000, but he missed most of the first half of the season with a shoulder injury. He returned to put up average numbers the rest of the way. He was knocked around in seven starts to begin 2001, but with a 6.37 ERA he was finished. He pitched his final major league game on May 7 at 34.
He went on the DL with elbow tendinitis, then was hit by a liner in a rehab start, then had a forearm injury and was shut down.
Harnisch spent spring training with the Rockies in 2002, but tore a ligament in his elbow before the season started. He had Tommy John surgery and signed with the Reds in '03, but he hurt his hamstring in a rehab appearance and was released.
It was a grueling and valiant effort to get back, but he just couldn't stay healthy and called it a career. Harnisch pitched 14 seasons in the major leagues with a career record of 111-103. His ERA+ was a serviceable and above-average 103 and his bWAR was 16.9.
Below is a list of starting pitchers (ranked by bWAR) to have between 100 and 120 career wins with an ERA+ between 100 and 105. Harnisch is in the middle with the five closest pitchers on each side:
There's the All-Time Bluefield Team's number three starter Bill Monbouquette!
Pete Harnisch had a hard time staying healthy at times during his career, but he had four seasons between three and five Wins Above Replacement. His four closest comparables by Similarity Score are unspectacular but solid hurlers Mike Witt, Jim Bibby, Steve Stone and Ken Hill. He's a good one to put in at the four spot on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs rotation.
|SP 1||Dean Chance|
|SP 2||Mike Boddicker|
|SP 3||Bill Monbouquette|
|SP 4||Pete Harnisch|