A converted position player has held one of the White Sox's most notable pitching records for the last 58 years.
On May 28, Chris Sale put on a show at Tropicana Field by striking out 15 Tampa Bay Rays, joining Dead Ball era legends Ed Walsh and Doc White as the only White Sox pitchers to record exactly 15 K's in a single start.
But one pitcher of lesser renown beats them all. On July 25, 1954, Jack Harshman did Walsh and White one better by striking out 16 Boston Red Sox over nine innings. Several White Sox have since made a run at the record, nobody has been able to match him.
Harshman is one of my favorite "B-Ref White Sox" -- a guy whose name I'd never heard or seen before until stumbling across a couple eye-popping box scores while searching through Baseball-Reference.com. And when you scour the Web and newspaper archives, there's a lot more to his story than just a pair of games.
I'll eventually do a Hall of Fame Library profile on him to fill in some gaps, but I thought I'd use his record-setting start to launch a new series called "White Sox Feats of Strength" to celebrate amazing games, moments, and other anomalies when I come across them.
In this case, the accounts by Edward Press of the Chicago Tribune on July 26, 1954, and Edgar Munzel of The Sporting News on Aug. 4, 1954, tell us what this glorious box score can't.
Setting the scene
In 1954, Jack Harshman was a 26-year-old rookie who finally accepted his fate as a pitcher. Harshman was born and raised a power hitter who started the 1950 season as the New York Giants' first baseman. Sent back to the minors, he clubbed 47 homers for Nashville of the Southern Association in 1951. But he had holes in his swing, and pitching was the only way he could make it. He couldn't quite cut it with the Giants, but Harshman was able to hone his craft well enough in winter ball and Nashville over the following two seasons, and he caught Frank Lane's attention. Lane purchased his contract for $15,000 in September of 1953, and he wouldn't regret it.
Manager Paul Richards used Harshman in an irregular manner during Harshman's rookie year. He bounced between relieving and starting with no real rhyme or reason or rhythm. In his previous start on July 18, he threw a complete game victory against Philadelphia. That start was followed by a pair of relief appearances in a series against the Yankees.
On July 25, Harshman was back on the mound to start the first game of a doubleheader.
The Red Sox were on their way to their worst season in 12 years at 38-53. They still had Ted Williams, who was hitting .361/.526/.692 at the time, but outside of Jackie Jensen, the Kid didn't have much help.
Here's how Harshman struck out 16, with descriptions where I can find them.
First inning: Struck out the first batter he faced, Billy Consolo. Williams grounds into a double play.
Second inning: Struck out the side.
Third inning: Two more strikeouts, including his second of Consolo turning over the order.
Fourth inning: Three more strikeouts, including his two most important ones on the day. After Del Wilber's RBI double, Harshman loaded the bases with an intentional walk, then escaped the jam with a pair of K's. Or, as Prell put it:
Del Wilber hit a slider to left for a two run double. Lepcio was purposefully passed, whereupon Milt Bolling and Willard Nixon whiffed.
Fifth inning: Struck out Consolo again, as well as Jimmy Piersall, to start the inning. The Red Sox loaded the bases again, but Wilber popped out to Nellie Fox.
Sixth inning: A backwards K of pitcher Willard Nixon.
Seventh inning: Struck out the side again, including Consolo for the fourth time, and Williams for the first.
Harshman struck out everybody in the lineup at least once -- and that included the Splendid Splinter, who on one occasion was a victim of the screwball.
Ted Williams missed a low outside pitch in the seventh or Jack's 15th strikeout.
Eighth inning: Harshman had tied the Sox record for strikeouts, and Bob Feller's American League mark of 18 was within reach. With this threat on the horizon, Boston hitters finally started altering their approach. From Munzel:
The Red Sox ruined his chances (of running at Feller's record) when they deliberately shortened up their swings in the eighth inning. Harry Agganis and Jackie Jensen obviously were just trying to meet the ball and grounded out and popped out, respectively, on the first pitch. Del Wilber grounded out on the second pitch.
Ninth inning: Starts the inning by striking out Ted Lepcio for his record-setting 16th. Munzel:
Harshman whipped a third strike past Ted Lepcio to open the ninth for his sixteenth strikeout that gave him the new White Sox record. But Don Lenhardt then fouled to Catcher Matt Batts and Karl Olson flied to Minnie Minoso.
How he did it
Harshman used a fastball, curveball, screwball, slider, and a fifth pitch that was described four different ways in two paragraphs by Munzel:
The Thing is a mystery pitch that is rapidly having the shrouds of secrecy torn away by the curiosity of rival hitters and pitchers. Ted Williams was asking Batts repeatedly, "What is that thing he throws?"
Actually, The Thing is Richards' version of the palm ball. The Comiskey skipper himself calls it a "slip pitch."
Catcher Matt Batts (ironically named, like Josh Fields) said Harshman used it to record most of his strikeouts.
Close, but not quite
Three days after Harshman struck out 16, Richards tried to use him to close out a one-run game against the Yankees, but Harshman gave up a three-run homer to Mickey Mantle.