Jack Harshman, 86, a White Sox pitcher worth knowing

Lefty set franchise's single-game strikeout record, pitched 16-inning shutout over fascinating South Side career

Scott Reifert passed along some sad news in his Monday blog entry: Former White Sox pitcher Jack Harshman passed away on Aug. 17 at the age of 86:

Lefthanded pitcher Jack Harshman, who won 48 games with a 3.33 ERA for the Sox from 1954-57, passed away on August 17 in Georgetown, Texas, at the age of 86. Primarily a starter in Chicago, he won 15 games in ’56 with a 3.10 earned run average and 14 in 1954 with a 2.95 ERA. Harshman started his pro career as a first baseman and ultimately was one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball. He hit 21 career homers and 65 RBI (he also played for the New York Giants, Orioles, Red Sox and Indians) and 12 and 37 for the Sox with a high of six and 19 in ’56. On July 25, 1954, he struck out 16 Boston hitters, including Hall of Famer Ted Williams, in a complete game for a 5-2 win–still the Sox record for strikeouts in a single game. In 1956, he was involved in a baseball rarity. Both he and Connie Johnson, his Baltimore counterpart, threw one-hit complete games. Harshman and the Sox picked up the win, 1-0.

If you've been reading South Side Sox for a while, you know that Harshman is one of my favorite old White Sox, and I only became aware of him because his name kept showing up at the top of Baseball-Reference.com Play Index searches for the best White Sox starts ever.

I finally dug into those starts over the offseason -- he inspired the "White Sox Feats of Strength" series -- and the more I read about his story, the more I wanted to read. As a result, I wrote four pretty long posts about a guy who went 48-34 over four seasons.

In chronological order:

Harshman set the White Sox's single-game strikeout record on July 25, 1954 by striking out 16 Boston Red Sox over nine innings. It's a mark that wasn't seriously challenged until Chris Sale struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays last year. If Sale can't do it, it seems like Harshman could hold the record for at least another 20 years.

A few weeks later, Harshman threw a start that nobody will touch, going the (extra-long) distance in a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. That post has the story about this line:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc
Jack Harshman, W (10-6) 16 9 0 0 7 12 0 3.02 65 109
Team Totals 16 9 0 0 7 12 0 0.00 65 109

With the pitch count estimator, we can guess that he threw something in the neighborhood of 245 pitches. With Play Index, we can be sure that he was the last MLB pitcher to face 65 batters in one game. For comparison, Sale faced just 60 batters over his last two starts combined.

Those games led me to check out his player file at the Hall of Fame Library, and the information contained therein inspired two biographical posts. The first deals with his upbringing as a first baseman in the New York Giants organization, his last-ditch switch to pitching, and the story of Frank Lane scouting and signing him.

The second part covers his White Sox career outside of his two most famous games, including the twin one-hitter victory against Baltimore in 1956, his struggles dealing with Marty Marion, his unique relationship with his first wife, and how he was Mike Sirotka before Mike Sirotka was Mike Sirotka.

That's a pretty rich legacy for four years, during which he was overshadowed by Billy Pierce, Dick Donovan and Virgil Trucks. I'm sure it would be a thrill to see Sale or another Sox pitcher strike out 17 in a game, but I don't mind Harshman holding the record for a long time if it encourages other people to look into his story.

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