Having lived in Washington, D.C., for five years now, I think it's time I made a commitment to the city. So I've decided to root for the Senators.
Not the Baltimore Orioles, who were never the Senators, and continue not to be the home team, as the 90-mile round trip proves so conclusively each time you make it. Not the Minnesota Twins, who used to be the Senators until Calvin Griffith moved them out of town for the 1961 season. And certainly not the Texas Rangers, who also used to be the Senators until Bob Short moved them out of town for the 1972 season.
Toby Harrah and Jeff Burroughs.
They're the last active players left from the 1971 Washington team. I couldn't care less about their teams; I'm rooting for them personally.
So as a public service, this is the first part of an epic two-part series on these Senators called "Gee, You're Older Than You Look on This Old Baseball Card." This part is on Harrah, who recently was traded from the Yankees to the Rangers for a reserve outfielder, Billy Sample; the next part will be on Burroughs, who's a designated hitter for Toronto. (When will you be able to read it? When I get around to writing it. Who knows -- maybe I'll wait for Burroughs to retire, and bag Part II altogether. Why? You in a big rush? You know, if you cared as much about the Senators then, they might still be in town.)
Now, for the part the mayor and the City Council can Xerox and send to the commissioner's office, the part in which Harrah, whose first full season in the majors was 1971, talks about Washington: "I've always felt that Washington is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been in. And it was so much fun that one year. Such a pretty city. Such a clean city. That's my idea of what a big city should be like; New York reminded me a lot of Caracas -- a big Caracas, Venezuela. It's hard for me to believe Washington still doesn't have a major league team; I thought they'd have one long before this."
Okay, enough public service.
Time for baseball: Harrah is starting his second tour with Texas. For seven seasons, beginning in 1972, he was the Rangers' most consistent hitter. Although he was traded to Cleveland for Buddy Bell in 1979, Harrah still is the Rangers' all-time leader in runs scored (481) and home runs (106), and ranks second in runs batted in (461) and stolen bases (130). With Bell still a fixture at third, Texas Manager Doug Rader is hoping Harrah can make the transition from the left side of the infield to the right side, where the incumbent second baseman, Wayne Tolleson, drove in nine runs in 338 at bats last season. Rader would like to play Harrah, 36, at second base every day and bat him first. "Pete Rose did it until he was 40," Rader said. "It depends on the individual. I know a lot of real, real old 22-year-olds, and a lot of young 40-year-olds."
It might be wishful thinking. Although Harrah came up as a second baseman, and intends on "having a helluva year there," he has played only 29 of his 1,934 games there. And to be kind, Harrah didn't have a real good season last year. His numbers in his one season in New York -- one homer, 26 RBI, .217 batting average in 88 games -- weren't a whole lot better than Liza Minnelli's might have been. "If he'd had good numbers, we wouldn't have him," Rader said with typical candor. "You're not going to get a player for an extra outfielder if that player had generated any kind of a season."
Harrah was brought to the Yankees to share time at third with Graig Nettles, but Nettles was traded to San Diego before the season started. By the time the season ended, Harrah had shared time with Roy Smalley and then with Mike Pagliarulo; the way the Yankees share time at third, the base should be a condo. Had Harrah stayed with the Yankees this season, he would have been behind Dale Berra and Pagliarulo at third, and platooning in the outfield with Ken Griffey. The Yankees have too many good players to bother with a lineup; they print a depth chart.
"Everybody should play for the Yankees at least once," Harrah said. "I did. And once was enough." He smiled. It had been a long, long season. "I always felt more comfortable playing against the Yankees -- even when I was playing with them; I never felt like I was a part of them. I knew I had no future there from the second day of spring training last year. I don't know what they wanted, but I know they didn't want me. I realized I'd never be an everyday player there one time when I was four for four and Yogi pinch-hit for me my fifth time up.
"People say Pagliarulo won the job. I don't know about that; I don't think New York ever got the opportunity to really see how I can play. You can say I had a bad year, but to me a year is 500 at-bats; I only got 253. The truth of the matter is, if Pags won the job, he can have it. From the way things started out in spring training it was no fun for me. Look, I didn't go there to replace Graig Nettles -- you can't battle a legend. I thought we were going to share time. As a matter of fact, they had talked to me about playing some shortstop, even though I never even took a ball there. But the fans were booing my butt from the get-go, and as soon as they traded Nettles it got even worse. People blamed me for it. They booed me down here, and they booed me up there."
Harrah shook his head.
Boy, was he glad to be out of there.
"I never really wanted to play in New York," he said. "The money got me. It looked so good."
Because Harrah had the right, as a 10-year veteran with five years of continuous service with the same team, to veto the trade, the Yankees sweetened the pot by offering him a three-year contract worth $2.1 million, and an option on an additional fourth year.
"I doubled my salary," Harrah said. "How could I turn it down?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Money makes you do crazy things."
Actually, at this point it couldn't have worked out better for Harrah. Last year, he was saying, "was a character builder." This season, he has a clean slate, and a chance to play in the area he settled in 14 years ago when his head was full of hair and his heart was full of hope. "I can't tell you how happy I am to be coming home," he said.
A sprained right ankle is keeping him from playing temporarily, but like all of us each spring -- even those of us who are 36 whether we like it or not -- he's optimistic about the summer ahead. And because he's one of my two favorite players now, I'll give him the last word, no questions asked: "I can still run fast. My arm is still super. And I can still hit. If I get my 500 at bats, everything will take care of itself. It has for 14 years. No reason it shouldn't now."