Mike Harkey – 1991 Upper Deck

January 19, 2011

Well, Now That’s A Crooked Scan

The best laid plans…

I scanned this about 2-3 weeks ago, and now the card is…


Hell, it could be either in a box already sent or a box for someone that’s still here in the home office. Or in my semi-unsorted (or semi-sorted, depending on your world view) junk wax doubles + box.

Wait a sec…

Nope, not there. It must be gone, or somewhere else.

Anyway, when I had some jerseys I had one of Mr. Harkey when he was a coach with the Padres in Spring Training. He’s a big dude. Listed at 6’5, 220, he seemed bigger and probably could be a power forward in a pinch. I’m sure he can act as Joe Girardi’s bouncer as well in the Yankees room.

And he was a very frustrating pitcher for Cubs fans, but there was a story, of course. There always is.

Harkey was the #4 pick of the 1987 draft, and debuted with the Cubs in 1988 in September. He went back to the minors in 1989 to get more experience, but had knee injuries and some shoulder problems (from the knee injuries). As big as he was, he was never a blazing-fast pitcher, so he needed command and control to get things done.

The Cubs were the defending NL East champs, but were scuffling in 1990. The starting staff in 1989 was stable – Maddux, Sutcliffe, Bielecki, Sanderson and Kilgus started all but 14 games, with Sanderson and Kilgus sitting out for either Steve Wilson or Jeff Pico.

Sanderson left via free agency, and Kilgus was traded to Toronto for Jose Nunez, who had a 2.21 ERA in Syracuse in 1989 (albeit with 18 unearned runs). However, the Cubs knew Harkey would be ready. They still had Wilson and Pico. The rest of the staff was proven.

Well…in 1985 the Cubs staff collapsed. This was 1985 all over again, but this time with Don Zimmer at the helm.

Sutcliffe never made it to the gate in 1990. He did make four starts but by then it was all over but the shouting. So Wilson entered the rotation with Bielecki, Nunez, Maddux and Harkey.

After five starts, Nunez had a 6.17 ERA. After five starts, Wilson had a 6.04 ERA. In his sixth start, Bielecki gave up six runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 and ended it with a 4.83 ERA. After Harkey’s sixth start ( 7 ER in 2 2/3) his ERA was 6.23.

Maddux was steady, 4-1, 1.96 after five starts.

The staff was already in shambles and it was only mid-May.

The first answer was Les Lancaster. Then they pulled Shawn Boskie out of AAA. Then they turned to Jeff Pico. Kevin Blankenship made two starts. And, in an act of total desperation, on June 5, 1990, with the Cubs in last place facing the first place Pirates, Paul Assenmacher made a start. His only start of his career. 884 appearances, 883 relief appearances.

It didn’t go well. He gave up four runs in the first, then was lifted for Marvell Wynne in the second. Wilson came in and pitched six strong innings in relief. But needless to say, Assenmacher slunk back to the pen where he LOOGIED to his hearts content the rest of his career.

Don Zimmer is a great guy, and a fun manager (who else squeezes with the bases loaded?) but when it’s time to be calm, Zim can panic with the best of ’em.

And, in 1990, right after the All-Star break with only one decent dependable veteran starter, Zim decided a four-man rotation would be the best.

It started as Harkey / Boskie / Maddux / Wilson. Bielecki replaced Wilson for a few, then 1990 first round draft pick Lance Dickson bolted from the minors to make three starts in the four man rotation. He replaced Boskie and then Pico got a start.

Finally, when Sutcliffe came back, they went back to a five man rotation. That wasn’t the end of the panic for Zim – as Mitch Williams started two games in September. Yes, Mitch Williams, starting pitcher.

It did help the Cubs, a bit. When this started they were 36-49, 15 games back in fifth. When it ended, they were 61-66, 12 1/2 games back in fourth.

But was it worth the carnage it wrought?

Lance Dickson was done. That was it for his big league career. Not a bright move to throw a kid right from college (where his arm had a lot of mileage on it already that year) into a four man rotation in the bigs.

Boskie was shut down after August 4. At the time, he was a 23-year old that was 5-6 with a 3.69 ERA. A good start. In 1991, he went 4-9, 5.23. In 1992, 5-11, 5.01. Actually, the telling stat is that for the remainder of his career after 1990, his ERA was 5.32.

After being yanked up and down in the rotation, Wilson became a full-time relief pitcher but was never trusted by the Cubs and he ended his career pitching for the Dodgers in as anonymous a role as you can have as a Dodger pitcher.

It may not have been fair that the Cubs expected another 1989 out of Bielecki, but he was the one flung from the rotation when they went to a four man, and pitched no better nor worse out of the pen. Again, panic set in.

Maddux actually thrived in the four-man. He was 8-3, 2.12 during that time. Before the All-Star break, he was 4-8, 4.57. But Maddux is a freak, and we know that now.

As for the star of this here essay (with the crooked scan) Harkey pitched well in the four man (8-4, 3.01 that included a game where he gave up eight runs in 1/3 of an inning) but after dominating the Phillies through six in his next start he developed arm trouble after walking two, giving up a sac, then intentionally walking another. He was done for the year.

And basically done for a career at age 23.

Oh, the record shows that he pitched until 1997.  After being shut down in 1990, he came out of Spring Training in 1991 with a dead arm, made four starts, and sat out until July 1992 after rehabbing a bit. He then pitched well but was shut down again in September 1992.

In 1993, his final year with the Cubs, he was 10-10, 5.26, giving up 187 hits in 157 1/3 innings. The Rockies signed him but that didn’t go so well. The A’s had him for half a season and waived him to the Angels. The Dodgers then used him in Albuquerque in 1996 and 1997, and they allowed him some token big league time in 1997 as well during September.

Of course, it’s not exactly fair to hang Zimmer by the yard-arm for ruining Dickson, Boskie and Harkey’s arms. A four-man rotation can and will work if managed properly. That means, monitoring pitch counts under duress, easing young pitchers into it (Earl Weaver always had youngsters in long relief just to get acclimated to the league and the rigors of big league pitching) and smart bullpen utilization. The big secret is that many of the top teams of the past kinda ‘winged it’ – and they didn’t have to worry about eight or nine guys able to blast home runs or doubles in every at bat, either.

But Zim didn’t use much common sense. Dickson was right out of college and barely had any time in the minors. Boskie was in AA the year before, and Harkey was hurt the year before.

So when the crazy kids of 1991 opened their Upper Deck packs whilst listening to Soundgarden , Harkey was already on the DL.

And of course, that’s a big excuse to post these:




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