The Jackson Hammerheads have officially become the second Patriot League team to hire a former major leaguer as pitching coach during the season. This time was different, however. Unlike the Orlando Calrissians, who fired Tyler Thornton for performance reasons and hired John Smoltz, Hammerheads pitching coach Steve Parkinson stepped down for family reasons. To replace him, the Hammerheads tapped veteran ex-pitcher Eddie Harris.
The 58-year-old Harris pitched for 14 seasons in the major leagues, compiling over 120 career wins. In his last season before retiring, Harris led the Cleveland Indians to their first division title in over 30 years. Never a hard thrower, he was well-known for his array of off-speed pitches and his ability to keep hitters off balance. “Eddie was a champ at outfoxing hitters,” said Hammerheads manager Lou Hayes, who played against Harris in the minors. “He’d set you up to expect a certain pitch, then he’d pull the string and make you look stupid.”
Harris was also widely suspected of doctoring the ball with a variety of foreign substances. He steadfastly denied the charges during his playing days, but cheerfully admits to the charge now. “Crisco, Bardol, Vagisil,” said Harris, naming some of his secret weapons. “Any one of ‘em will give you another 2 to 3 inches drop on your curveball. Of course, if the umps were watchin’ me close, I’d just rub a little jalapeno in my nose and get it running. Then if I needed to load up the ball, I’d just wipe my nose.” Harris vows that he will not be passing this knowledge on to the Jackson pitching staff, however.
Since his retirement Harris, a devout Baptist, has been active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He said he will not proselytize with his new team, but “if anybody asks, I’ll tell ‘em they might think about taking Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.” Harris even ran for Congress in his native Georgia, although he lost in the Republican primary.
Hammerheads owner/GM Steven Butler welcomed the addition of Harris, saying: “Our pitching staff could use some of the wily veteran know-how that Eddie displayed throughout his career. We hope that he’ll help our pitchers both with broadening their arsenal, but also with the mental side of the game.”
Butler noted that Parkinson would be welcome to return to the team if his family situation changes.