Athlete. A Nebraska native, born in Beemer, this noted baseball pitcher grew up in Omaha and attended Omaha Technical High School during the 1920s. He was a terror in baseball, basketball and football at Omaha Tech, but he always thought of himself as a baseball player. During the late ’20s he signed with the Cleveland Indians and began making a name as a dependable pitcher. He won 223 games in the majors, including five 20-game seasons for the Indians. Of special interest is his great record in baseball’s All-Star games, pitching 13 perfect innings, no hits and no runs allowed. Beginning in 1955, young baseball players in the Omaha could play in the Mel Harder League, a fitting reminder of this fine athlete.
Nickname(s): Chief, Wimpy 1909-2002
All-Star in 1934-37
IP W-L ERA Career 3426 223-186 3.80 Wins-Losses Winning % Manager 0-1 .000
Only Bob Feller won more games for the Indians than Mel Harder, who spent 36 years with the club as a pitcher and coach. His 582 appearances and 186 losses set Cleveland records. Only Walter Johnson and Ted Lyons pitched more seasons with one club than Harder’s 20 with Cleveland. Harder pitched the first game ever in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, losing 1-0 to Philadelphia’s Lefty Grove on July 31, 1932.
Nearsighted, Harder wore thick glasses. Joe DiMaggio said that he gave him more trouble than just about any pitcher, wasting his fine curveball outside, then coming in tight with the fastball. Harder held DiMaggio to a .180 average against him lifetime, and struck him out three times in a 1940 game.
By today’s rules, Harder would have been the ERA leader in 1933, when he posted a 2.95 mark. But he was a .500 pitcher until 1934, when he went 20-12. He followed with a 22-11 season, but came down with bursitis in his shoulder and a sore elbow. He nevertheless won an average of 15 games a season from 1936 through 1940. He was released late in 1941, but was given another chance after having elbow surgery. Though he won 47 more games over the next six seasons, he did not regain his old form.
Harder is the only pitcher to work 10 or more All-Star innings without allowing an earned run. Though overshadowed by Carl Hubbell, he won the 1934 All-Star Game, finishing it with five shutout innings. Using today’s standards, he would have been awarded saves in the 1935 and 1937 contests.
Harder became one of the first coaches to be exclusively a pitching coach, and lasted through 12 Cleveland managers. Under Harder, seven different Indians won 20 games, for a total of 17 times. Two others led the AL in wins with fewer than 20. He was credited with changing Bob Lemon from a poor-hitting infielder to a Hall of Fame pitcher. He left Cleveland in 1964, going on to coach for the Mets, Cubs, Reds, and Royals through 1969.