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Remembering Greg Harris, the Colorado Rockies' first pitching casualty

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Greg Harris was a decent pitcher right up until the middle of 1993, when he was traded to the Rockies. Two years later, his career was over.

Greg Harris was a good pitcher... in San Diego.
Greg Harris was a good pitcher... in San Diego.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Long before Jeremy Guthrie and Kyle Kendrick underperformed got demolished in their time at post-humidor Coors Field, years before Greg Reynolds and Jason Young gave Colorado Rockies fans the unique nausea that is draft pick disaster, and even before Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and Darryl Kile left Denver dealing with big league letdowns, there was Greg W. Harris.

Not to be confused with Greg A. Harris (who was a switch pitcher!), Greg W. Harris was the Rockies' very first pitching bust. Think of him as the opening stanza of The Song That Never Ends. A bad omen that, in retrospect, should have sent you and I running to follow literally any other team by the end of 1994. And yet, here we are.

Harris was traded to the Rockies in the middle of 1993, fresh off a solid half-season in the San Diego Padres' rotation before the Friars decided to go on a fire sale. In fact, having played in San Diego his entire career, Harris put up great numbers split between the rotation and the bullpen:

San Diego Padres G-GS IP H R ER BB K W-L ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
6 years ('88-'93) 194-71 673.1 591 250 221 205 462 41-39 2.95 128 3.62 1.182 7.9 2.7 6.2 2.25

Ain't that beautiful? Harris took pride in pitching in the bullpen, but eventually did so well as a fireman that the Padres couldn't hold him back anymore, and they stuck him in the rotation for parts of '91 and '92. A rotation mainstay by '93, Harris started 22 games for the Padres in arguably the best season of his career, before he was abruptly shipped off  to Colorado with Bruce Hurst (yikes) in exchange for Brad Ausmus, Doug Bochtler, and Andy Ashby.

It all unraveled immediately.

★★★

Maybe the Rockies thought that Harris would find success at Mile High Stadium. After all, Harris' only appearance in Denver before the trade was a start five weeks earlier in a blowout win for the Padres. Harris tossed a complete game, allowing just a run on eight hits. If he could do it once, he could replicate it, right? Not a complete game every outing, of course, but maybe a decent turn every fifth day from a well-respected pitcher to help earn an expansion ball club some respect.

Harris' trademark pitch, as you probably guessed, was a curveball. He had a big, sweeping one -- like Kile, who would come to Denver less than a decade later and would also fail miserably -- and Harris was never able to figure out how to get it to work at altitude. That was apparent immediately after the trade.

Four days after being shipped out of sunny southern California, in his first game with the Rockies, Harris allowed five runs on eight hits (including two home runs) in four innings in a 10-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants. The rest of that season in Denver went much the same way. So did 1994. His season and a half in Colorado's rotation produced some disastrous numbers:

Colorado Rockies G-GS IP H R ER BB K W-L ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
2 years ('93-'94) 42-32 203.1 242 161 149 82 122 4-20 6.60 75 5.59 1.593 10.7 3.6 5.4 1.49

That a pitcher failed in Denver isn't itself noteworthy. That this is the first pitcher to truly, miserably fail in Denver after having success elsewhere in the Major Leagues is more nostalgic (depressing?). Coming to Colorado as a 29-year old with a couple good years still ahead of him, Harris took one of the hardest left turns I can recall. Less than 16 months later, a shell of the pitcher he had been just a moment before, Greg W. Harris was released. He went 0-5 with an 8.82 ERA in six starts for the Twins in 1995, and poof. It was over.

Only... it wasn't.

★★★

The most interesting aspect of Harris' career -- what he's best remembered for, at least in San Diego and likely on the business side of the game -- is the legal quagmire he uncovered after his career ended.

As it turned out, Harris had been set up by his agent, an accountant, and a doctor in San Diego. His career ended prematurely not because of on-field events, but rather a questionable financial arrangement. The agent, accountant, and doctor were in on a scam behind Harris' back that involved a $40,000 payment when the agent, David Morway, funneled the pitcher to the doctor, Gary Losse, for shoulder surgery.

After that shoulder surgery killed Harris' career in 1995, the pitcher filed suit against the three men. Had Harris known about the nefarious arrangement being more than just an innocent recommendation of an agent he had trusted, the lawsuit went, the pitcher would have never used the services of Dr. Losse for the shoulder operation.

By 1999, Harris had settled out of court for an undisclosed amount with Morway. (If that name sounds familiar, basketball fans, David Morway was the general manager of the Indiana Pacers, and is currently the assistant general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.) That same year, Harris won a $6 million verdict against Dr. Losse. By 2005, the gavel dropped on accountant Charlie Pope to the tune of $10 million in Harris' favor. Tony Gwynn, Kevin Towers, and Dallas Cowboys' star Darren Woodson all testified at Harris' trial.

All that money won, the long, drawn-out court cases and testimonies, and the verdicts and settlements served to tell the story: had this promising pitcher not run across Morway, Pope, and Losse, his career would have played out differently. Perhaps his time with the Twins would've been different. Perhaps Harris could have pitched in '96, or '97. Instead, the pitcher's longevity was cut short -- but by surgery and a scam, the courts remind us, and not (entirely) baseball at altitude.

Today, Harris lives in Raleigh.

★★★

Truth be told, I'm not sure what compelled me to look into Harris' career. I know I was inspired by this post from last week about disastrous seasons for Rockies' starting pitchers, and it took me down the road of all the interesting depressing that's so Rockies moments throughout history.

The lawsuits are fascinating, for sure. (I had no idea they even existed until I started digging, so that was a surprise.) And of course there's the (now obvious) parallel between Harris' crash in Denver and the myriad failures of so many starting pitchers after him. Maybe that's what it is. It's the fact that Harris was first, and his crash was so severe and so fast. How did it all unravel so quickly, so significantly, so... completely?

In a way, I guess, Greg W. Harris was the canary in the coal mine. None of us heeded the warnings, though. Here we are, suffering through one awful season after the next, all linked back to poor pitching. Maybe Harris' failures don't have anything to do with the current Rockies. It was a different era, after all, for an expansion ball club in a different time and, hell, even in a different ball park.

And yet here we comment, post, write, tweet, and pontificate that the Rockies need to invest in a deep, capable rotation and bullpen. Here we find ourselves hoping and praying that this next class of prospects and youngsters will be the turnaround class. Here we are telling ourselves Jon Gray will be the guy, or Jeff Hoffman, or Eddie Butler and Tyler Matzek if you're optimistic, or maybe even Jesus Tinoco. Or a combination of those guys and some others. We've got a new general manager, the wisdom goes, so let's trust the plan. After all, it's all bound to work sometime.

Are we crazy?