“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.” That’s the introduction to the long-running Law & Order television show, known almost as well as the distinctive thunk-thunk that breaks up the action. When it comes to prospects, rookies, and future stars – those special player cards that appear in every so often in a pack of baseball cards – it’s important to remember that there are, at least, two separate but important groups: those who build major league careers and those who fall short.
For every Mike Trout there is a Brandon Wood or a Craig Hanson who fizzles out before reaching their potential. Or maybe an Andrew Miller or Rick Ankiel who emerges in a different role. There are even more backup catchers, middle relievers, platoon shortstops, and one-year wonders (remember Aaron Small’s 2005?) But they all have stories. This one begins, well, the major league portion begins, in 1989 with card 742 of the Topps annual set. A set where current managers Mike Scioscia and Terry Francona were featured on cards 755 and 31, respectively, and Julio Franco was still under 30 years old. The player in question: Mike Harkey. The value of the card? Well, if you invested in Cubs pitchers, you probably didn’t make much back during the intervening decades. Even though he was named a Future Star in a wonderfully 1980s font.
Mike Harkey was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1987, fourth overall, in the same year that Ken Griffey Jr. was selected first. Looking back on it, Harkey was destined to be overshadowed for his entire career no matter what he did, sharing a draft class with a future Hall of Famer. And we do have to look back on it because at the time “Mariners owner George Argyros wanted college pitcher Mike Harkey. When Seattle scouting director Roger Jongewaard and baseball operations executive Bob Harrison both supported Griffey, Argyros noted that if Griffey failed, they would both be looking for work.” If you were going to stake your career on a player, Ken Griffey Jr. was a pretty good choice.
But we’re not talking about Griffey. We’re talking about the Other Guy. And Mike Harkey’s career was not as long, successful, or downright historic. For simplicity’s sake, the bWAR leader among pitchers selected in that first round is Kevin Appier at 54.9, with Harkey’s career worth just 6.3.
The Cal State Fullerton product registered a career ERA of 4.59 and a WHIP of 1.441. Over eight seasons, he compiled a record of 36-36. As George Costanza might say he was in “[r]ight in the meaty part of that curve – not showing off, not falling behind.”
While he was with the Cubs, Chicago had one playoff appearance – in 1989 – but Harkey spent that season in the minors and battling injuries. He never threw a single pitch in the playoffs. Harkey joined the Colorado Rockies in 1994 for their sophomore season in the strike-shortened year but the thin air didn’t agree with him as he allowed a career-high 12.3 hits per nine innings. 1995 was split in the American League between the Oakland A’s and the then-California Angels. Another year in the minors – 1996 – and Harkey resurfaced in 1997 with the Dodgers for his final time on the mound.
But like every good pack of baseball cards coming with a puzzle or a piece of bubble gum, Mike Harkey’s career continued: first as a coach for the Iowa Cubs and then, beginning in 2008, Harkey served as bullpen coach for the New York Yankees. After several seasons in the Big Apple, Harkey moved back into the NL West – taking over as pitching coach for the Diamondbacks for the 2014 season.
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