#CardCorner: 1984 Topps Toby Harrah
Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.
For many years, the New York Yankees emphasized defensive play with their shortstops. First, there was Gene “Stick” Michael, followed by Fred “Chicken” Stanley, and then Bucky Dent.
It’s hard to believe now, but prior to Dent’s historic home run against the Boston Red Sox in the 1978 American League East playoff, he wasn’t among the most well-known Yankees.
Although Dent was reliable defensively, he had ordinary range and rarely made spectacular plays. He was also a relatively light hitter. But he fit into the context of what the Yankees needed and wanted: A fine fielding shortstop who could make the routine plays.
Given all of these attributes, the plan to bring Harrah to New York sounded good. Considering the depth of the Yankees’ pitching staff, giving up a second-tier pitcher in addition to Dent seemed doable. There was just one problem. The Rangers had to agree to the deal, too. They wanted more than Dent and a secondary pitcher. They negotiated with the Yankees off and on, with Harrah’s name periodically being mentioned in rumors, but the two sides could not reach the appropriate compromise. After the 1978 season, the Rangers finally received an offer they couldn’t refuse. Only it didn’t come from the Yankees. Instead, the Rangers found a trading partner in the Cleveland Indians, who agreed to give up All-Star third baseman Buddy Bell in return for Harrah.
Harrah spent five mostly productive seasons with the Tribe. By the early 1980s, Yankee fans had already forgotten about Harrah, who had entrenched himself as a durable and productive player in Cleveland. It was time to move on. The dream had ended.
In February of 1984, with the Yankees collecting infielders in a strangely obsessive way, the team announced a surprising trade. The deal sent reliever George Frazier and minor league speedster Otis Nixon to the Indians for Harrah. By then, Harrah was no longer a shortstop; he had long since been converted to third base. He was no longer an All-Star either, with his home run production falling off from 25 to nine in his final season with the Tribe. At 34, Harrah looked well past his prime.
Lots of folks didn’t understand the trade. The Yankees already had Graig Nettles and Roy Smalley available to play third. Nettles eventually vacated the premises, mostly because of the controversial contents of his tell-all book, Balls.
Still, it was exciting to hear that Harrah had finally become a Yankee. It was also thrilling to see his 1984 Topps Traded card. Earlier in the spring, Topps had released its regular issue card of the bearded Harrah, showing him playing third base for the Indians. By the middle of the summer, Topps had released its 132-card Traded set, which included Harrah with his newest team. Now, for the first time ever, a Topps card actually depicted Harrah playing for the Yankees.
Of all the Harrah cards produced during his career, this is one of his best. It’s a clear action shot from a day game at Yankee Stadium, capturing Harrah just a moment after he has made contact with the pitch. His body is balanced, even while his front leg is fully extended toward the pitcher. His head is down and his hands maintain a firm grasp on the bat, which is pointed artfully toward left field. Although we cannot know for sure where the ball has been hit, all of the signs contained within Harrah’s body language indicate that he has made solid contact, the kind that produces a line drive or a long fly ball toward the outer reaches of Yankee Stadium.
Even the inset picture looks good. His beard his gone, but his trademark mustache remains in place, as does a Yankee cap covering his balding head. Without the beard, this looks like a younger Harrah in his prime. Sporting a wide smile, Harrah appears thrilled to be a member of the Yankees.