Born: April 24, 1895
Died: April 23, 1963
Harry Clayton Harper was born April 24, 1895 in Hackensack. He was one of three brothers. Harry’s father was the city’s assistant postmaster. Harry played sandlot ball in and around Hackensack, but did not play in high school as he chose to get a job instead of furthering his education.
Harry was a whippet-thin 6’2” with a funky sidearm motion that made it look as if the ball was coming out of left hip pocket. George Davis of the Washington Senators believed he could be a left-handed version of Walter Johnson, who also had a whip-like motion. Harry didn’t have the Big Train’s speed—and nowhere near his control—but he had a passable curve to keep batters off-balance, and the Senators signed him to a contract.
Harry went right from the ball fields of North Jersey to the mound in Washington. He bypassed the minors entirely and at the end of June appeared in his first game for the Senators. He pitched three more times in 1913, all in mop-up situations. Harry spent two more seasons at the end of the Washington bench, gaining experience and excelling at times. In 1915, he pitched 86 innings with and ERA of 1.77, shutting out the Indians and Athletics in two of his 10 starts. A stint in the minors that season—during which he twirled a no-hitter—had helped him improve his control and confidence. However, enemy hitters continued to be wary of his wildness, often waiting at the edge of the batter’s box until Harry delivered two strikes.
In 1916, manager Clark Griffith promoted Harry to the starting rotation and over the next four seasons he followed Johnson in the Washington rotation. When Harry was on, he was almost unhittable. In his first full year as a starter, he went 14–10 with a 2.45 ERA and two more shutouts. In 1917 and 1918 he won 11 games each year, with 7 more shutouts.
Things went south for Harry in 1919. He lost a league-high 21 games, walked more batters than he struck out, and was subsequently dealt to the Red Sox. He went 5–14 for Boston in 1920 despite pitching quite well, and was traded to the Yankees, who used him sparingly in 1921 due to a broken thumb..
Harry was healthy in October, however, and was given the start in Game 6 of the World Series against the Giants. The Yankees held a 3 games to 2 lead in the (then) best-of-nine series. Harry’s teammates staked him to a 3–0 lead in the second inning, but he immediately yielded short, down-the-line Polo Grounds home runs to Irish Meusel and Frank Snyder. When opposing pitcher Jesse Barnes lined a single to center, manager Miller Huggins had seen enough and brought Bob Shawkey into the game. The Yankees regained the lead, but Shawkey—whom the Giants had lit up in Game 3—yielded four more runs to lose the game.
That was Harry’s last appearance in pinstripes. He chose not to pitch in 1922, preferring instead to work in the trucking business he ran with his brothers. Harry had purchased his first truck with the signing money he got from the Senators in 1913 and had slowly built up a fleet. His company helped build the Holland Tunnel and the aqueduct system that brought water to New York City. The company would one day make Harry a millionaire.
Harry continued to pitch for local teams in New Jersey and returned to the majors for one game in 1923 with the Dodgers, but didn’t make it out of the 4th inning. Harry decided to stick to semipro ball to be close to his business. He became the top hurler for the Paterson Silk Sox, one of the region’s strongest independent clubs. The Silk Sox actually beat the Yankees in an exhibition that year, 6–5. Harry held Babe Ruth hitless in the game and slugged the winning homer with two outs in the ninth.
As both an athlete and businessman, Harry became one of Bergen County’s most well known citizens. In 1927, he was elected Bergen County Sherriff. In the 1930s and 1940s he served in different roles on the state labor commission. He even ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950 but lost. His son, George, did become a state senator. Harry suffered a heart attack in 1963 and died a day before his 68th birthday.