Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and former Brooklyn Dodger, Billy Harris, has passed away at the age of 80.
According to the Moncton Times & Transcript, the New Brunswick pitching legend was recently hospitalized to treat a series of bleeding ulcers after he had fainted about a month ago. He died at his home in Kennewick, Wash., on Saturday morning.
“Billy defined Canadiana. Small town boy makes good,” said Tom Valcke, president & CEO of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. “His accomplishments throughout his professional career were phenomenal for anybody, never mind a Canadian.”
Born in Duguayville, N.B., Harris caught the eye of big league scouts when he led the Dieppe Junior Cardinals to a Maritime championship in 1949 and the Moncton Legionnaires to a senior title the following year. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, the Canuck hurler notched 18 wins and recorded a 2.19 ERA for Class D Valdosta in his inaugural professional campaign. He would top that the next season, when he won 25 games, tossed 12 shutouts and registered a miniscule 0.83 ERA for the Class B Miami Sun Sox. His success continued in 1953 when he authored a perfect game for the Double-A Mobile Bears.
In 1954, he debuted with the Triple-A Montreal Royals. Trapped in the pitching-rich Dodgers system behind legends like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Newcombe, Harris had little opportunity to shine at the major league level. After recording 16 wins with Montreal in 1957, the determined Maritimer was called up and made his first – and only – big league start on September 27 of that year. Throwing to the legendary Roy Campanella, Harris held the Phillies to three runs in seven innings but still recorded the loss. Harris would return to the minors in 1958 and for most of 1959, before making his second and final major league appearance with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In all, Harris pitched for 15 professional seasons and amassed 174 wins and 1,373 strikeouts. For his efforts, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
After his playing career, Harris settled in Kennewick, Wash., where he operated a tavern called “Billy’s Bullpen.”
“When I first met him in 2008 upon his arrival in St. Marys for his induction ceremony, he was just radiant, full of passion, a mover and a shaker, a guy that anybody would naturally want to gravitate toward,” recalled Valcke. “Yet the sizzle didn’t overplay what a genuine and warm person he was. It immediately became a goal of mine to visit him at his pub in Kennewick called ‘Billy’s Bullpen’ and talk baseball into the night. It can only be imagined now, but I know that would have been a cherished memory.”
Harris is survived by his wife, Alice, daughter Gail and sons Billy Jr. and Rick. He also has seven grandchildren.
A private family service will be held at a later date.
Billy is one of our best inductees. Such a down to earth person and will be missed greatly. That’s 5 inductees that have passed away since June 2010. Way to many great people!
I remember walking with Billy around the museum in 2008. I love that 1954 Montreal Royals team picture with him sitting beside a young Roberto Clemente. Thanks for the comment.
Yet another player I’d never heard of, and another reason I read this blog on a regular basis. This post made me wonder how different things would have been if Harris had been traded to another team’s system. He obviously had the skills, and likely would have made a great addition to somebody’s major league pitching staff.