Last week’s feature on Tom Nieto took a look at a great defensive catcher. This week we look at a catcher who went on the offensive for six seasons with the Twins. Brian Harper had a great career with the Twins and had he become a Twin sooner may have put up great career numbers in the big leagues.
In his senior year of high school Brian Harper hit .490. This was good enough to earn a full ride scholarship to Pepperdine University. For the non-baseball fans out there Pepperdine is a baseball powerhouse. Harper decided to decline the offer in favor of playing major league baseball for the California Angels. He was a 4th round pick in the 1977 amateur draft.
In Harpers first year of professional baseball he hit .293 with 24 homers and 101 RBI at Quad City. Then in 1979 playing in El Paso he hit .315 with 37 double and 90 RBI followed by another great season batting .350 with 45 doubles, 28 homers and 122 RBI in the Angels AAA Salt Lake City. However, after five impressive seasons in the Angels minor league system he was traded to Pittsburg.
This trade made absolutely no sense as Harper was forced to play behind a great catcher in Tony Pena. After three seasons as Pena’s backup, he went to St. Louis and backed up Nieto. He bounced through Detroit and Oakland before finally landing with the Twins in 1988.
By the time the ’89 season rolled around Harper beat out Tim Laudner as the Twins starting catcher. Playing nearly full time he batted .325 with 32 extra base hits and 57 RBI. In six years with the Twins Harper never batted lower then .294 and went on to hit .307 for the Twins. He was a big part of the 1991 World Championship team as he hit .391 in the World Series.
Looking back at Harper’s career, perhaps the saddest thing that happened to him was not being given the chance to play. By the time he finally became a starter he was nearly 30 years old. When he left the Twins in 1994 he was 34 and his better years were behind him.
Something interesting about Brian Harper’s career was his ability to put the ball into play. Harper finished his career with only 188 strikeouts. This breaks down to 1 strikeout every 17 at bats. To put this in perspective Adam Dunn finished the 2004 season with 195 strikeouts or nearly 1 every 3 at bats.
However, something even more interesting about Harper was his inability to walk. Usually hitters that don’t strikeout often walk more frequently. Harper finished his career with only 133 walks. Ty Cobb had over 1200 walks and struck out about 400 times. Wade Boggs had about 1400 walks while striking out around 700 times, and Tony Gwynn walked nearly 800 times while striking out about 400 times. All three of these hitters were hitters who did not strikeout often, but all three finished their careers with nearly a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.
So where is Brian Harper now? Since he finished his career in 1995 Harper has become a great teacher of the game. His passion for the game has not diminished one bit. He coached high school baseball in Scottsdale for 4 seasons before becoming the manager of the Mesa Angels in 2002. He continues to put on hitting clinics and loves working with kids. I wish the best of luck to Brian Harper as he continues his career in professional baseball and will continue to follow his Mesa Angels for years to come.