Chuck Harmon passed away yesterday at the age of 94. A lot of people reading this may not know who he is. If you live in the Cincinnati area, you know exactly who he is. With his passing, Major League Baseball lost a great ambassador. Cincinnati lost a true legend.
On April 17th, 1954, Chuck Harmon became the first African American to play for the Cincinnati Reds. It was a pinch hit appearance in which he flied out. Harmon also spent time with the St Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies in his short MLB career. He finished his career with a .238 average, 7 HR, and 59 RBI. These aren’t stellar numbers by a long shot. That’s not what defined Chuck Harmon though. Who Harmon was off the field would exceed the merits and statistics of HOFers, much less the everyday man. Just ask anyone around Cincinnati.
Chuck Harmon could often be seen around Great American Ballpark over the last several years. He would sign autographs for fans, tell baseball stories, and just simply engage with people who loved the game of baseball. Despite the historical asterisk next to his name, he didn’t care who you were, where you came from, or what your lot in life was. He treated everyone like a best friend. We could all learn from Chuck.
I had the pleasure, the honor, to meet Mr Harmon, fittingly, at the advance screening of the movie “42”. My son Nolan was with me and it will always remain a moment that we will cherish. I shook his hand, told him I was honored to meet him, and he thanked me in a soft voice and chatted with me for maybe 15 seconds. There was a line, or else I could have spoken with him all night just to absorb the stories. I walked away from that moment in awe, maybe shaking a little bit. I couldn’t believe I had just met him. I met the man that I had only heard about when I was a kid. He seemed larger than life and to actually shake his hand was surreal.
Jackie Robinson, as everyone knows, was the first African American to break the color barrier. Every other team has their first as well. We would all do well to look into these heroes, read their stories, and appreciate what they endured just to play the game they loved, the game we all love today. How many of us would be able to soldier through that level of hate and racism? I’m not sure I could.
Opening Day is next week. Rest assured the Cincinnati Reds will have a tribute for Mr Harmon before the game begins. No crying in baseball? We’re going to have to waive that this year. RIP Mr Harmon.