Joe Harris had a ten year major league career from 19141928. He had a
career batting average of .317 and hit 47 home runs. You can see
his career stats
at the major league baseball site. In 1986, SABR members selected him
as their 1917 American League rookie of the year
[see Lyle Spatz' article in 1986 "The Baseball Research Journal"; rookie
of the year was not a recognized award prior to 1946]. He appeared in the
25 and 27 world series, hitting three home runs in a losing cause
for the 25 Senators.
The Senators picture above may show the eye injury that
he suffered in a truck accident while serving in the infantry in Europe
during World War I; though his left eye also appears to have been
injured. He had some corrective surgery performed between the
25 and 26 seasons [see The Sporting News issue of April 15,
1926]. I need to confirm, via the TSN article, which eye had been injured.
For the rest of this article I will refer to Joe Harris as JH.
Probably the most interesting aspect of JH's career were the two seasons that
he played "outlaw" ball in Franklin, Pennsylvania. An outlaw league or team
is a professional team that is not part of the agreement between the major
leagues and most of the minor leagues (these leagues are called "oragnaized
baseball"). What makes this particularly interesting is why an up and
coming major leaguer leave the majors for a small town team, and further,
how did he manage to get back into the major leagues. Usually outlaw players
were blackballed from returning to organized baseball. I was able to find
some answers for why he went to Franklin, but have not yet uncovered how he
was able to return.
In 1999 I found out from some of my SABR brethren that the Franklin
team matched the $5,000 per year offer that JH had received from
Cleveland for the 1920 season. I also learned that Franklin played in the
"Two Team League" with the Oil City team. This raised my curiosity enough
that I scheduled a two-day visit to Franklin and Oil City to see what I
could dig up (this was before I knew about having microfilm shipped to my
By today's standards, it is unthinkable that a team in a small town like
Franklin could pay the same salaries as a major league team. But in 1920
there was a push by industrialists to form very competitive company teams.
It was felt that having a winning baseball team representing a factory would
create a team spirit among the workers, and they would forget all about
forming labor unions. Remember that in the 20's labor unions were not
well-established, and attempts to organize them were met with billy clubs.
Company owners were willing to spend a good deal of money to prevent unions.
Another factor may have been that the two major leagues were not on the same
solid footing they are now. In 1919 it was only a couple years since the
Federal League had failed in its attempt to establish a third major league.
The American League had been in existence less than twenty years. The
history of major league baseball at that time did not have the air of
constancy that it had in, say, the 1970's.
So around this time many good players were lured from organized baseball to
outlaw teams. I'm not certain of the extent, but some of the people running
baseball in those days were genuinely worried that they might not be able to
compete in salary with the industrial teams. I found a few interesting side
references to this in the Franklin paper, but I did not follow them.
One piece of information I had from a SABR member was that JH had left the
Cleveland team in midseason 1919. I discovered that this was not true
[side note: I'm not calling them the 'Indians', because they
likely did not have that nickname at the time; I believe they were called
the 'Naps']. He appeared as a pinch hitter in Cleveland's final game of the
season, Sep/28/19. He then played four games for Franklin as they finished
out their season.
This appears to have been a common practice for major leaguers in those
days, as the papers mentioned several other players. One of the other
players who also showed up in Franklin at the end of the '19 season was
future Hall of Famer George Sisler.
JH then stayed with Franklin for the '20 and '21 seasons. The only reason
that I know of, provided by one of the SABRites, is that the Franklin team
'set him up in business'. My father recalled that JH ran a bowling alley,
and I did find one reference in an article in '21 that suggested he ran a
billiard parlor. The other possible reason is that he met his future wife,
Pearl Hepner. Pearl was from Franklin, and they married between the '20
and '21 seasons.
JH was, according to all acounts, a popular person in Franklin. There was a
reference to him in a recent book about the history of Franklin. He was the
team's leading hitter in both '20 and '21.
The Franklin team was one half of the Two Team League. The other half was
Oil City. As one person told me before I visited Franklin, "The easiest job
in the world must have been to be the schedule maker for the Two Team League".
Turns out that wasn't an easy job after all. Franklin and Oil City played
maybe 50 games a year against each other. The rest of the time they played
against other western PA teams, such as the New Kensington Aluminums (no
doubt the Alcoa team), the Elk County Elcos, and the Pittsburgh Collegians
(which may have been college players playing during the summer under
assumed names). So this 'league' really wasn't a league in the sense we
would use the term today. In fact, the Oil City paper didn't only
occasionally lists standings for this 'league', while the Franklin paper did.
These teams were
more like semi-pro teams, scheduling games ad hoc. For example, Franklin
and Oil City seemed to schedule games in batches of a dozen or two, play
them, then schedule some more.
I did find out why JH left the Franklin team. The 1921 team did not finish
the season. In July whoever was backing the team asked the players to take
25% pay cuts, and that was the end of the team. They played one celebrated
final game against Oil City, in which JH hit a home run. Officially this
was a forfeit followed by an exhibition game; this seems to have been a
way to allow the passing of a hat to collect money for the players.
At this point, JH joined the Clearfield Terriers. To the best of my
knowledge this fact was not previously known. I was fortunate that
Clearfield was along my return route. I was also fortunate that the
newspaper that existed in 1921 was still in business. The public library
did not have microfilm prior to about 1975. I was able to view the
microfilm in a loft at the newspaper's offices.
I'm not certain what the
status of the Clearfield team was I'm not sure if they were a professional
team, but it seems very likely that they were. They played a late season
exhibition game against the American League Philadelphia team (called the
Mackmen in those days; today they are the Oakland A's), which suggests that
if they were professional, they were not an outlaw league.
JH disappeared from the Clearfield team a week or so before the end of the
season (before the exhibition against the Mackmen). This is odd, because
there was no mention in the paper of him leaving, or of him being injured.
And you have to realize that the local baseball team got nearly full page
coverage in the paper every day. One speculation I have is that the
Clearfield team would have gotten in trouble if word got out they were using
an outlaw player. A few other Franklin players also joined Clearfield, but
I neglected to check whether they also disappeared around the same time.
The following year JH was back in the majors, playing for the American
League Boston team. I don't know how he ended up being reinstated as an
eligible player. At the time the Franklin team folded it was mentioned
that he had tried to be reinstated prior to the '21 season.
Several years ago I saw a note in Bill James' Historical
Baseball Abstract that JH was one
of few players who had applied for and been granted reinstatement by (the
fairly new) commisioner Landis. That book noted his war record may have
played a part.
My thanks to SABR members Carlos Bauer, Clifford Blau, Jerry Jackson, Bill
Deane, Richard J. Thompson, and Tom Zocco for their help, guidance, and
information; to the librarian in the Franklin (PA) public library; and
to the staff of the Clearfield (PA) Progress.