Harmon at Great American Ballpark in 2008
|Born: April 23, 1924|
|April 17, 1954, for the Cincinnati Redlegs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 15, 1957, for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||59|
Charles Byron Harmon (born April 23, 1924) is an American former professional baseball utility player in Major League Baseball who played for the Cincinnati Redlegs (1954–1956), St. Louis Cardinals (1956–1957) and Philadelphia Phillies (1957). He batted and threw right-handed.
The tenth of twelve children, Chuck Harmon was schooled as an athlete at Dunbar Elementary by legendary Franklin Wonder Five basketball player Burl Friddle, Harmon played for the Washington High School Hatchets, who won two consecutive Indiana state basketball championships in 1941 and 1942. His brother Bill also played for the 1941 team.
Harmon and longtime teammate and friend Art Grove then reunited with Friddle to play for the University of Toledo, where they helped an all-freshman squad (that included Gary, Indiana's Davage Minor) advance to the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), losing to St. John's. Grove and Minor went on to play professional basketball. After a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Harmon returned to the University of Toledo, where he served as the Rockets' co-captain in both the 1947–48 and 1948-49 seasons. Harmon was also a baseball star for the Rockets.
For its 1950-51 season, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was integrated. Harmon tried out for the Boston Celtics but was cut along with Isaac "Rabbit" Walthour, another black star, although Chuck Cooper did make the Celtics squad. Harmon finished that season as player-coach of Utica in the American Basketball League, becoming one of, if not the first, African-American to coach an integrated professional basketball team.
On April 17, 1954, he became the first African American to play for the Cincinnati Reds. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Corky Valentine against Lew Burdette, Harmon flied out in the seventh inning of a 5-1 loss to the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium. In the same game he followed another Cincinnati black rookie, Puerto Rican born Nino Escalera. He got his first hit on April 25, 1954. Starting and leading off for the Reds at home in Crosley Field in a 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, Harmon singled in the first inning off Howie Pollet. He later doubled and scored on an error, and drew one walk. His final game was the site of his first, Milwaukee's County Stadium on September 15, 1957 where, appearing as a pinch runner for the Philadelphia Phillies, he scored his final run on a double play.
Harmon hit over .300 during five consecutive minor league seasons but never approached such numbers in the majors. He also played for the Cardinals and Phillies, and in Puerto Rico winter baseball for four years.
In a four-season major league career, Harmon was a .238 hitter with seven home runs and 59 RBI in 289 games played. After his Major League career ended, he played four seasons in the minors, from 1958 to 1961 in AAA leagues for five teams.
Following his playing career, Harmon worked as a scout with the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves in baseball, and the Indiana Pacers in basketball. Later he worked as an administrative assistant for the Hamilton County Court System in Cincinnati, Ohio. He remains active in SWAP (Seniors With A Purpose) and other youth-related services.
On April 20, 2004 (the 50th anniversary of Harmon's debut as the Cincinnati Reds' first African-American player), the Reds honored him during Chuck Harmon Recognition Night at Great American Ball Park. The pregame ceremonies included the unveiling of a special historic plaque, which now hangs near the entrance of the ballpark.
With the death of Monte Irvin on January 11, 2016, Harmon is the oldest living African American to play in the Major Leagues.
- Harmon stole nine bases in 1955, which tied him for 10th in the National League. Among those on the list were Gene Baker, Ernie Banks, Don Hoak and Duke Snider. It took Harmon only 96 games to record nine stolen bases, while it took the other four players an average of 138 games to steal the same number.
- Harmon Honored Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 10 1997