Glancing Back, and Remembering Steve Hargan
There is one aspect of major league pitching that is better today than it was in the 1960s: the medicine behind it. In the days before Tommy John surgery and rotator cuff repair, arm injuries were, more often than not, fatal to a promising pitcher’s career. Misdiagnosed injuries too often led to conditions that could be avoided – or rehabilitated – today.
Steve Hargan was 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with 6 shutouts and finishing second in complete games.
Today’s sports medicine might well have extended the career of a Hall of Famer such as Don Drysdale, or an outstanding hurler who might have been a HOFer such as Mel Stottlemyre, or a pitcher who showed great promise and occasional flashes or brilliance such as Steve Hargan.
Hargan was an outstanding all-around athlete who attracted the attention of major league scouts with his fastball. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and spent the next four seasons moving methodically through the Indians’ farm system. In Class D ball he learned the art of throwing the slider from Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, and the addition of that pitch began his transformation from thrower to pitcher.
In 1965 Hargan was invited to the Indians’ spring training camp, but found the Tribe’s starting rotation already well-stocked with the likes of Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, Ralph Terry and Jack Kralick. Hargan opened the 1965 season at the Indians’ AAA club in Portland, going 13-5 with a 2.91 ERA in 24 starts. He was called up to Cleveland in August and went 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA as a starter and reliever.
He started the 1966 season in the Cleveland bullpen, but worked his way into the starting rotation and finished that season at 13-10 with a 2.48 ERA. He went 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with six shutouts and finishing second in complete games (to Dean Chance) with 15.
That was when the arm problems began. He started experiencing tendonitis and bone spurs in his pitching elbow and went 8-15 in 1968 and 5-14 in 1969. Now primarily a sinkerball pitcher, Hargan had a strong comeback season in 1970, going 11-3 with a 2.90 ERA. But his arm problems returned in 1971 when his record slipped to 1-13, and he was returned to the minors in 1972 after an 0-3 start. It looked like his career was over at age 29.
Hargan made an impressive comeback to the big leagues, going 12-9 for the Texas Rangers in 1974 and 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 1975. He worked primarily as a reliever for the Rangers in 1976, going 8-8. He was drafted by the expansion Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 1977 season, was traded back to the Rangers and then was traded to the Atlanta Braves. His combined record for 1977 was 2-6 with a 6.55 ERA. He retired after the 1977 season.
Hargan put in 12 major league seasons – eight with Cleveland – for a combined record of 87-107 with a 3.92 ERA. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1967.
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