A passing comment on Twitter has led to my next pet project. I’ve compiled a 25-man roster of the best bad Cubs of my time. Let me clarify a few things right off the bat. I looked at stats, but I really don’t care about your stats-based argument. This is supposed to be fun. Calm down. As you’ll see as the roster develops, personality wasn’t as big a factor as it was for the Bottom 126. However, watching a bad player play well as a Cub made generally made him pretty likeable. I’m starting with the bullpen, then I’ll do the bench, then the starting pitchers, and finally the starting eight. HERE is the roster so far.
Finally, we get to the beef of this roster, and Mike Harkey isn’t even the beefiest member of the starting rotation. Harkey made this roster nearly by virtue of being one of the only 1990s Cubs starting pitchers still drawing breath. He also made it by being a godawful pitcher with flashes of brilliance in a Cub uniform. Though the big lug was oft-injured and definitely infuriating, he was lovable and his eyebrows were the EXACT SAME CUT, COLOR, AND SIZE of his mustache. Seriously, LOOK AT HIS BROWSTACHE.
Despite a mediocre 4.49 ERA and 1.441 WHIP in parts of eight MLB seasons, sixty percent of Harkey’s seasons as a Cub were pretty terrific. For that reason, Harkey claims the first spot in the rotation of the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
Harkey was originally selected by the San Diego Padres in the eighteenth round of the 1984 amateur draft, but he elected to play ball at Cal State Fullerton rather than join a team that employed Steve fucking Garvey. Good choice, Mike! Harkey pitched himself onto all sorts of leaderboard lists for the Titans, including innings pitched (333); uh, walks (120); shit, hits allowed (331); games started (41); strikeouts (281); runs allowed (164); complete games (18); and losses (12). But the Cubs were high on him (and, to be fair, so were a lot of teams), so they selected Harkey with the fourth overall pick of the 1987 draft.
Harkey was great in the minors. He posted a 3.46 ERA in A and AA in 1987, his first professional year. The next year in AA and AAA, he went 16-4 with a 2.41 ERA. That was good enough to earn him a September call-up in 1988. His first start came in the second game of a doubleheader on September 5, 1988. Lee Elia’s Philadelphia Phillies were at Wrigley Field to entertain the jobless cocksuckers in attendance. Harkey was pretty great in his first start. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing 7 hits and 3 earned runs. He struck out 4 Phillies while walking only 1 on 108 pitches. Scott Sanderson blew the save, and the Cubs lost 4-3. But Harkey was going to win SO MANY CY YOUNGS, YOU GUYS.
Despite going 0-3 in 5 starts at the end of the 1988 season, Harkey was good. He posted a 2.60 ERA and a 141 ERA+ in 34 2/3 innings. But Harkey’s shoulder was ouchy for most of the 1989 season, and he made only 12 starts in AAA Iowa.
In 1990, Harkey was back, and the Cubs were ready to slot their future phenom into the starting rotation. Harkey rewarded them with a 12-6 record in 27 starts, a 3.26 ERA and 173 2/3 innings pitched. And…that was the best season the Cubs got out of the big oaf. He even earned himself a few NL Rookie of the Year votes, though he lost out to David Justice.
Harkey was hurt for much of 1991 and 1992, making only 11 starts in those two seasons, yet compiling a 4-2 record with a 3.02 ERA in 56 2/3 innings pitched. I’m not suggesting that if Harkey had been healthy, Jim Essian would still be managing the Cubs. I’m flat-out saying that.
Then came Harkey’s finest moment. Toward the end of the 1992 season, Harkey injured himself doing a cartwheel. He was 6’5″, 220 pounds, his tendons were made out of wet toilet paper, and he was attempting to do a fucking cartwheel in pre-game warm-ups. If you have a Cal State Fullerton diploma, you might as well just go ahead and burn it right now.
Harkey missed the start of the 1993 season, but was back in mid-April. He made 28 starts for the 1993 Cubs, but the results were no longer there. Harkey went 10-10 with a 5.26 ERA and a 1.462 WHIP. He struck out only 67 batters in 157 1/3 innings pitched while walking 43, so the Cubs let him walk as a free agent after the 1993 season.
Harkey signed with the Colorado Rockies prior to the 1994 season and went 1-6 with a 5.79 ERA in 24 games (13 starts) with the Rockies. The Rockies had seen enough, and Harkey signed with the Oakland Athletics for the 1995 season. After starting the season 4-6 with a 6.27 ERA and 28 strikeouts against 31 walks, the A’s waived Harkey and were thrilled when the California Angels swooped in to claim him. Well, “swooped” as much as anyone wanting a terrible pitcher is inclined to swoop.
Harkey was a bit better with the Angels, going 4-3 with a 4.55 ERA in 12 games (8 starts). His command improved, as he struck out 28 and walked 16 in 61 1/3 innings pitched. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Harkey prior to the 1996 season and stuck him in AAA, where he started, closed, and posted a 5.38 ERA. Harkey was last seen in 1997 coming out of the bullpen with the Dodgers, where he had a 4.30 ERA in 14 2/3 innings pitched. At only the age of 30, Harkey made his last MLB appearance on September 28, 1997, bailing out Dennys Reyes by getting Quinton McCracken to ground out with runners at the corners in a 13-9 Dodgers loss.
That sounds about right. Harkey is currently in his sixth season as the bullpen coach for the New York Yankees. He shaved his mustache and waxed his eyebrows. BOOOOO.
Greatest Cub Moment: On August 17, 1990, the Atlanta Braves came to Wrigley Field and sent a guy named John Smoltz to the mound against Harkey. Smoltz was pitching well at 23 years old, and he was coming off an All-Star 1989 season where he finished 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 208 innings. Smoltz was good. But he wasn’t MIKE HARKEY GOOD. The Cubs hit three home runs and scored five off Smoltz in seven innings. Harkey, on the other hand, went the distance, tossing a three-hit shutout with five strikeouts and no walks. The best part is that he did it on only 102 pitches, which was important for Harkey, as the 103rd pitch probably would have killed him. The win was his twelfth and, unfortunately, last of the season.
Worst Moment as a Human: On the other hand, July 25, 1990 was not a good day for Harkey. Harkey was on the mound in St. Louis. Well, briefly, at least. Here’s how Harkey’s third of an inning went:
Single (1 RBI)
Popout to short
Single (1 RBI)
Single (2 RBIs)
Double (3 RBIs)
Replaced by Jeff Pico, who allowed another earned run before getting out of the inning.
Harkey hit the showers with 8 earned runs surrendered on 6 hits and 2 walks. On the other side of the field, John Tudor threw a five-hit shutout for the Cardinals as they won 9-0.