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Vic Harris

Elander Victor Harris
Nickname: Vic

Career: 1923-1950
Positions: lf, rf, cf, 1b, manager, coach
Teams: Cleveland Tate Stars (1923), Toledo Tigers (1923), Cleveland Browns (1924), Chicago American Giants (1924-1925), Homestead Grays (1925-1933, 1935-1948), Detroit Wolves (1932), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1934), defense work (1943), Baltimore Elite Giants (1949), Birmingham Black Barons (1950)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 10''   Weight: 168
Born: June 10, 1905, Pensacola, Florida
Died: February 23, 1978, San Fernando, California

Vic Harris spent almost his entire career with the Homestead Grays, logging twenty-three years with the organization as player and manager. His career spanned the three eras of the Grays' greatness, first as a player on the teams of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and then as a player-manager of the revitalized dynasty that captured nine consecutive Negro National League pennants from 11937 to 1945, and in his final year as a manager of the Grays, when, featuring a number of young ballplayers, Homestead captured the last Negro National League championship.

As a player, the left-handed batter was a consistent spray hitter with a short, compact swing; he slapped the ball to all fields. He was a smart hitter with good bat control, making him a good hit-and-run man. Although he had only moderate power and a bit of a weakness on high fast balls, he hit for a good average and finished his career with a lifetime .299 batting average. Defensively, he was a good fielder in each phase of the game and gave a little extra hustle on the playing field. Underrated, in his prime he was one of the best players in the game, and as he got older he was still valuable as an utility outfielder and pinch hitter. He appeared in six East-West All Star games, ranging from a starting spot in left field in the inaugural game in 1933 to a pinch-running appearance in the 1947 contest.

A native Floridian, he moved to Pittsburgh in 1914 and began playing baseball with the YMCA. Owner Cum Posey wanted him for the Grays, but he began his professional career in 1923 as an infielder with the Cleveland Tate Stars. hitting .304 for the Negro National League team. The next season he began the year with the Cleveland Browns, who had replaced the Tate Stars in the Negro National League, but joined Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants later in the season, batting a combined .277. The next season he signed with Foster's team but jumped to Posey's Grays, who were playing as an independent team, and was installed as the regular left fielder, usually hitting in the second or third spot in the batting order. Posey continued to improve the team, and in 1929 he entered the American Negro League, with Harris batting leadoff and contributing a .333 average to the team's effort.

During the next two years the Grays fielded their strongest team since their inception, with Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Smokey Joe Williams joining Harris on the team. In this great aggregation of talent, Hams moved down to the sixth slot in the batting order and was credited with averages of .324 and .237 as the Grays copped top honors in the East each season. After these two great seasons, Gus Greenlee began raiding Posey's ballclub. For two years Harris resisted the offers, remaining with the Grays and hitting .348 and .351 as the Gray's leadoff man, but in 1934 he succumbed to Greenlee's entreaties and signed with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, hitting .360 in his only year away from the Grays.

In 1935, Posey lured Harris back with the offer of a position as player manager of the Grays. In his first year back in Homestead he hit .370, but it was not until Josh Gibson rejoined the Grays in 1937 that the team began their "long Gray line" of nine straight pennants. Already a fifteen year veteran, Harris continued as the regular left fielder as he guided the Grays to six straight pennants, with the last one culminating in the first World Series between the Negro American League and the Negro National League. Unfortunately, the Grays lost the World Series to the Kansas City Monarchs.

In 1938 the playing manager hit for a .380 batting average, slugged 10 home runs, and stole 17 bases to lead his team to what some observers feel was their best season during the dynasty years. That season the Grays won the first half with a .813 winning percentage, and captured the second half as well to avoid the necessity of a playoff.

Harris had good speed and was a capable base stealer and feared base runner who thought the basepaths belonged to him. A slashing scrapper, he played to win, and his zealous hustle and aggressiveness often went beyond the bounds of reckless abandon, earning him the sobriquet "Vicious Vic" and the reputation as one of the "four big, bad men of black baseball." He was good with his fists and quick to use them. Once when the team was traveling by automobile and a player in the car that he was driving engaged in verbal comments that Harris found offensive, he stopped the car, pulled the player from the car, and physically whipped him on the spot. Considered by many to be a dirty ballplayer, on another occasion, while engaged in an argument with an umpire, he spit in the arbiter's face.

In many ways his behavior toward umpires was in contrast to the generally quiet approach he used with his players, never saying too much and preferring to inspire them by example to give their maximum effort. Although he was not noted s as a brilliant strategist, the players responded to the fiery manger by giving good performances on the baseball diamond.

After the five straight pennants, Harris interrupted his managerial career for two seasons, taking a leave of absence from the post to take a job in a defense plant in 1943-1944. Although he continued to play with the Grays when his work schedule permitted, he did not return to the helm until he guided the club to another Negro National League flag in 1945. After two years without a pennant, he directed them to another championship in 1948, as they won the Negro National League playoff and defeated the Birmingham Black Barons in the World Series. He coached for the 1949 Baltimore Elite Giants, who won the Negro American League championship, and managed the Birmingham Black Barons in 1950.

During his career he also played and managed, in the Caribbean, playing with Santa Clara in Cuba in 1937-1939 and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1935-1936, while returning a decade later to manage the Santurce teams in the Puerto Rican league in the winters of 1947-1950.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Vic Harris photo

Vic Harris