When you need a man coming up in a big spot (and what’s bigger than kicking off the annual Mets’ Fantasy Camp Blog?) who better to have to step up to the plate than all-time pinch-hit king Lenny Harris?
We sat down for an interview with the former Met:
Chayim: You’re known as the greatest pinch-hitter of all time. Do you take that as a backhanded compliment or an achievement to be proud of?
Lenny: That’s a nickname from one of my teammates, Juan Pierre, so I just went ahead and rolled with it. Doesn’t bother me much… I just went ahead and wore it.
Chayim: But is it a point of pride? You hold the record…
Lenny: Not really man. I don’t thrive on it. When people see me, that’s what they tell me. It just comes with the territory
Chayim: Can you still do it?
Lenny: No, no.
Chayim: Lenny, you were in the league forever (18 seasons), what’s your craziest prank or story?
Lenny: When I first got called up to the Bigs, the Cincinnati security guards played a prank on me, they wouldn’t let me in. I was outside for 45 minutes, that was probably the funniest prank I’ve been a part of.
Chayim: Lenny, what’s your take on Baseball getting rid of collisions at the plate?
Lenny: Well, a lot of things are safer now, even in Football. If it’s a situation that if you can prevent it, I can understand it. Way I see it, as long as you go in high, it’s not a problem. Going down low, catchers breaking ankles and stuff….
Chayim: Why not take away the break-up-a-double-play slide at second base too while you’re at it?
Lenny: From a defensive standpoint, if you use the bag to protect yourself, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Chayim: 18 years in the league, who was your best teammate?
Lenny: 2000 Mets was the most fun I ever had with a whole buncha guys. We did everything together, we had a lot of fun, we laughed together. We didn’t win a title, we went to the World Series (and lost to the Yankees) but Al Leiter, Johnny Franco… we had a lot of fun together.
Chayim: Speaking of that club, that was one of the most important teams NY’s ever had. You were on the field for that 9/11 game, can you walk me through that?
Lenny : It was touching obviously, Bobby Valentine got us together, took us out to (Ground Zero)… I think it was important for the city – someone had said “the game must go on”. We were really just trying to help the kids… it was very touching. The fans came out – we were all tearing up about it because we were all feeling that same pain. Then Piazza hit that home run, it was a blessing. A blessing for the city of New York.
Chayim: What was the atmosphere like before the game?
Lenny: It was like a funeral man. We were all sitting around in the locker room, we weren’t sure if we were gonna play the game. Bobby Valentine gathered us around and said “hey, let’s do this for the city of NY”. We had some of the kids who lost their parents in the attack in the locker –room. It was real tough.
Chayim: It’s hard to believe it’s been twelve years but were you flashing back, watching David Ortiz addressing Boston after the Marathon bombing?
Lenny: I knew what he was going through, I knew what he was feeling. It was just a sad sad moment. Tragedy happens while we play the game of baseball that we love. There are situation that happen in life, like those guys that go serve overseas. They’re out there getting shot at while we are hitting baseball making a lot of money. Those people that go over there and survive and come back, it’s very touching. You can look back and say that you were blessed.
Chayim: You lost to the Yankees in the World Series with the Mets – you got vengeance a few years later. How sweet was it to win your first ring with your hometown team against the Yankees?
Lenny: The New York Yankees are so good as a team- it’s hard to beat that team because they never quit. They’re different. They put on their pants just like us and we do the same things but there’s something about that team – that team never quit. A team pretty much like the (’03) Marlins. When we were down against the Cubs, (Leyland) came to the back of the bus and told us “we’re gonna win the next two games. If you don’t think we’re gonna win the next two games, don’t get on this bus”. And that was really important for us because we were really down, trailing and going up against Woods and Prior, they’re two stallions. If he didn’t do that I don’t think we would’ve won because we were really down.
When we got to the World Series, Josh Beckett, we used to play cards all the time, and he said to me (before game 6), “All-Time (Harris’s nickname), you’re gonna get that ring tonight. I guarantee it.” Just like that…It was just the blood flowing through that ball-club. We knew we were gonna win and no-one thought we were gonna win.
Chayim: Beckett was nasty in that series. Who’s the nastiest pitcher you’ve faced?
Lenny: John Candelaria was filthy. They were telling me “you’re lucky you didn’t face him in his younger days.” I got him when he was a little older but I thought he was nasty. Sid Fernandez too.
Chayim: Every hitter’s got a star pitcher they own. Give me a big name that you just owned –
Lenny: I can’t tell you that man ‘cuz when I got hot, I hit everybody. Didn’t matter who was out there. I respect them. I never felt like I “owned” guys because they always got me out too. When I was hot, I hit anybody. I can’t give you a name that I “owned”.
Chayim: 18 years in the bigs, 18 years in Big-League locker-rooms. Did you see any PED-use?
Lenny: Nah… I never saw anything. I don’t think it happened in the locker-rooms, I think that stuff happened before they got to the locker room.
Chayim: But it wasn’t much of a secret, right? Players knew?
Lenny: I mean, they’d see a little guy hitting the ball harder than they could and they’d be like “he’s just a little guy, how’s he hitting the ball so hard?” Some guys knew. I didn’t pay any attention because it didn’t have nothing to do with me. I’m hitting 3 or 4 home runs a year. If I’m hitting 30, then you should probably come check me. I stayed out of it. It’s not like it wasn’t available; you could go to a store and get it but me? I hated getting a physical, you know? Drawing blood… I’m not sticking myself with a needle.
Chayim: Let me ask you one last PED Question. You get a vote – Is Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer?
Lenny: Numbers-wise, yes! I always said, Barry was the best ballplayer I’ve ever seen. When I went to Pittsburgh and watched him dominate us – I’d never seen anything like that. When his name came up and people asked how do you pitch him, I say “walk him”. The investigation and all that stuff, that’s up to them but numbers-wise? I thought he was the best player I’ve ever seen.
Chayim: How bout McGwire?
Lenny: I love Big Mac. Strong guy, he’s a friendly guy. If he thought he did the wrong thing, I’m sure he would’ve said so. Hitting a baseball’s still the hardest thing to do and he did it. And how many pitchers were using steroids? They say there’s guys that took steroids and still couldn’t hit so what’s that tell you? I used to laugh about that… you don’t just take drugs and learn how to hit. So it’s hard to debate situations like this.
Chayim: So Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, you’d put them in?
Lenny: Numbers-wise? Without a doubt.
Chayim: Last question. You get to run a Lenny Harris fantasy camp, who are you inviting?
Lenny: (chuckles), That’d be tough man, I’d have to invite everyone I’ve played with…
Chayim: ...That’s about 2,000 players
Lenny: You know what I’d do? I’d probably put my buddy Todd Benzinger at first, Bret Boone at second, Barry Larkin at short, Chris Sabo at third, Kal Daniels in left, Eric Davis in center, Paul O’Neil in right, Joe Oliver behind the plate, and I’d probably put Tom Browning on the mound with me coming off the bench pinch-hitting.
Chayim: An all-Reds fantasy camp…
Lenny: (laughing) Yup
Chayim: You didn’t have to tell me who the pinch-hitter was-
Lenny: You already know…
WLIE 540 AM SPORTSTALKNY Staff Writer
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