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Friday, November 20, 2020

Milt Harper worked to win over decade as pro, made AA, Taiwan; Died in Taiwan in 1993 at age 31

Even though it was only a spring training game, Milt Harper's walk-off single for his Cleveland Indians still saw Harper's teammates celebrate, The Arizona Daily Star wrote

Harper explained the celebration afterward to The Daily Star.

"You try to win all games no matter what," Harper told The Daily Star.

Harper helped win enough games in his career to get him to AA, but not higher. His playing ability, however, eventually got him overseas, to three seasons in Taiwan

His time in Taiwan, however, ultimately ended in his death at the age of 31.

Harper's career began in 1984, signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent out of California, after only having picked up the game his senior year in high school.

Harper started with the Indians at single-A Waterloo. He hit .278 in 110 games. He returned to Waterloo and got a look at AA Waterbury for 1985 and saw Waterbury again for 1986. He hit .223 in 50 games there, his season cut short by an elbow injury that required surgery.

He played at single-A Kinston for 1987, where he hit 20 home runs, then got his spring look with the Indians for 1988. His work that spring drew praise from manager Doc Edwards, according to The Associated Press.

"He is really a good-looking first baseman," Edwards told The AP. "And the thing I like about him offensively is that he's a guy who can hit for power, a high average and still draws a lot of walks."

Harper played that year at AA Williamsport.  He hit .225 in 122 games. He then moved to single-A Reno in 1989 and returned there for 1990. He hit 25 home runs with a .275 average at Reno in 1989 and 20 home runs with a .317 average in 1990.

Harper then moved to Taiwan for 1991. He first played for Uni-President. He hit .300, had 13 home runs. He played for Uni-President and Wei Chuan for 1992 and then Wei Chuan again in 1993. He hit .305 over 90 games that year, with 15 home runs.

Then, on Oct. 16, 1993, he fell to his death from a Taiwan high rise. Harper's death was initially ruled a suicide, but witnesses later told police they'd heard an argument, according to The Reno Gazette-Journal, citing USA Today's Baseball Weekly.

Some accusations were brought in his death, but a man initially accused had been cleared by April 1994, according to The San Bernardino County Sun.

After Harper's passing, The Gazette-Journal noted Harper signed on with Reno in 1989 and, in 1990, he'd been voted by fans most popular player. The club's then general manager Jack Patton also recalled Harper's work.

"Milt Harper was the best player to ever play for me," Patton told The Gazette-Journal.

1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:3,508
Made the Majors:1,223-34.9%
Never Made Majors:2,285-65.1%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors:509
10+ Seasons in the Minors:300-X

1 comment:

  1. I have great memories both personal and professional of Milt Harper. He was a star on and off the field.

    Milt played for us on our independent Reno team in 1989. For the 1990 season we were a co-op team with a coaching staff and most of our players provided by the Cleveland Indians. I had to sign my own players to fill out the team and Milt was at the top of my list. Right before the season started Milt suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the first six weeks.

    Our team got off to a slow start. Most of the young Indians players were struggling and in over their heads in the Cal League. One of Cleveland's minor league instructors came to Reno to assess the situation. After watching a few games he asked to meet with me. In our meeting he tried to tell me that the problem was with the players I had signed and he wanted me to release them. Pulling out a stat sheet, I pointed out that ALL of the players I signed were performing better than the Indians players. In particular, since Milt was a FORMER Indians farm hand, he wanted me to get rid of him. I told him that I would take Milt over any TEN of the Indians players who were on the team and that Milt wasn't going anywhere. Our meeting ended at that point and we never spoke to each other again.

    Coincidently, when Milt was healthy and joined the team, the Silver Sox took off and had one of the best records in professional baseball from mid-May through June. The 1990 Reno Silver Sox finished the season with a record above .500...the first time a Co-Op/Independent team had done that in the Cal League in 40 years!!

    I will forever be saddened at the loss of Milt Harper, but will also forever have a smile on my face when I think of him. RIP my friend.

    - Jack Patton, Reno Silver Sox 1989 - 1992