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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Harry Spilman, Be Patient - 210

Originally published June 18, 2010, edited June 2013
Harry Spilman wasn't drafted, he had to attend tryout camps to even get signed. But when he was signed, he excelled. Four years later, in 1978, the Reds farmhand was even talked about as a worthy successor for Pete Rose himself, according to a wire account.

"It's hard to say how long it will take to make the big leagues because the Reds are so loaded," Spilman told The Associated Press in March 1978, his first spring training. "I've got to be patient, but if I have another good year, they'll be watching me."

Spilman had just come off a year at AA that had people watching. Playing for the Reds' Eastern League farm club at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Spilman hit a spectacular .373 with 16 home runs. He also earned the only unanimous selection to the Eastern League All-Star team that year.

Spilman did all that after being signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 1974.

After that first big league spring training, Spilman spent 1978 at AAA Indianapolis, hitting a still-good .295, before Reds fans had the opportunity to watch him that September, for four games. And, while he never lived up to the Rose talk that spring, he did have a career that spanned 12 major league seasons.

Spilman played in four straight seasons for the Reds, but never in more than 63 games. His best year for the Reds ended up being 1980, when he hit .267. The Reds traded him mid-1981 to the Astros.

Spilman played with the Astros through 1985. He never got in more than 44 games for the club, but he did make his impact. And he also made himself a good friend.

On April 19, 1983, Spilman even won a game for the Astros, and it was against his old team, the Reds. With two outs, in the bottom of the ninth, Spilman came to bat as a pinch-hitter with two on. The Astros were also down by two. He promptly deposited a Tom Hume pitch over the right field wall for a walk-off win, according to The AP.

"Guys you trade seem to come back to haunt you," Reds manager Russ Nixon told The AP. "You've got to give him credit. He hit a bad pitch. ... I know the pitch was up. I know it had to be up to go that far."

Spilman would move on to the Tigers and then the Giants in 1986. It was with the Giants in 1987 that Spilman met up with his old friend from the Astros, on the playing field. Spilman became just another strike-out victim for future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

It was something that some held as a badge of honor. So, in 1989, when the Rangers compiled a list of Ryan's victims and Spilman wasn't on it, he was agitated, according to The New York Times. He called up his friend and, by that time neighbor, to complain.

Spilman returned to the Astros in 1988, playing 32 games for Houston in 1989. He hung on at AAA Tucson for 1990, ending his career with 563 total games played.

His playing career over, Spilman stayed in baseball. He signed on with the Indians as a minor league hitting instructor. He would go on to a career as minor league manager and hitting coach. For 2013, Spilman continues with the Rangers, as a special minor league assistant in hitting.

But one of his early successes, according to The New York Times, was simply getting a future major league star to call home. In 1991, playing for rookie league Burlington, the Indians' new first-round draft pick started off in a nervous slump.

Spilman took him aside. The 19-year-old only six years out of the Dominican Republic was obviously homesick. Spilman's advice seemed to work.

"I asked him, 'Have you called your mom yet?' " Spilman told The Times, as the subject of his comments, Manny Ramirez, stretched with his teammates. "He said he hadn't. I said, 'Well, call your mom.' "

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