Monday, March 19, 2001

Harnisch puts trade speculation aside

Reds will need him to compete

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MYERS, Fla. — Fact: The Reds plan on distributing 10,000 Pete Harnisch bobble-head dolls for a June 15 promotion at Cinergy Field.

        Fiction: The Reds also will issue decals of the 29 other major-league teams so fans can customize their Petey dolls to match his new club.

        The breakdown of talks regarding a contract extension for Harnisch, which became public March 1, was the Reds' only semblance of a spring controversy. Harnisch loudly said the contract stalemate guaranteed he would be traded. But that fuss receded into the background as it became apparent that Cin cinnati needs Harnisch, its only starting pitcher with extensive experience, to have a chance to contend in the National League Central Division.

        Reds general manager Jim Bowden reiterated the Reds' intent to keep Harnisch.

        “He's our No. 1 starter,” Bowden said Sunday. “We hope he's going to win 15 to 20 games and pitch 220 innings.”

        If that happens, Harnisch will be able to name his price — and his team — in the free-agent market. “I get to pick my spot. It'll be fun,” he said.

        The parties have not resumed talks since the Reds balked at Harnisch's initial proposal for a two-year contract worth $16 million or $17 million, depending on which side is talking. But Bowden wouldn't rule out the Reds retaining Harnisch.

        “At least we already know where they stand,” Bowden said. “Hopefully we'll win the division, three million fans will come into the stadium and we'll be able to afford to keep him.”

        Of course, if the Reds have established themselves as also-rans before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, Harnisch is almost sure to be shipped to a contender.

        The uncertainty hasn't bothered Harnisch. He lost

        to the Minnesota Twins 7-2 Sunday, but remained on course for his Opening Day start April 2 against Atlanta by throwing 80 pitches in six innings. His scoreless-innings streak ended at 15 1/3 as he allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits.

        “There are three options next year,” Harnisch said. “One is, I could be here somehow, though I don't know how it would happen. Or I'm going to be a free agent and go somewhere else. Or I'm not going to play. I'm not really that concerned about it.

        “It would be different if I were younger and (wondering) where my future lies, what am I doing. It's not that kind of situation. If I go out and have a decent year, throw strikes and do what I can for the team, I know there'll be enough people interested in me.”

        But several of Harnisch's teammates already have begun to contemplate life without him. And they don't like it.

        As a 12-year veteran, Harnisch is a source of baseball wisdom as well as a highly regarded pitcher.

        “For me, a guy like him has been invaluable,” said right-hander Rob Bell, who has begun his second full season with Harnisch. “I'm trying to learn and perform the best I can. A guy like him around who's seen hitters for 12 years can do nothing for me but help. I don't know what much more you can expect from a player.”

        Harnisch draws players toward him with his sense of humor which sometimes stretches the boundaries of good taste but always remains in good fun.

        “For him to not be here would be devastating to this club, because he keeps us all on our toes,” relief ace Danny Graves said. “He's the leader of the pitching staff, and I think he's the best leader in the clubhouse any team could have.”

        Just ask left fielder Dmitri Young.

        “You can learn from Pete. You can't take baseball all that seriously. The only time you get serious with it is when you're out there doing your job. He makes it a fun experience to come to the park.”


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