Toby Harrah, the last man standing

November 29, 2017:

Colbert Dale “Toby” Harrah, the last active player who had worn a Senators’ uniform, wasn’t really ready to be a regular major league shortstop in 1971, but with Ed Brinkman traded to Detroit, the job became his. Not surprisingly, he was over-matched, but then so was the entire team after Bob Short was done making dreadful deals on his way to Texas.

Harrah kept getting better after the move and by 1975, he was arguably the best shortstop in the American League. The Sporting News named him to its post-season All-Star team. After the ’77 season, Harrah was clearly on top after hitting 27 homers and drawing a lToby Harrraheague-leading 109 walks. He even told the Washington Post‘s Thomas Boswell as much in an essay in 1982 about the players who were in the starting lineup on that last opening day in Washington. He was just stating fact: “I was the best in the game…. The numbers said so.”

He was an OK fielder, but would never be mistaken for Ozzie Smith. Harrah twice led A.L. shortstops in errors, although by a stat that wasn’t around back then — range factor– he was among the league’s 10 best three times before he moved to third base and then to second at the end of his career.

That opening day in ’71 was Harrah’s first start in the majors. The expansion Nats beat Oakland and Vida Blue, 8-0, behind Dick Bosman. Harrah had two singles and a walk and scored twice. But by season’s end, he was hitting .230 and had driven in just 22 runs. He  got himself up to .230 after being as low as .211 on September 5.

“I couldn’t believe I was playing shortstop for that team,” Harrah told Boswell for the book, How Life Imitates the World Series (Washington Post Writer’s Group, 1982). Harrah remembers the season vividly, even if the Nats did finish last. “It’s the most fun I ever had on any club.”

Harrah was at bat in the bottom of the eighth inning at RFK Stadium on Sept. 30, 1971, the last game the expansion Senators played. After taking a pitch for a ball, Harrah was left at the plate when Tom McGraw was caught stealing. So not only was Toby the last active player to have worn at Nats’ uniform, he also was the last Senator who came up to bat.

Harrah was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in Ohio and signed December 27, 1966. He was taken by Washington in the minor league draft the next November, a move made by then-General Manager George Selkirk.

Harrah made four All-Star teams during his 17 years as a player, including representing a dreadful Texas team in 1972. On June 25, 1976, he set an unusual record: Despite playing the entire 18 innings at shortstop during a doubleheader, he didn’t handle a single fielding chance.

When he retired as a player after the 1986 season, he managed several seasons at AAA and spent half a season as the Rangers’ manager in 1992. He had been a coach there since 1989. He later coached with the Tigers and Indians at various levels. He turned 70 on October 26, 2018.

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