Known as “Handsome Harry” for his movie star good looks, James Harry Taylor was born on May 20, 1919, in East Glenn, Indiana, near Terre Haute in the west-central part of the state. Taylor was one of four children born to Cyrus and Lottie Burk Taylor. He had two brothers, Paul and Kenneth, and a sister, Betty. In 1938, after graduating from Fayette High School, he signed to play for Tallahassee, a Dodgers affiliate in the Class D Georgia-Florida League, but was released without ever getting into a game.
Nineteen days later, on the advice of scout Chick Mattick, the Chicago White Sox signed Taylor and sent him to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. Except for a brief stay with Richmond of the Class B Piedmont League in 1939, Harryr remained with St. Paul until he enlisted in the Army in 1941. Pitching mostly in relief, he won nine games and lost twenty-seven over three years, with an earned-run average of 5.30.
During his time in the military Taylor managed and played for several Army teams, pitching three no-hitters. On December 6, 1942, while stationed at Camp Gordon Johnston in Carrabelle, Florida, he married Beulah June ‘Boots” Collins. Harry’s wife was also from Indiana, having been born March 19, 1920, in Tecumseh, Indiana.
When Taylor returned to St. Paul in 1946, the Saints were a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. His years in the service had been beneficial to his baseball career. Taylor credited his playing baseball in the army with creating a turning point in his career. “Before I went into the army I didn’t study the game much,” he said. “Because I was the only guy with pro experience on the team, I was made manager. Then I came down with an injury and couldn’t play so I had to manage the team from the bench. Sitting there and watching, I began to follow the game in all of its phases. I’m sure it had a lot to do with my success after my hitch was over.”
Taylor, a six-feet-one, 175-pound right-hander, threw with three different motions; overhand, three-quarters, and side-arm. He liked to make the batter guess what angle the next pitch was coming from. He used either his fastball or his curve as his out-pitch, though when in a jam, he preferred to throw the curveball.
By June 5, 1946 Harry had already won seven games for the Saints and was called the “league’s leading chucker” by The Sporting News. He was one of six pitchers selected for the eleventh annual American Association All-Star game. In Louisville, on August 18, he came within a “scratch bingle” of pitching a no-hitter. Overall, he won a league-leading fifteen games against seven losses with an ERA of 3.33 and ninety-one strikeouts. The Dodgers noticed. On September 3 they paid St. Paul $15,000 for Harry’s contract. Two weeks later, after the Saints were eliminated from the American Association playoffs, he was called up to Brooklyn.
The Dodgers and the Cardinals were in the midst of a very tight pennant race when Taylor made his major-league debut at Boston on September 22. With two on and one out in the seventh inning, and the Braves up 4–2, Harry struck out the next two batters to end the threat. On September 25 he was one of a then National League record eight pitchers used in an 11–9 loss to the Phillies. In all, he pitched four and two-thirds innings in four games, with no decisions.
In 1947 Taylor made the team out of spring training, winning a spot in the bullpen. But on May 28, with the Dodgers trailing the Chicago Cubs by a half game, new manager Burt Shotton inserted Taylor into the starting rotation. Harry pitched a complete-game five-hitter to defeat the New York Giants, 14–2. He also had two hits and two runs batted in. Taylor’s win and a Cubs’ loss put Brooklyn into first place. Four days later he pitched another complete game in leading the Dodgers to a 6–1 victory over St. Louis, and he followed with a two-hit shutout against Pittsburgh. By July 4 Taylor had seven victories and seven complete games in ten starts. On July 29 Taylor’s three-hit shutout at St. Louis helped the Dodgers stretch their lead to eight games over the New York Giants.
An injury Taylor suffered in a game against the Cardinals on August 18 may have been the reason for his short career. Harry hurt his elbow as he threw a curve to the Cardinals’ Whitey Kurowski, and while he got credit for his tenth victory, it would be his last of the season. Taylor did not pitch again for more than five weeks, and when he did come back, he threw just four innings in two relief appearances. He attributed his elbow trouble to an old injury; whether or not that was true, Taylor was never again the same pitcher. He ended the regular season with a record of 10-5 and a 3.11 earned run average.
The Dodgers won the pennant, and manager Shotton reluctantly started Taylor against the Yankees in Game Four of the World Series at Ebbets Field. The first four Yankees reached base on two hits, an error, and a bases-loaded walk to Joe DiMaggio. When Dodgers coach Clyde Sukeforth came to the mound to take Taylor out, Harry said stubbornly, “I haven’t started to pitch yet, Sukey.” Sukeforth replied, “I know, but we haven’t any more bases to put those fellows on.”
Taylor’s inauspicious performance, which would be his only World Series appearance, was overshadowed by the dramatic events at the end of the game. The Dodgers were held hitless by Yankees pitcher Floyd Bevens until Harry Lavagetto delivered a game-winning double with two outs in the ninth inning. The Series went seven games before the Yankees triumphed.
Taylor won his first start in 1948, a 5–3 decision over the Giants on April 22. But an emergency appendectomy seven days later kept him from pitching again until he made a two-inning relief appearance on May 26. From there on, he was largely ineffective. By July 19, when he was 1-4 with a 5.16 ERA, the Dodgers sent him back to St. Paul to make room for twenty-one-year-old Carl Erskine. Taylor pitched in nine games for the Saints, logged a 3-4 record with a 3.95 ERA, and returned to the Dodgers in September. He finished the ’48 season with two victories, seven losses, and a 5.36 ERA.
Taylor never again pitched for Brooklyn. He spent the next two seasons with St. Paul, going 11-6 with a 3.89 ERA in 1949 and 13-9 with a 4.02 ERA in 1950. On September 18, 1950, with Taylor out of options, the Dodgers sold him to the Boston Red Sox in a cash deal, variously reported as “considerable” and “not too far from the $100,000 level.”
The Red Sox were still in the pennant race, and Taylor wasted no time trying to impress his new manager, Steve O’Neill. He pitched a two-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 25 and a six-hit victory over the Yankees on October 1, the last day of the season. O’Neill liked what he saw and declared that Taylor “will be a big winner for us next year.” But when next year came, the magic had disappeared. Taylor’s 1951 record was 4-9, and his 5.75 ERA was the worst of his major-league career. He started eight times in thirty-one appearances, gave up 100 hits in eighty0one and a third innings and walked nearly twice as many (42) as he struck out (22).
In the first week of the 1952 season, Taylor pitched a six-hit victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. On May 4, he pitched one inning in relief against the Cleveland Indians. Soon after, the Red Sox sent him to the Louisville Colonels, where he spent the rest of the season. Back in the American Association, he was 9-10 for the Colonels with a 4.32 ERA in 25 games.
Taylor was with the Williston (North Dakota) Oilers of the semipro ManDak League in 1953, where he was 9-2. In 1955 he pitched for the Paris (Illinois) Lakers in the Class D Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, going 7-2 with a 3.82 ERA, and then retired from baseball. In his six major-league seasons, Harry Taylor won nineteen, lost twenty-one, and had a 4.10 earned run average.
After leaving baseball, Taylor lived in Shirkieville, Indiana, near his home town, and did some farming. He later worked for the Bemis Manufacturing Co. and Visqueen, a maker of building products. He was a member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni and the West Terre Haute Masonic Lodge.
Taylor’s wife June had died on February, 1, 1984. Harry died on November 5, 2000. He left a son, James Taylor, who lives in Florida.
Barber, Red. 1947—When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1982.
New York Daily News, 1947
Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 1999
Harry Taylor’s player file; National Baseball Library.