During a professional baseball career of 20 years the much-traveled Harry Bright played in nearly 2,000 games. None of his exploits on the playing field, not even all of his 1,966 major and minor league hits, earned Harry Bright as much notoriety as one time at bat in the 1963 World Series.
It was the opening game of the fall classic between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Behind the pitching of Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers had take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. At the end of the eighth, a note on the scoreboard said that Koufax had tied the record for the most strikeouts in a World Series game. The first two outs in the ninth were routine putouts. With only one more chance for Koufax to break the record, Bright strode to the plate to pinch-hit for pitcher Steve Hamilton. He ran the count to 2 balls and 2 strikes before swinging and missing. Koufax had his record 15th strikeout, the crowd erupted, the Dodgers won the game, and Harry Bright became a footnote in the record books. “It’s a hell of a thing,” Bright said. “I wait 17 years to get into a World Series. Then when I finally get up there, and 69,000 people are yelling—yelling for me to strike out.”1
Harry James Bright was born on September 22, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, the third of five children of Frank William Bright, a chauffeur, and Maude Lois (Hayward) Bright. At a very early age the youngster earned a reputation for hs baseball prowess on the playgrounds of Kansas City. When he was 16 years old, he was signed as a catching prospect by Yankees scout Bill Essick. The teenager threw and batted right-handed, stood 6 feet tall and weighed 175 pounds. (Later his frame filled out to a sturdy 190 pounds.) The minor leagues were just resuming play after a great scaled-back operation during World War II. Frank Lane, director of the Yankees farm system, said the young catcher had a good arm and was a hitter. He assigned him to the Twin Falls (Idaho) Cowboys of the Class C Pioneer League. One spring day the umpires were late for arriving for a twin bill, so the 16-year-old rookie umpired behind the plate in the opener of the doubleheader. Bright did not hit well in Idaho and was demoted to Fond du Lac in the Class D Wisconsin State League, the first of many moves he was to make during his career. In a 12-year stretch from 1046 through 1957 he played for 14 different minor league clubs.
As a Yankees farmhand Bright never lived up to his promise. By 1950 he was the property of the Chicago Cubs and was assigned to the Clovis Pioneers of the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League. In the rarified air of that semi-arid area, Harry hit his stride, leading the leasue with a sensational .413 batting average. He hit 19 home runs in 95 games and compiled a .704 slugging percentage. Two years later he was playing manager for the Janesville Cubs in the Class D Wisconsin State League. At 22 he was the youngest manager in Organized Baseball that season and the youngest ever in the Wisconsin State League. He was no longer strictly a catcher. For Janesville, he managed, caught, played third base and the outfield—and drove the team bus. Such was life in the lower minors. He led the Cubs in hitting with a .325 average and led the league with a club-record 101 runs batted in.
In 1953 Bright was acquired by the Chicago White Sox and assigned to their Memphis affiliate in the Double-A Southern Association, where he had a solid season, playing second base and hitting .295. By this time he had played every position except pitcher. In December the Detroity Tigers secured him in the Rule 5 draft for $7,500. During spring training in 1954, he played well and was given an excellent chance to win the second-base position. However, he lost out to Frank Bolling and it was back to the minors—Little Rock, Buffalo, and Sacramento. Bright had four good years with the Solons, earning him another shot at the majors. In July 1958 the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased his contract. After 12 years in the minors, Bright finally made his major-league debut at the age of 28 on July 25, 1958, coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement for third baseman Frank Thomas. For the remainder of 1958 and all of 1959, Bright was mainly a benchwarmer for the Pirates, pinch-hitting and getting into an occasion game at second base, third base, or the outfield. In the pennant-winning season of 1960, he played no games in the field, and pinch-hit only four times, getting no hits in the entire season. Not surprisingly, he was left off the World Series roster.
In December 1960 Bright was traded with pitcher Bennie Daniels and first baseman R.C. Stevens to the Washington Senators for pitcher Bobby Shantz. Playing mostly third base in 1961 and first base in 1962, Bright had his two best major league years with the Senators. In 192 he appeared in 113 games, batted .273, and hit 17 homers. After the season he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for first baseman Rogelio Alvarez. After playing only one game for the Reds, he was purchased by the New York Yankees. For the Yanks he got into 60 games as first baseman, third baseman, outfielder, or pinch hitter. In his 17th season in professional ball he finally got in a World Series, famously striking out against Sandy Koufax in his first time at bat and repeating the act against Johnny Podres the next day in his only other World Series appearance.
In 1964 Bright played in only four games for the Yankees, spending most of the season with their Triple-A farm club in Richmond, Virginia. He was released in September before getting a chance at World Series redemption. The Chicago Cubs signed him as a free agent the following spring and he played his last major league game on June 30, 1965, before being sent to Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. In 1966 the Cubs moved their PCL franchise to Tacoma, where Bright played in 83 games. After not breaking into the major leagues until he was 28 years old, Bright had spent all or part of the next eight years in the majors.
In 1967 the Cubs named Bright manager of their farm club in Quincy of the Class A Midwest League—15 years after he had first held the managerial reins in Janesville. During the next nine years, Bright managed seven clubs in six leagues. It seems he was on the move almost every year—San Antonio, Elmira, Coos Bay, Burlington, Binghamton, Sacramento, and Tucson between 1968 and 1976.
When he managed the Sacramento Solons the club was an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. After the 1975 season the Brewers dropped their agreement with the Solons in order to associate themselves with the new PCL club in Spokane. Bright indicated to the United Press International that he would like to quit the Brewers organization to stay in Sacramento. El Paso Herald-Post, August 22, 1975.) However, the Texas Rangers, who took over the Solons, did not offer Bright a contract. In December he accepted a position as manager of the Tucson Toros, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The Toros did not play up to the expectations that were held for them, and Bright was fired on July 30, 1976.
“I am now a scout and instructor,” Bright told sportswriter Steve Weston. “I am to do advance scouting for the big club and instruct in the spring.”2 However, the A’s, under owner Charlie Finley, were an organization in disarray in 1976, and Bright was not with them long. On December 7 United Press International reported that the Montreal Expos had hired him as a scout. Bright remained with the Expos organization the rest of his baseball career. In 1985 he had a final managerial fling with the Carolina Bulls, and Rxpo affiliate in the Carolina League.
Greg Van Dusen, who was public relations director and a radio announcer for Sacramento when Bright managed the Solons in 1975, said of Bright: “He was a colorful Runyonesque character. He had a passion for the game and for life.”3 As a manager Bright became known for his dislike of umpires. Once during a minor-league game he dropped his trousers and climbed a backstop to show his displeasure with a call. He carried his antipathy toward umpires into retirement. “I remember we were at an old-timers game and Harry saw former umpire Emmett Ashford across the lobby of the Sacramento Inn,” Van Dusen said. “The next thing you knew they were bumping midsections, and within 30 seconds they’re literally rolling around on the floor. People were laughing, but they weren’t kidding. They had to be separated.4
For many years Bright made his home in Sacramento with his wife, Agnes, and his daughter, Linda.. (He had established his residence in Sacramento, and maintained a home there even when managing in other cities.) He died of an apparent stroke in California’s capital city on March 13, 2000, at the age of 70. He was survived by Agnes, his wife of 50 years; a stepson, Larry Weaver, of Wellington, Kansas; and two grandchildren, Mildred and Heather Tibke of Sacramento. Daughter Linda had died in 1996. There were no funeral services for Harry Bright.
This biography is included in the book “Sweet ’60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2013), edited by Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.
1 Harry Bright, quoted in “K is for Koufax,” Time, October 11, 1963.
2 Tucson Daily Citizen, July 31, 1976.
3 Greg Van Dusen, quoted by Jim Van Vliet, Sacramento Bee, March 13, 2000.