“There are a lot of men like Harry Warner at the fringes of the game,” observed Minneapolis Tribune columnist Doug Grow shortly after the 1982 World Series. “The game grabs them young and holds on forever. And it doesn’t give them a whole bunch in return.”
Be that as it may, Warner certainly appreciated what he did receive. “It’s something you can’t put into words,” he told Grow. “We were playing that big series in Baltimore at the end of the season and I was standing by (pitcher) Doc Medich during the national anthem. He looks to me and says, ‘I’ve been waiting 10 years for this.’ I said, ‘Try 37 on for size.’”1
Warner was 53 years old at that time. Harry Clinton Warner was born on December 11, 1928, in Reeders, an unincorporated community in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, and though Warner worked all over North America, Reeders was always his home.
He was the third child of four born to the former Alice E. Butz and Milo Norman Warner. Brother Max was the oldest, and Harry was born between sisters Betty and Nita. However, the three youngest almost weren’t born at all. On the morning of September 20, 1919, Alice was working in the family’s general store when she was robbed at gunpoint by a robber later identified as Steve Lepaske. The robber took $76 and fled into the dense woods. State police searched in vain for the robber. Meanwhile, Norman Warner and a few friends had formed a posse, which found the gunman at an abandoned huckleberry picker’s cabin and exchanged shots with him. Lepaske escaped into a large swamp, and a group of troopers later captured him. He soon confessed to robbing a store in Bear Creek as well, and to holding up people in a car nearby. He was sentenced to nine years in the Eastern Penitentiary.2
Happily, when Harry made a big splash in the news at the age of 9, it was all good. In early September of 1938 he was fishing at the Reeders Trout Lake Pond and reeled in a bullhead catfish plus a 20-inch pickerel weighing about three pounds. Pennsylvania Angler magazine was so impressed by Harry’s haul that it reported on it in two different issues.3
Harry was a basketball and baseball star at Pocono High School.4 He attended Muhlenberg College in nearby Allentown for one year, but in mid-1946 he informed his father that he wouldn’t return to school. He was working that summer and playing for the Reeders team on Sundays when he was persuaded to try minor-league baseball by Marty Baldwin, president of the Stroudsburg Poconos of the Class D North Atlantic League.5 He’d be playing about 10 miles from home.
Warner’s batting average was above .290 each year with Stroudsburg from 1947 through 1949, but when he started with the team in 1946 he hit only .255 in 24 games. Luckily for him, he made a great first impression as a newcomer: In his very first game he smacked two homers and a double.6 His manager that season was Joe Antolick, whose major-league career consisted of four games for the Phillies in 1944. Only one of the Poconos would later play major-league ball: fellow novice Harry Schaeffer, who pitched in five games for the Yankees in 1952.
At the start of Warner’s minor-league career he was taking home $48.02 every two weeks. He played mostly at second base that first season but for the rest of his career was primarily a first baseman. In 1947 Stroudsburg became a Yankees affiliate for one season and in 1949 it was an Indians affiliate. In 1949 Warner hit a staggering .347 and drove in 125 runs in 127 games. Boston Braves scout Honey Russell persuaded his bosses to purchase Warner’s contract from the Poconos.7 The Braves were one of the two major-league franchises Warner was associated with during his playing days. He did well for Wisconsin’s Eau Claire Bears in the Class C Northern League, batting .285 with 12 homers in 112 games, but success with his new team at a higher level was overshadowed by the death of his mother in 1950.
Warner was promoted to Boston’s Class B team in Evansville, Indiana, for 1951 and 1952. Despite low batting averages, for 1953 he was promoted again by the now Milwaukee Braves, to the Class A team in Jacksonville, Florida. Reminiscing more than 20 years later, he said a highlight that year was playing with Hank Aaron just before the future Hall of Famer broke into the majors.8
For 1954 Warner played the farthest from home, in Oregon, when he was assigned to the Class A Salem Senators, a Phillies affiliate. He made The Sporting News when the league suspended him for “allegedly” pushing umpire Lowell Fulk during a home game on August 12.9 Regardless, his batting average rebounded very nicely that season. In fact, 1954 was the only year among his seven at the Class A level in which he batted above .300 and had a slugging percentage above .500 (.315 and .535).
Warner returned to the Jacksonville Braves for 1955, batted .274, and for 1956 Milwaukee promoted him to the Austin Senators in the Double-A Texas League. His 29 games with Austin constituted his only playing time at the Double-A level. Back home in the Stroudsburg area, Daily Record sports editor Bob Clark commented cryptically on Warner’s departure from Austin, and Milwaukee’s organization, during May of that year. Warner switched to the Class A Charlotte Hornets in the Washington Senators’ farm system and received a new contract “with a substantial cash agreement,” according to Clark, who credited Warner with “showing major league diplomacy in financial problems.”10 By mid-August, new manager Rollie Hemsley was crediting Charlotte’s dramatic improvement to the arrival of Warner, Harmon Killebrew, and veteran minor-league catcher José “Joe” Montalvo. Clark noted that Hemsley had Warner “batting in the No. 3 spot ahead of Killebrew, the Senators hope for future stardom.”11
Warner spent the rest of his playing career in Washington’s organization, and continued in it when the Senators became the Minnesota Twins. After his second year with Charlotte, his life baseball entered a brand-new phase: On December 22, 1957, he married Betty J. Bost of Rock Hill, North Carolina, an Eastern Airlines stewardess, at St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charlotte. His best man was Hornets teammate Glenn Zimmerman.12 The Warners celebrated the birth of their daughter Cynthia Louise on September 17, 1958. They had two other daughters, Dina Lynn and Beth Alice, born in 1962 and 1965, respectively.13
Warner played for Charlotte through 1959 but by the dawn of the 1960s he had turned 31 years old. He transitioned to player-manager for three seasons, two at Class D Erie and one with the Class B Wilson Tobs in the Carolina League. All told, he played 17 years in the minors and batted .279; seven of those seasons were at the Class A level, and in those he batted .272.
Midway through his last season before managing, an article drawing from an interview with Warner appeared in the Charlotte Observer. It stressed that he hadn’t come very close to playing in the majors after more than 13 seasons of pro ball, and Bob Clark said the writer “attempted to reveal to his reading public a sort of dejected figure.” Clark continued:
“Harry is far from a person who is down in the dumps. He has a right to be, especially since the year the Washington Senators purchased his contract and then never gave him a chance to work out with the Nats in spring training. … In our conversation with Harry we never heard him complain once about his missed opportunities. Always it was good words for those who he worked under. While the feature bit by the Charlotte Observer newsman was the tear-jerking type piece, we know for certain Harry would never want it that way. He’s not that type of a man.”14
Warner’s winning percentage as Erie’s manager in 1960 was an impressive .643, and he followed that up with a mark of .544 in 1961. Though his 1962 Tobs had a losing record, when Warner became a manager exclusively for 1963, he was promoted to Class A Orlando. He led them through 1965 and again in 1969. With the exception of the latter year, he spent 1966 through 1971 managing Charlotte, now at the Double-A level. His peak winning percentage managing each of those teams was .606 with Orlando in 1969 and .648 with Charlotte in 1971.
During that final season at Orlando, Warner was asked about the stresses of managing a successful club. “I don’t let it get the best of me,” he asserted. “My philosophy is to leave the game at the ballpark. If you take it home with you and start figuring out what might have happened if you’d done this or that, then it starts eating at you.”15
Warner’s .648 winning percentage with Charlotte in 1971 was his best ever as a manager, and it earned him a year leading the Triple-A Tacoma Twins. That team had a record of 65-83 in 1972 under Warner, and through 1976 he bounced around the nation with four more single-season managing assignments, though he led three of his teams to winning records.
After more than three decades in the minor leagues, the previous 21 in the same franchise’s system, Warner’s concern that he would never get to work in a major-league dugout was understandable. Suddenly, in mid-October of 1976, that dream came true when Roy Hartsfield offered him a coaching job with the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. Hartsfield and Warner had managed against each other in 1963 and 1964 in the Florida State League. “I wanted to coach badly in the big leagues,” Warner admitted at the time. “There was nowhere for me to go in the Twins organization.”16
Warner was the bullpen coach for the Blue Jays during their first three years of existence. In 1978 he subbed for his boss toward the end of May while Hartsfield’s wife underwent surgery. Though the Jays lost nine games and won only three under Warner, his first game managing was a win over the Yankees. The game ball was one of the few mementos he kept 20 years later, when he expressed some regret about not having more. “I was never one to get autographs, but when I look back I could have gotten a lot from prominent people who attended games,” he said. He recalled President Richard Nixon and Hollywood legend Bob Hope among the famous people he encountered.17
Like almost all expansion teams, the Blue Jays struggled early on. They lost more than 100 games in the three years Hartsfield managed them, and maintaining morale can be tricky under such circumstances. Ken Carson, who was the trainer for Toronto for a decade, recalled that Warner and first-base coach Don Leppert helped by playing frequent practical jokes. Warner and Leppert were both in Milwaukee’s farm system in 1955 and may have met during spring training before or after that season.
Carson recalled two pranks in particular that played out publicly, and both times the target was Doug Passmore, the team’s kitchen attendant. Once Warner and Leppert “hired a moving firm to take his stove and refrigerator and set them along the third-base line.” Carson said Passmore himself “really kept the clubhouse loose” but was also known for yelling at umpires during games. As a solo prank, Warner conspired with AL umpire Bill Deegan before a game to eject Passmore as his screaming peaked that day. Carson said Passmore was permanently cured of the habit afterward. Carson was also the victim of a scheme at least once, though more behind-the-scenes:
“After our first road tip, we came into the clubhouse and the grounds crew had put up some shelving in my trainer’s room. I was upset because I never asked them to do it and I didn’t want the shelves. I insisted they take them down. It took them a long time to do it, having to patch holes and paint. Harry and Don knew I was upset so they just had to do another prank. They arrived at the ballpark early the next morning and took about five hours to put the shelves back up again before I got there. I walked in, saw it and couldn’t help but laugh.”18
Hartsfield was fired after the 1979 season, and hitting coach Bobby Doerr was the only prominent member of Hartsfield’s staff retained by new manager Bobby Mattick. For Warner, 1979 became sad for a second reason: His father died that year.
However, on December 4, a week before Warner’s 51st birthday, the Blue Jays announced that he would manage the Syracuse Chiefs in the Triple-A International League. He spoke candidly when interviewed by Syracuse sportswriter Rick Burton. “I’ve only managed in the minors for 17 years, so I’m not overly enthused that I’m managing again,” Warner said. Burton characterized Warner’s reaction as understandable. “A coach (or manager) needs four years in the major leagues to qualify for the fairly lucrative pension program,” Burton noted. “Warner, with three years under his belt, is short by one baseball season.” Burton said Warner faced a paradox: If he succeeded at Syracuse, he might be stuck managing in the minors again. Burton then spoke to the likelihood that Warner’s work at Syracuse would be valued. “He is credited with having done so much to recognize and establish the potentials of such baseball stars as Rod Carew, Graig Nettles, and Butch Wynegar — all of whom he managed while working in the Minnesota Twins organization,” Burton wrote. “Carew even reportedly said that Warner is the reason he stayed in baseball when he seriously considered quitting in 1964.”20
Syracuse had a losing record under Warner, but he was invited back to the Twins for the final month of the 1980 season. Two reasons for the decision were announced. One was that 11 players on Toronto’s roster at the time played for Warner at Syracuse, and the parent club’s front office wanted him to provide insights about them firsthand. The other reason was kindness, stemming from awareness of his pension situation. Warner was quite happy.21
On October 13, 1980, Brewers manager Buck Rodgers hired Harry Warner to coach third base the following season. “I’ve known him for quite a while,” Rodgers said at the time, while heaping praise on Warner.22 They had played against one another in the South Atlantic League during 1959 and both managed in the California League during 1975. That was Rodgers’ first season as a manager, and Warner’s Reno Silver Sox walked away with the pennant.
Warner was the third-base coach of the Brewers in 1981 and 1982. Not surprisingly, he was still glowing about the 1982 World Series when interviewed by a reporter back home in 1998. “It made all the time I put in the minor leagues worthwhile,” he said. “When you think of all the good players, managers and coaches who never got to the World Series, all in all it was quite an experience.”23
Warner returned to Minnesota’s organization for a final year of minor-league managing in 1983, for the Visalia Oaks of the Class A California League. He proved that he still had that managerial magic by leading the Oaks to a .621 winning percentage. In 19 seasons as a minor-league manager he achieved a winning percentage of .529, and his mark at the Double-A level for six of those seasons was .520.
From 1984 to 1990 Warner maintained his connection to major-league baseball as a scout for the Twins and the San Diego Padres. His wife, Betty, died on January 8, 1994, and he was a widower for more than a decade.24
In that 1998 interview, Warner acknowledged that his managerial career was tough on his family. Though they always kept a house in Reeders, Betty would take the three girls to whatever minor-league city Harry was assigned to. In a way, Betty may have perceived her husband as the head of a very large extended family that included the young men he was guiding. “It’s their first time away from home,” Harry noted, “and you have to be Mommy, Daddy and a psychologist.”
Warner’s obituary, composed by his daughters after he died on April 11, 2015, seemed to dovetail with his own perception of his role from 1960 into the 1980s. “Harry will always be remembered as a great coach and mentor to many baseball players and helped mold their careers,” it read. “He touched many lives and was full of encouragement.”25
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Doug Grow, “Little Man Hopes to Find Baseball Life after World Series,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 5, 1982: 2C.
2 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Biennial Report of the Department of State Police for the Years 1918-1919, 1920, 135. The genealogical information is primarily from the 1930 and 1940 federal censuses, plus Warner’s obituary at wmhclarkfuneralhome.com/obituary/3033502.
3 “Here and There in Anglerdom,” Pennsylvania Angler, February 1939: 24; “Nice Pickerel,” Pennsylvania Angler, January 1940: 23.
4 Jim Riley, “Life of Riley,” Daily Record (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania), June 11, 1953: 12.
5 Marta Lindenmoyer, “44 Seasons in the Sun,” Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania), July 13, 1998: poconorecord.com/article/19980713/Features/307139991.
6 Lindenmoyer; “Harry Warner Gives Talk on Baseball,” Pocono Record, September 26, 1968: 15.
7 Joe DeVivo, “Harry Warner Finally Gets His Major League Chance,” Pocono Record, December 17, 1976: 19. Despite Warner’s gaudy numbers, it wasn’t easy to stand out on that team. The 1949 Stroudsburg Poconos, with a record of 101-36, are ranked as one of the top 100 minor-league teams of all time. See milb.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=64, with commentary by Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright. Warner’s detailed statistics for 1949 and three later seasons are provided by Jamie Selko in Minor League All-Star Teams, 1922-1962 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007). See Warner’s name in the book’s index.
9 “Chiefs Upset Bronc Cart,” The Sporting News, September 1, 1954: 33.
10 Bob Clark, “Off the Record,” Stroudsburg Daily Record, May 29, 1956: 12.
11 Bob Clark, “Off the Record,” Stroudsburg Daily Record, August 15, 1956: 12.
12 “Harry Warner Married in Charlotte, N.C., Church,” Stroudsburg Daily Record, January 2, 1958: 10.
13 “Warner Baby Baptized,” Pocono Record, November 19, 1958: 26, “Hospital Notes,” Stroudsburg Daily Record, March 13, 1962: 3; “The Baby’s Named,” Pocono Record, March 23, 1965: 5.
14 Bob Clark, “Off the Record,” Stroudsburg Daily Record, July 23, 1959: 13.
15 Jim Haynes, “Now Let’s Settle Down,” Orlando Sentinel, July 21, 1969: 17.
18 Ken Carson with Larry Millson, From Hockey to Baseball: I Kept Them in Stitches (Victoria, British Columbia: FriesenPress, 2016), 98-99.
19 Bob Elliott, “Rangers Coach Has Canadian Roots,” Sudbury (Ontario) Star, April 23, 2009: B2.
20 Rick Burton, “Chiefs’ New Chief Has Vast Experience in Minors,” Syracuse Post-Standard, December 5, 1979: C1.
21 “Warner Gets Call to Help Blue Jays,” Medicine Hat (Alberta) News, September 6, 1980: 15.
22 “Warner Is Picked as Brewer Coach,” Milwaukee Sentinel, October 14, 1890: Part 2, Page 2.