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Sunday column: More on the J-Hay piece

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Morning, Lunatics …

The Sunday column is about Josh Harrison. I hope you have a chance to read this one.

I have many people to thank for above-and-beyond cooperation for this piece, notably Bonita Harrison for the background and the unbelievable photo that accompanies the online column, Brian Cleary for the University of Cincinnati background and Jeff Branson for his help in assessing the current Harrison at the plate.

Here’s a video interview of Branson, the Pirates’ hitting coach, from yesterday:

I’ve also got a related story for you here on the blog, one that really didn’t fit with the column:

Four years ago, the guy researching, ranking and writing the Pirates’ minor-leaguers for Baseball America’s annual Prospect Handbook had hit a wall.

The system’s top 29 prospects were all done, but a 30th and final prospect was needed. And that was always the most challenging choice. That was the one that would cast off everyone else as spare parts or journeymen in the industry’s most-read journal.

Tough call.

But no tougher than the call that researcher guy got one day from  Harrison’s agent, Jonathan Maurer. Maurer wasn’t one of the big shots in the business, so he was more attentive than most at looking after his lesser clients’ needs. And he wanted to do all he could to ensure Harrison’s name made it into this book.

“I’ll tell you this right now,” Maurer spoke into his cell after making an impassioned case. “If you leave him out, you’re going to look pretty dumb when he makes it.”

The researcher guy promised he’d do his diligence. No. 30 was down to Harrison and pitcher Phillip Irwin. So he called Darren Mazeroski, son of Bill and the scout who’d signed Irwin. Younger Maz put in some good words for his pitcher but wasn’t overly convincing.

The next call went to Jeff Banister, the Pirates’ current bench coach but then a roving minor-league instructor.

“It’s got to be Harrison,” Banister said, almost with a sigh. “All he does is prove us wrong. He’ll prove you wrong, too.”

Well, yesterday, the researcher guy approach Banister again, this time in the Pirates’ dugout just after batting practice and asked Banister if he happened to remember this.

‘Sure do,’ Banister came back. ‘And you picked him 30th just to make sure you wouldn’t look stupid.’

That’s right, the researcher guy replied. And from there, it was only the Pirates who could look stupid, he added.

‘Ha!’ Banister exclaimed. ‘Only when we leave him out of the lineup.’

Banny and I shook hands, and I was off to file the column.

The Pirates are five over .500 after flattening the Phillies again. Rob Biertempfel reports from PNC Park.

Gerrit Cole insists he’s fine, by Karen Price.

Tony Watson as All-Star? Biertempfel makes a case.

Top prospect Alen Hanson rebounds from discipline, by Bob Cohn in Altoona.

Here’s Phillies news from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Here are official game highlights on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Pirates page, our Bucco Blog and our photo gallery.

I’ll be back at the ballpark today for a Monday column on the Pirates, then take two weeks of vacation. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. Brandon says:

    Great article on Harrison…really appreciate the behind-the-scenes info and family background. You just can’t project “heart” when today’s game focuses on metrics. Loved this story!

  2. Jim S. says:


    I know I’ll be voting for this column as one of your best of the year, eventually. It was so entertaining. I found it personally uplifting because my son is a young ball player, and he has not quite hit his growth spurt yet. So, he is always battling against much bigger and stronger players in a very competitive environment, and that can be very tough. Josh’s story gives him reason to keep battling. Thank you for bringing us his story.

    How can any fan not root for Josh Harrison? He has obviously meant so much to this team this year. He is, quite simply, a ball player. A good ball player. The Pirates are fortunate to have him.

  3. Patrick(ri) says:

    Well put, Jim. It is guys like him that make it possible to suspend the reality of “its just a business” and be a fan. I guess you could say the same for the author.

  4. Bizrow says:

    That is still the thing about baseball, you don’t have to be huge to succeed in this game. Just have a huge heart ;-)

  5. Ghost says:

    With Jim and Brandon. Everything DK writes is so readable, but these background pieces on players really set him apart. A selection of them should be published.

    Also, great to hear how Bonita Harrison formed her own team so little Josh could get onto the field. We owe you, Mom!

  6. Reading says:

    Outstanding column on J-Hay. I didn’t know much about his background other than he went to Univ. of Cincinnati and the Pirates got him from the Cubs. I like him as a player because he does not look for walks. Instead, he gets in the box looking to hit the ball hard someplace–and usually does. He broke up Verlander’s no-hitter, and a couple of weeks ago drilled Chapman’s 102 mph pitch into left center. I’ve never understood the comments on here about his fielding. He gets the job done wherever they put him on the field. He deserves the shot at regular playing time he’s getting now. In my book, it’s been long overdue.

  7. Maz in Iowa says:

    Nice to hear about Harrison.Also great to see Mercer is 8-11.Very quietly hitting over .300 the last 5 weeks.If Davis/Gaby/Pedro pick it up this team could be in first by the end of the month.Since Cole is OK …if the pen can pitch clean innings the near future could be bright.

  8. War_Horse says:

    It takes a big-hearted writer to put together such a heartfelt profile of Josh Harrison. Well done, DK. In some ways, Harrison reminds me a bit of Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox. Although Josh is having his best year, Pedroia has been playing with distinction for years and years. They’re the same height but not the same weight–Pedroia is listed at 165 and Josh is 200. Pedroia is not big on smiles, but the determination to succeed is there. Josh smiles all the time.
    It was interesting to note that while Harrison says the big step forward is due to being allowed to play regularly, batting coach Jeff Branson says it’s his self-confidence (“…believing in himself”) that’s made the difference. If so, it says a lot for Hurdle and the coaching staff to have given Josh the morale boost he needed.

  9. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    Oh c’mon, Mercer is taller than the average shortstop, but I certainly don’t believe he is 8 foot 11 inches!
    Seriously though, I listen to every game so it’s not quietly for me. I bet the Phillies are asking “Who is this Jordy Mercer thug and why does he keep beating the daylights out of us?” He had a nice complement yesterday when they intentionally walked him after hitting doubles in his first two at-bats.

  10. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    Nice Josh Harrison story DK. I’ve been saying everywhere since early last season, If the Pirates had started 2013 with Josh Harrison instead of Brandon Inge they definitely would have won more games. The best thing they did last year was release Brandon Inge and bring up J-Hay. Too bad they waited so long to do it.

  11. John Lease says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Harrison has done well when he’s gotten a chance to play. Brandon Inge shouldn’t have made the team at all. He was Brent Morel, except older.

  12. tomf says:

    there have been some ridiculous – and incorrect – comments on this blog about Harrison’s defense

    and it is not limited to bloggers – the local media has participated also

    few weeks ago a KDKA sports person attempted to describe Harrison’s lack of experience and defensive ability in the OF – by illustrating something Harrison actually did correctly

  13. tomf says:

    while this is true – still a tough obstacle to overcome

    you will see as many or more small guys succeed on the football field than the baseball field (higher levels)

  14. tomf says:

    In low A ball Harrison actually walked frequently ; his walk rate was in the league’s top 10

    it was after that point Harrison began to focus on swinging/hitting more (and then rarely saw a 2-ball count; let alone walked)

  15. Excellent column.

  16. Naje says:

    Yeah, that decision had a huge effect on those 94 wins.

    Ever stop to think that maybe that fueled Harrison to put the finishing touches on his super-utility roles?

  17. Naje says:


  18. bpn8pitt says:

    While I still think Harrisons numbers will eventually go back to his career norms, there is no denying his first half contributions. Without him, Volquez and Worley, this is probably a sub .500 team. Who would have thought those three being big contributors back in March? Certainly not me.

    I am still concerned however that the Pirates have just feasted on some bad competition of late. Ultimately this team just can’t afford to blow in-division series anymore. Two big ones coming up.

  19. chethejet1 says:

    Nothing wrong with rooting for a player. Plays hard and gives his all. Great example of maximizing ones talent with effort. Love to get a sweep today but I thought a 7-3 home stand would be very good. Possible 8-2 is outstanding. Locke gives the bucs a LH pitcher and tough to take him out if he continues to pitch well.

  20. Jim S. says:

    New high water mark now for the Bucs in terms of games over .500 at 5. A chance again for the first sweep of the year. A chance for that 8-2 homestand that we all wanted to see. Locke vs AJ. I would like to think we’ll win easily, but I believe AJ will make it tough and the Bucs will need to scratch out a tough one in front of the 7th sellout crowd of the homestand. PNC Park has become the place to be.

  21. Jim S. says:

    Rosenthal of the Cardinals is now struggling mightily finishing games. He very neatly blew a 3-0 lead on Friday, narrowly hanging on 3-2 when Casey McGehee rolled into a DP.

    Last night, McGehee got Rosenthal for the tying hit in the 9th, then scored the winning run after Rosenthal was pulled by Matheny.

    Rosenthal now has a 3.76 ERA. There are definitely cracks in the Cardinals pitching armor. Shelby Miller gave up 9 hits in 5+ innings.

    Bucs are only .5 games out of 2nd place now.

  22. BillyBaduka says:

    This is the place to be:

  23. Sarcastic Sword says:

    Will there be a discussion here or a column by DK discussing the A’s/Cubs deal and would the Pirates ever have the guts to do a similar deal in blueprint by making a gigantic deal for the present by giving up highly rated assets?

    If I was an A’s fan, I would be in heaven right now. No one off the 25 man was traded – they did have to demote Tommy Millone who was 6-0 in prior ten starts to make room for Samardzija. Thats a gutsy GM going for it now.

    As long as the current ownership is in place, this type of trade that improves current roster ( and increases payroll) by dealing assets that will make the 25 man roster in a yr or two will never be considered in my opinion.

  24. Jim S. says:

    The Maiestro.

  25. The Gunner says:


    There’s a big part of me that wants the Buccos to rough up AJ pretty good today.

  26. Maz in Iowa says:

    There’s an even bigger part of me. :)

  27. JohninOshkosh says:

    Could be a tremendous Wimbledon men’s final. Federer may have found fountain of youth and Djokovic is playing banged up.

    Women’s final yesterday was a blow out. The young Canadian was overmatched.

  28. The Gunner says:

    Great minds think alike, Maz !

  29. Maz in Iowa says:

    Philli have a junior varsity line up today

  30. DJ says:

    Hope we hang 6 or 7 on AJ, we sweep and AJ fades to a distant memory.

    Bored of the feel-good AJ homecoming story. Maybe it’s just me.

  31. The Gunner says:

    Amen, DJ – I don’t dislike AJ but, I think a good whipping is in order for #34.

    Ha ha!

  32. dennis g. says:

    Not too many linemen who are small of stature, in fact there are none. In baseball there are many Hall-of-Famers smaller than Harrison and playing every position as well as manager, Smallest players actually have been on the basketball court.

  33. Thundercrack says:

    I haven’t read DK’s column on JHay yet, but I think it is OK for me to share an email exchange I had with Dejan backin April of 2010. I asked him “Do the Pirates think Josh Harrison is a real legitimate prospect?”

    DK’s reply was:
    Harrison would need to improve a lot to be considered a bench guy. The 2B I would watch is Jarek Cunningham. They really like him.

    To me it just goes to show that players can improve and change the impression that teams have of them. And it can also go the other way. And even though people are paid to evaluate talent….it ain’t an easy job.

  34. Jim S. says:


  35. Jim S. says:

    Every part of me wants us to rough him up today, Gunner. I’m with you on that. I just have a feeling he keeps them in it.

  36. Jim S. says:

    I haven’t seen the lineup. Who is in there, Maz?

  37. The Gunner says:

    You are probably right, Jim but I can always hope. A sweep would be great!

  38. Jim S. says:

    I think we’ll get the sweep, Gunner. I just think it will be a bit like yesterday. Maybe 4-2 or so, which is fine.

  39. tomf says:

    MJD (Maurice Jones Drew)
    LSH (Larod Stephens-Howling)
    Darren Sproles
    Wes Welker
    Danny Woodhead
    Ray Rice
    Steve Smith
    Dexter McCluster
    Doug Martin
    Jim Leonhard

    Bob Sanders

    relatively recent Steelers include Chris Rainey, Stefan Logan, Troy Edwards (and LSH)

    I could go on and on and on

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