Thomas William Harkness was born December 23, 1937 in Quebec, Canada. Growing up in Canada, Harkness was a good hockey player and actually thought about perusing an NHL career. Instead he chose baseball, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1956.
In April of 1957 the six foot two, first baseman was traded along with Elmer Valo to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Chico Fernandez.
He would hit 118 HRs in the minors, including 28 at AA Atlanta in 1960, making him a power hitting prospect.
He was a minor league team mate of Tommy Lasorda in Montreal and the two played ball in Cuba just as Fidel Castro took power. During a game, Clay Bryant accidentally hit one of the armed Cuban soldiers. The soldier had a fit, pointing his gun straight at Harkness. Tommy Lasorda was the only person who spoke Spanish for the American team, he explained the situation and helped ease the tension. Harkness says “He saved my life, he belongs in the Hall of Fame”.
In 1961 he hit another 17 HRs in the minors & had to be brought up in September. He debuted on September 12th 1961 as a pinch hitter. He played in five games & made the club out of Spring Training in 1962. In 1962 he managed to get into 98 games & hit .258 with the Dodgers. He hit his first two big league HRs that season, one of them against Ray Daviault of the Mets in a 16-5 Dodger win in August.
Gil Hodges was still at first base for the Dodgers after so many years in 1961, with the likes of Norm Larker & Ron Fairly waiting in the wings, there was no place for Harkness as a starter in Los Angeles.
That November of 1962 he was traded with Larry Burright to the New York Mets in exchange for one of two pitchers named Bob Miller. Fairly won the first base job in Los Angeles as e veteran Hodges also went to the New York Mets.
Harkness won the job as the Mets main first baseman right away in 1963, playing in 123 games. He was a streak hitter on a bad ball club, his hottest month was May when he hit 4 HRs with 15 RBIs, including six multi RBI games. On May 8th he hit a two run HR off the Phillies Ray Culp in a 3-2 Mets win.
On June 26th 1963 at the Polo Grounds, Harkness brought one of the most exciting wins to the early days of the New York Mets. With the Mets down 6-4 to the Chicago Cubs in the 14th inning, Harkness delivered with a walk off grand slam HR against Jim Brewer scoring Ron Hunt, Jimmy Piersall & Hawk Taylor. The small crowd of almost nine thousand were delighted to say the least.
He would miss two weeks of action in July & then a short time in August as well. He would only drive in two runs in those two months but have a strong September. On September 1st, Harness hit a first inning HR off Bob Hendley & the Atlanta Braves at the Polo Grounds. The game would go on tied 4-4 into the 16th inning, when Harness ended it, with a walk off two run HR off Bobbt Tiefenauer for a 6-4 win. That month he drove in a dozen runs although eight of them came in the first two weeks.
Harkness batted just .211, but even with that average he was hitting better than Ed Kranepool & Choo Choo Coleman. He hit 10 HRs with 12 doubles 41 HRs & a low .290 on base %. He was 8th in the league in getting hit by pitches (7).
He started out the first two weeks of 1964 looking real good, batting .400 and driving in eight runs. On April 17th 1964 he made Mets history, as the first Mets batter to come to bat in the new Shea Stadium. In his next at bat he was the first Met to get at hit at the new Shea, putting him in the Mets record books once again.
On May 29th he drove in all three Mets runs with a three run HR off the Cardinals Bob Gibson, in a losing effort. On May 7th he hit a two run HR off the Reds Jim Maloney but once again provided all the Mets offense in the 3-2 loss. Eventually his hot streak wore off, after entering May batting .385 in just a month he slumped to .244 and he lost his job to the young Ed Kranepool.
He missed two months of action and returned in July and was hitting well again, on another hot streak.
He would only be on the team for two more weeks, because back in those days a team could get rid of you quite easily, if you said the wrong thing.
According to legend, during a pre game interview with Howard Cosell, Harkness agreed that Casey Stengel would fall asleep in the dugout. Stengel & the team were angered by his honesties & he was gone. Before he left, he was hitting safely in eight out of his last ten games, with 13 hits, including a four hit day against the Milwaukee Braves.
He went to the Cincinnati Reds in 1965 but didn’t make the team, & played two more seasons in the minor leagues before finishing his career at age 29. In a four year career Harkness was a lifetime .235 hitter with 132 hits 14 HRs, 61 RBIs, & a .315 % in 259 games played.
Retirement: He went on to play in Canada and later became a highly successful MLB scout.
In 1996 he was named the Scout of the Year while working with the San Diego Padres. In the early to mid 2000’s he managed the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team.