Goodbye, Chuck Harmon
(April 23, 1924 – March 19, 2019)
For several years, my oldest son and I would attend the Redsfest event held in December. We met a lot of cool people, got tons of signatures, and always had a good time. I think the highlight of all the Redsfests we have attended occurred in 2010 when we met Chuck Harmon for the first time.
Chuck Harmon became the first African American to appear in a game for the Reds when he pinch hit for Corky Valentine on April 17, 1954. In the same game, Nino Escalera also debuted for the Reds; Esccalera was also black, but was Puerto Rican, not African American. Harmon was an excellent athlete, and also tried out for the Boston Celtics when the NBA was integrated for the 1950-51 season. After failing to make the Celtics, Harmon finished the season as a player-coach for Utica of the American Basketball League. According to Wikipedia, that made him one of the first (and possibly the first) African Americans to coach an integrated professional basketball team.
At the 2010 Redsfest, Harmon was one of the players in the backstage/lounge area reserved for those who purchased Hall of Fame Memberships. He was confined to a wheelchair, and he had someone there with him (I’m assuming it was his son) to carry his things and push the chair. He talked to Joshua and I for several minutes, talking about Jackie Robinson and how Jackie was “a pretty good ballplayer.” As we were getting ready to leave, he told his son to get some cards out of his bag, then asked for a pen to sign one that he had not yet autographed. His son said, “You’re not supposed to do that back here.” Harmon took the cards and pen, looked straight at one of the workers, and said, “Let them sue me!”
He then signed the cards and handed them to my son and I. A truly nice man, and an experience that neither of us will soon forget! On his now-defunct website, Harmon said, “Most importantly, I would most like to be remembered simply as a good person.” There is no doubt that he will be remembered as such by those who met him.
We saw him again the next year, and had him sign a special custom card that I had made from the photo taken in 2010. He was signing copies of his book, but you didn’t have to buy one to get his autograph. Amazingly, there was no one in line to meet him. I still regret not purchasing the book and getting it signed as well.
Harmon passed away on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. I will forever treasure the memory of meeting him.