Dodgers in Time-Mike Hartley

The Dodgers in time series covers important Dodgers in time. Some may be players, some may be coaches, or managers, executives, concession workers, writers, and some are fans. In today’s Dodger in Time piece I will be profiling a young Dodger flame-thrower who debuted with the Dodgers 23 years ago. The right handed hurler will not be profiled for his accomplishments on the field, but instead for a single act of kindness. The next Dodger in time is…pitcher Mike Hartley.

 

Sometimes a single act of kindness can be remembered as much as a great play in the field or a walk-off home run. Almost 21 years later, Mike Hartley’s act of kindness is still not forgotten. It will be forever ingrained in my memory.

Mike Hartley was a 28-year old right handed relief pitcher when he made his MLB debut with the Dodgers on September 10, 1989. Hartley who was from Hawthorne, California, and he was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Cardinals in 1981. Eight years later he made his debut for the Dodgers. Stacie and I had vaguely heard of him, but we knew he was a hard thrower, and that he was considerably old to be making his MLB debut.

Hartley was pretty good for the Dodgers in his two seasons with the club. He pitched in five games his first year in 1989. The next season was perhaps his best. Hartley pitched in 32 games in 1990, posting a 6-3 record and a 2.95 ERA. Hartley even was a starting pitcher for a brief time, able to fill in because of injuries. He made six starts that season, and he pitched a comeplete game shutout on Spetember 6, 1990. He would make only one more  start after that. His 8.6 whiff per nine rate that year was the highest of his career.

Little did I know that our paths would cross on one fateful night on July 30 of 1991. The Dodgers had just beat the Mets, and Stacie, my Uncle, and myself were walking out of Dodger Stadium feeling pretty good. We decided to wait for autographs which was a postgame tradition in those days. We would always bring our autograph books with us just in case. We always loved waiting for autographs. It was like looking for buried treasure. A lot of waiting and digging, but once your patience paid off, it was like finding gold. Of course the Darryl Strawberry autograph was like the Mona Lisa of autos.

Stacie and I would always talk about different autographs we got or wanted, and of course the great white whale called Strawberry. One day we would! It was next to impossible to get the Moby Dick of autographs, as he only signed for five minutes before leaving. After every game we would wait outside of the Dodger player parking lot behind center field.

The chain-link gate surrounding the parking lot was about eight feet tall making it impossible for Stacie and I too successfully obtain the autographs we wanted. Since our Uncle Mark is 6’4, we would just give him our autograph books, and he would just stand and hang them over the fence. He had a good four foot reach anyways. We would just shout and scream with the other swarm of Dodger fans clamoring for autographs. Now that I think about, if it weren’t for my Uncle, we may never have gotten any autographs. Curse my short stature I remember thinking, depriving me of Dodger autographs.

That particular night looked like we were about to get shutout. Only a few Dodgers were signing, and after the last few players had filed out, we were about ready to leave. It was about midnight. Back in those days we would wait for hours after the game, and you could park wherever you wanted. With the parking lot nearly empty, I saw one last Dodger walking out, and I yelled to Stacie and my Uncle to wait. That Dodger was Mike Hartley.

There were maybe about 15 or 20 of us left. We ran over to ask him for an autograph. The rest of the horde followed suit, but what Hartley did next was something you just don’t see every day. Hartley opened the gate, and he told all of us to line up single file, and he would sign for everyone who was still there.

So that is what he did. We waited in the single file line just outside the Dodger player parking lot that summer’s eve. Hartley had one of the security guards bring him  a chair, and he sat down and instructed us all to line up. One by one he signed everyone’s autograph, signed everyone’s Baseballs, hats, and cards. Whatever you wanted signed, all we had to do was ask. Back in those days before the internet and social media, fans weren’t as connected with the players as we are now. Unless you went to a signing event, the only other way to meet your favorite players was before or after games.

Hartley was one of the nicest guys in Baseball I have ever met. He talked to each fan, like you would talk to your friend or neighbor. As each of us walked up to get our hats or balls signed, he would ask us if we had enjoyed the game and what are names were. He thanked us for coming out and told us to drive safe. He signed for everyone that night. As we walked to the car and drove home, we found ourselves talking about one thing. It wasn’t the game or the fact the Dodgers were in a tight division race with the Braves that year. No, all we could talk about was how nice Mike Hartley was. What a nice guy we all said.

The very next day, Stacie told me to turn on the tv and turn it to ESPN. Why I said? She told me I wouldn’t believe it. I turned on the TV, and there it was. The headline read, “Dodger relief pitcher Mike Hartley and minor league outfielder traded to the Phillies for pitcher Roger Mcdowell.” Can you believe it? The Dodgers had traded Hartley the very next day. Well that sucks, I told Stacie.

Two days later I received a letter from my Uncle. Throughout the season he would always send us relevant Dodger or Baseball related newspaper articles in the mail. That day my Uncle had sent me the article on the Hartley trade. Just above Hartley’s photo in the article, my Uncle had written an inscription in pen. The inscription read:

“Nice guys finish last.”

 

Mike Hartley pitched for another four seasons in the majors, posting a 19-13 record with four career saves and a 3.70 ERA. Hartley would pitch for the Dodgers, Phillies, Twins, Red Sox, and Orioles. Hartley even spent a year pitching in Japan, before he retired in 1995. Hartley would end up becoming a coach, and from 2008-2010 he was the head coach for a German Baseball team called the Heidenheim Heidekoepfe. Hartley led the Heidekoepfe to a championship in 2009. In 2011, Hartley was head coach for a Croatian team, before becoming the current head coach of the Grosseto Baseball team in the Italian league. Mike Hartley we salute you, a true blue Dodger in time.

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