KENNEWICK – The Tri-Cities lost one of its sports icons this weekend when Billy Harris, 79, died at his Kennewick home Friday.
His wife, Alice, found him unresponsive Saturday morning.
Harris was a member of three halls of fame – the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1978 for his baseball and hockey skills; the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008; and the Central Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
The latter hall, which has its memorabilia scattered throughout the Toyota Center, inducted Harris for his contribution to softball in the Tri-City area.
Harris was mainly known, though, for his professional baseball career.
He spent 15 seasons in the Dodgers organization as a pitcher – getting two stints in the big leagues, one with Brooklyn and the other with Los Angeles.
The majority of his 174 pitching victories and 1,373 strikeouts came in the minors. That included a 25-6 season with a 0.83 ERA in 1952 pitching for the Miami Sun Sox, and a no-hitter in 1953 pitching for the Mobile Bears in Alabama.
It was hard for Harris to crack the Dodgers’ starting rotation of Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres.
He had a 14-16 record for the Triple-A Spokane Indians from 1960-62. He was with Spokane in 1962 when he hurt his arm.
“They asked me to come down to the Tri-Cities to play for a while,” said Harris in a 2006 interview with the Herald. “I didn’t know where the Tri-Cities was.”
Harris went 9-5 with 100 strikeouts over 128 innings that season for the Tri-City Braves, an independent team in the Northwest League at the time.
Billy and Alice decided by that time to make the Tri-Cities their permanent home year-round, thanks to the mild winters.
He spent the next three seasons here pitching for the team before calling it quits in the middle of the 1965 season.
Harris then started up a softball team called the Playboy Tavern and helped get the slowpitch softball boom going in the Tri-Cities.
The year he was inducted into the Central Washington Sports Hall of Fame, the majority of tables purchased by the crowd were friends of Harris.
But one of his proudest moments was definitely the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 2008.
“This is what I’ve dreamed about,” Harris told the Herald at the time. “We never had Little League ball where I came from. For a Canadian, it’s quite an honor.”
Harris had played in Montreal with Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson.
“Billy and I were teammates,” Lasorda told the Canadian Hall at the time of Harris’ induction, “and I must say with all sincerity that he was one of the finest competitors to ever take the mound.”
Harris is survived by his wife, three children and seven grandchildren.
The family will have a private service at a later date.
His wife felt there likely would be a celebration of his life at some time.
“He didn’t struggle,” Alice said. “He fell asleep and his heart just stopped. I just keep waiting for him to come down those stairs.”
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