Ex-Dodger Harris shows vintage is new again

By Jack Millikin, Herald staff writer January 24, 2009 

KENNEWICK -- Billy Harris wasn't sure just how much the baseball card hobby had grown until he was asked to be a part of it.

Harris, a pitcher in the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers organization from 1951-1960, sat in Billy's Bullpen Tavern -- the Kennewick bar he has owned and operated for the last 26 years -- autographing just more than 200 cards for the upcoming Topps Heritage baseball set, which will be released Feb. 25.

Harris was accompanied at the signing by his daughter, Gail Everett of Kennewick, and David Worthington, a Kennewick resident and longtime friend who signed a temporary contract with Topps to be Harris' player representative.

The 2009 set will be a reprint of the 1960 Topps set featuring rookie cards of Harris, Carl Yazstremski, Jim Kaat and Frank Howard.

Harris' card features the right-hander in a throwing motion in a Dodgers uniform.

"(The photo) was taken in Vero Beach, Florida -- Dodgertown," said Harris, a member of both the the New Brunswick and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame who has lived in Tri-Cities since 1962. "What (Topps) gave me was two sets of spikes a year, three gloves a year and a set of golf clubs."

But as the hobby developed and became flooded with new product, card companies found that a higher premium was being placed on vintage sets, such as the 1960s set.

"Ten years ago, it was a big deal, but I thought (the hobby) died out. With the reprinting of these cards, it must be getting popular again," said Harris, whom Topps paid $500 to autograph the cards. "Now, I'm making more money on my cards then I did when I played."

There will be three subsets of Harris autographs in the Heritage edition. There will be 100 cards signed in blue ink and 60 special edition cards signed in red ink, both on the original design base set. A third subset -- a 25-card dual-auto set titled "Past and Present" -- will feature Harris and current Dodgers' pitching phenom Clayton Kershaw.

"The main thing is to make sure everything is done the way (Topps) wants it," Worthington said. "I've just got to make sure they're back on a UPS truck by 5 p.m."

Harris said he once possessed hundreds of valuable autographs until they were thrown away by his father.

"I knew all the ballplayers and never thought about (collecting)," he said. "We used to send Christmas cards to everybody, and I was getting cards every Christmas autographed by all the big stars."

Harris recalled playing with several players who have since reached the Hall of Fame, including Dodgers teammates Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson.

He also remembers playing on the Montreal Royals -- the Dodgers' Triple A affiliate -- with Roberto Clemente, Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson.

"Not too long ago, Sparky called here looking for me, and the bartender said, 'I can't give you his home number,' " Harris said of the former skipper who won World Series crowns with the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. "Sparky said, 'Well, you'd better give it to me. I'm Sparky Anderson.'

"He was a good buddy of mine."

* Jack Millikin; 582-1507; jmillikin@tricityherald.com

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