Executive Bill Harford helped build Pittsfield Cubs

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It made only agate type in newspapers across the country. But for a four-year period in Pittsfield, Bill Harford was the man.

Harford, who died last week after battling cancer, was the baseball executive who presided over the best four years of on-the-field action Western Massachusetts baseball fans had seen since the early 1960s.

Harford was the farm director for the Chicago Cubs organization when the Pittsfield Cubs made their debut at Wahconah Park for the 1985 season. The Cubs stayed here four years, vacating the park for the New York-Penn League Mets in 1989. But while Harford ran the Cubs' minor-league operations, Pittsfield was the home of a figurative ton of talent.

The best of those four seasons was in 1987, when the Pittsfield Cubs went 87-71. They finished first in the regular season, but could not bring home a postseason trophy to the old ballpark on Wahconah Street.

Managed by former major league catcher Jim Essian, the 1987 Pittsfield Cubs had 12 future Major League players on it. The best known of those four had to be long-time Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace. Dwight Smith was also on that team, and two-years later, he finished second to Chicago teammate Jerome Walton in the battle for the National League's Rookie of the Year. Walton played for the Pittsfield Cubs in 1988.

If you consider the best year 1987 because the Cubs were regular-season champions, that's all well and good. However, since the ultimate job of a minor league team is to develop players for the majors, then 1986 was Harford's best work.

That team had one future Hall of Famer in Greg Maddux, All-Stars in Jamie Moyer and Rafael Palmeiro, and 14 big league players in all. Had Palmeiro not been caught up in performance enhancing substance reports, he might also have had a ticket punched for Cooperstown.

The 1986 team, managed by Tom Spencer, had future big leaguers like Rich Amaral, Gary Varsho, Darrin Jackson, Drew Hall and Mike Capel. Jackson's career is flourishing these days, as he is Ed Farmer's broadcast partner on Chicago White Sox radio broadcasts.

Even after Harford left the Cubs, he continued to work as a scout. Mike Berardino, the Minnesota Twins baseball beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, tweeted about Harford this way:

"For many years Bill Harford filed regular scouting reports for #Cubs, #MNTwins, #Cardinals and #Expos. His integrity made it work."

And he will be missed by the game.

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If you have been watching the World Series this past week, good for you. You are part of what is becoming a near-record group of baseball fans glued to their TVs.

According to a press release from the Fox network, Friday night's Game 3 telecast had 19.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched Game 3 since 2004.

Now the criticism has come that the games are too long, and young baseball fans can't stay up.

While that is true, how come nobody ever says that NBA Finals games (which usually start at 9 p.m. here) aren't too late?

It would be better if the games started at 7 and not at 8 p.m., but according to Fox, Game 3 had a high of 24.5 million viewers from 11:30-11:41 p.m. So, obviously people are watching.

This is part of an old narrative that needs to go away. We are still watching baseball.

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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