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From 7th to 1,089th

Posted at 10:37 PM on June 7, 2005 by David Zingler

Day one of the free agent draft is history and every (if any) name that you may have recognized is likely off the board by now, but there is an annual ritual that remains before the proceedings are official -- somebody has to select Matt Harrington.

Harrington’s sad saga began in 2000 when he was a California schoolboy phemon with a fastball that regularly registered in the high 90s. Many felt that the 6-4, 210 lb. right-hander was the best player in the draft, but a few were scared off by his high asking price. The Colorado Rockies however, didn’t flinch and snared him with the 7th overall pick. It seemed like a bargain.

The trouble began when Harrington’s agent, Tommy Tanzer, claimed that he had a pre-draft agreement (which is illegal) with the Rockies that would net his client $4.95 million. The Rockies cried foul and eventually came to the table with a $4 million offer. Harrington balked.

Instead of signing, the 18-year-old sat out the entire season and went to camp with the St. Paul Saints in 2001. The Rockies eventually pulled the offer and Harrington re-entered the draft. This time he was selected in the 2nd round (58th overall) by San Diego. The Padres offered $1.25 million, but he stayed in St. Paul in hopes of pitching well and gaining leverage. Instead, the youngster developed shoulder stiffness and was shelved.

The former phemon surfaced with another independent team in 2002, the Western League’s Long Beach Breakers. In June he was drafted again, this time by Tampa Bay in the 13th round (374th overall). Negotiations never got serious and Harrington stayed in Long Beach where the shoulder problems persisted and he pitched little.

All the former first round pick had to show for his first two seasons in pro ball was a 0-3 record and 7.15 ERA. Meanwhile, the pipeline to financial security was all but dried up.

In 2003 Cincinnati took a shot, selected the fading prospect in the 24th Round (711th overall). Harrington spent the season with the Central Baseball League’s Fort Worth Cats. He went 2-6 with a 3.64 ERA in 33 appearances (5 starts) for the independent team.

Once an object of scorn by fans, the mood had changed to pity by 2004 when the Yankees selected hard luck hurler in the 36th round (1,089 overall). In five years, Harrington fell 1,082 slots. He remained in Fort Worth, posting a 1-2 record and 2.77 ERA in just 7 games.

The poster child for squandered opportunities returned to the Fort Worth Cats this season and made his debut on June 6, pitching 1 2/3 perfect innings in relief. It will be interesting to see if he is drafted for a sixth time tomorrow. After all, how much lower can he go?

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