Harvey, Trying to Save Career, Returns to Scene of His Prime

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fame, money, success. . . . Angel reliever Bryan Harvey has had it all.

But one of his most cherished memories in professional baseball is of the days when he had virtually nothing. He was 22 and attending the Angels' 1985 fall instructional league, living at the Rodeway Inn in Mesa, Ariz., with fellow pitching hopefuls Chuck Finley and Willie Fraser.

"Those days were outstanding," said Harvey, who is trying this spring to rebuild his career with a rebuilt elbow. "There was no pressure; none of us had any money. We were just a bunch of young guys who hung out together and had fun."

Recalls Finley: "There were a lot of card games and $2-a-pitcher nights where we had to pool our money. We had about $12 between the three of us."

Harvey, who went on to become an all-star pitcher and one of the game's most feared closers; who now owns a 900-acre ranch in North Carolina where he raises cows and horses and plans to begin ostrich farming, has made enough money in the last five years to buy a few of those hotels he used to stay in.

But to Finley, who has enjoyed similar success, Harvey is still the same easygoing, soft-spoken, handlebar mustache-wearing, droopy-eyed guy he knew 11 years ago.

"He may have a little more change in his pocket, but he hasn't changed at all," said Finley, who has been reunited with Harvey and Fraser this spring. "There's nothing hidden in his personality. He's not going to come in here and tell joke after joke or lead a team meeting. He's always been the same person."

Except for one thing: his right arm. It once produced 95-mph fastballs, some of baseball's nastiest forkballs and 46- and 45-save seasons, but this spring it has produced only questions.

Can he recover from reconstructive elbow surgery last May? Can he regain his form after pitching six major league innings the last two years? Can he help the Angel bullpen in a set-up role?

"It's hard to tell," Harvey, 32, says. "Some days I can turn the ball loose--nothing like where it was--but it's coming back. The elbow has felt good, but you get to a point where you run out of gas. I have to keep telling myself it takes time to come back from this, that it's usually 12 months before everything is good again.

"At some point this season I'll be all the way back. I want it to be by opening day, but that may not be realistic. I'll just keep pounding away and see what happens."

Harvey's arm problems began in 1992 when he appeared in only 25 games for the Angels because of a strained elbow that eventually required season-ending surgery that July.

The Angels, uncertain about Harvey's future and apprehensive about the remaining three years and $11.25 million on his contract, left Harvey unprotected in the '92 expansion draft. The Florida Marlins snatched him.

"To tell you the truth, I don't feel Harvey is going to be a 40-save guy again," then-Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said at the time. "He'll save maybe 17, 18, 22 games, but now we have Joe Grahe to do that."

Harvey showed them. He saved 45 games and had a 1.70 earned-run average for a mediocre Marlin team in 1993 but claimed he wasn't motivated by the Angels' decision to let him go.

"There's nothing personal in this game," said Harvey, who went 16-20 with a 2.49 ERA and 126 saves in five seasons (1988-92) with the Angels. "It's a business, and they needed to cut salary at the time. You can't be mad about that."

The next two years frustrated him, though. A groin injury sapped the strength in his right leg, and that may have contributed to a torn forearm muscle in the spring of 1994. Harvey appeared in only 12 games, with six saves and a 5.23 ERA, before undergoing season-ending abdominal surgery in July.

Then he re-injured his forearm in the spring of 1995. He was still sore at the start of the regular season and appeared in only one game, against the San Francisco Giants. After facing only three batters, all of whom scored, Harvey left the game, his elbow in tatters.

He underwent "Tommy John surgery" on May 3, and his season was over.

Harvey returned to the Angels and the manager (Marcel Lachemann) who "knows me better than I know myself," this past winter for an incentive-loaded, one-year deal that guarantees him $500,000.

If he's sound, and if closer Lee Smith fully recovers from an off-season knee injury, the two would combine with Troy Percival to give the Angels a bullpen comparable to the Cincinnati Reds' Nasty Boys of the late 1980s--Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton.

"You can't have too much talent down there in a 162-game season," Finley said. "That would be a big boost to the offense, knowing a two-run lead in the seventh was in the books [as a win]."

Finley said Harvey in his prime was as good as any reliever he has seen. One memory that stands out is a game against the powerhouse Oakland Athletics in 1988, when Harvey entered in the ninth inning with a runner on third, none out, and Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire due up.

"He went through all three in about 12 pitches," Finley said. "It was bam, bam, bam, game over. There were days I'd be pitching and guys from the other team would say, 'Hey Chuck, can you go nine tonight? We don't want to face that Harvey.' "

Harvey says he hasn't lost that feeling of standing on a mound, knowing he can overpower batters, and he's confident it will come back as long as he fully recovers from the surgery.

"I just want to be healthy," Harvey said. "This team has a chance to win, and I don't mind that I'll be pitching in the sixth or seventh innings [as opposed to closing]. As long as I'm healthy, everything will take care of itself."

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