Mr. No-Hitter turning into big hitter for WSU

THE YEARS AND stories roll off Tracy Harris' tongue like the waves near his Alki home. There's his car ride with Bill Murray in '78 that turned into a brief appearance –- with a speaking part! -- on Saturday Night Live. There are the two no-hitters he threw for WSU, in '74 and '77. There's the ruptured vertebrae in his back that cost him a trip to the College World Series with the '76 Cougs.

And today, there's a story about generosity and the desire to make Cougar athletics all that it can be.

"I was only there for four years, but I literally grew up there," Harris says of his time at WSU. Now 55, this highly successful Seattle real estate agent is putting his money where his loyalties are.

Logistics are still being worked out, but Harris plans to donate to the WSU Athletic Department 30 percent of every commission on any house sale to a fellow Cougar.

"It's a big chunk of change," says the man who has been Prudential Northwest Realty's top cat in the state for the last five years. "But Washington State did a ton for me in my life. Bobo (Brayton) made me a baseball player, and there was the school, too. I grew up in Pullman."

He collected some lasting memories along the way.

In the spring of 1974, less than a year out of Mercer Island High, he threw his first no-hitter for the Cougs -- 69 pitches in 69 minutes against Central Washington.


Two seasons later, the Cougars were a true juggernaut and advanced to the College World Series. He ruptured a vertebrae in his back and missed the trip to Omaha. It's a memory he calls heartbreaking.

"I was 20 years old at the time, and my world had come to an end," said Harris.

Back surgery that summer put him on the path to a successful senior year, and on March 20, 1977 -- exactly three years after his first no-hitter -- Harris threw another, this time against the Huskies.

It's his fondest memory of his time in crimson. Lloyd Christopher, a pro scout, approached him before the game, which was played in Lewiston. Christopher congratulated Harris on his return from the back injury, and then said that the last time he had watched a game in Lewiston, in the mid-1960s, Danny Frisella -- a Cougar All-American who would go on to the New York Mets -- pitched a no-hitter.

"He said, 'I'm going to go down, put my lawn chair in the same place, watch the game, and I expect nothing but the same,' " Harris recalled. "After the game, he came up and said, 'I told you so.' It was pretty weird."

Harris graduated from WSU with myriad awards and honors and an advertising degree.

Then the Mariners came calling.

The right-hander was selected as Seattle's ninth-round draft pick in June 1977 -- and quickly learned that the pros were very different from the Palouse.

He developed an infected middle finger from throwing so hard and missed most of his rookie season. The following year, he turned to the knuckleball.

"I was kind of an odd duck," Harris said. "Most pitchers who switch have had an arm injury, but I had a finger injury, and still had a hard slider with a knuckleball."

That season, with the independent Grays Harbor Loggers, he met actor Bill Murray, who was friends with the team's owner and would come out to play with them.

Halfway through the season, a camera crew from "Saturday Night Live" joined the Class-A team on the field to film a segment for a skit called "What I Did Last Summer."

"… I was the oldest (player on the team), and I got to drive Bill Murray to the airport," said Harris, who went 6-2 that season. "I ended up on the skit for SNL. I told a joke, had a couple lines. It was pretty neat."

It wouldn't be Harris' last time on TV -- his next team, the Santa Clara Padres, was so bad in 1979 that they were featured on "20/20" as the worst team in baseball. Still, he posted a 7-4 record that year, and led the Class A California League in pitching appearances with 69. He then moved on to San Jose, where he went 10-4.

The following season, he was 15-9 in Lynn with the Double-A Eastern League and was hoping for a September call up to the Mariners. It didn't come but in spring 1982 he was with the big club at training camp.

A line drive off his thigh landed him on the disabled list -- and then in Triple-A Salt Lake City, where he went 7-10. His final outing, 1983, was a 2-5 record with Double-A Chattanooga, but after seven years in the Mariners' farm system, he knew it was time to move on.

"I was old -- 28 -- and they were making a youth movement."

But Harris wasn't quite done with baseball. He played a season in Italy, going 7-9, before coming home with a changed perspective.

"I didn't want to play anymore," he said. "I wanted to start a family. I was going to go out and work for an (advertising) agency."

But he decided to buy a home first -- and found his second calling.

"I met a bunch of real-estate agents that didn't call me back, and if they did, they weren't very professional. I thought, 'My god, if the business is really this bad, there's a lot of opportunity here."

That was 24 years ago. Now Harris, who lives in West Seattle with his wife, Rosemary, and has a son and daughter from a previous marriage, finds fulfillment helping people make "the single largest investment of their lives."

"I grew up in a household where we were taught to work hard, be honest and just everyday, do the right thing," he said. "If you do that in real estate, you're going to be successful."

And he has been, with career sales surpassing $700 million. Now, he wants to give back to the university that changed his life.

"I am so pleased to talk about Tracy's generous commitment to Cougar Athletics. The more Cougs that work with him, the larger the impact and his results speak for itself," said Justin Felker, director of major gifts for WSU Athletics.

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