The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 4, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Musgrave throws life a change-up

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s Harrison Musgrave is different.

Not that he had a choice. He’s left-handed and a pitcher.

Say no more.

You can go back as far as you want in time.

Rube Waddell was a left-handed pitcher as the 1800s became the 1900s. He was known for his strikeout pitch and for leaving the dugout during games to follow passing fire trucks to fires. During one off-season he was an alligator wrestler, which was not why he was left-handed. And there were times when fans of opposing teams would hold up shiny objects or puppies and he’d go into a trance on the mound.

Babe Ruth once was a left-handed pitcher, and there wasn’t very much orthodox about him.

Then there was Lefty Gomez, a Hall of Fame pitcher who always had an interesting outlook on life.

“I’ve got a new invention,” he once said. “It’s a revolving bowl for tired goldfish.”


“I was the worst hitter ever. I never even broke a bat until last year when I was backing out of the garage.”

Musgrave, who is West Virginia’s leading pitcher and opens a three-game series at TCU tonight, comes from the same mold.

Maybe it’s just that he’s honest, but the things he says and does don’t seem to jive with what most people are thinking.

Take last year, after he finished a magnificent season for WVU, going 9-1 with 2.17 ERA, there was talk of him being drafted in the Major League Baseball draft.

A dream come true, right?

Chance of a lifetime, right?

So what did Musgrave, the kid from Bridgeport playing ball just up the road, do?

He wrote all the clubs and told them that his intentions were to return to WVU the next year and that they could draft if they wanted, but he planned on going to school.

What in the name of Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, another left-hander, was going on?

“I felt like I needed to get another year under my belt after having had Tommy John surgery and to get closer to graduating. I was quite a few credits away from graduating, and I wasn’t sure if I’d come back to school to finish it,” Musgrave explained in not-so-zany terms.

Truth was, it made all kinds of sense ... except for that part about having recovered from Tommy John surgery. Why would he risk another year of pitching college ball with a surgically repaired arm? If fate had him reinjuring it, would it not be better to do it while earning money and chasing the dream?

“I can see that,” he said. “It’s one of those things, when you have the surgery you kind of have to trust it to work. If it happens again, you’re destined for it not to be. I trust the surgery. It did its job, so I’m not too concerned.”

Besides, he noted, there’s a 5-year-old son in his life, and that entered into the equation.

“It did,” he said. “He’s at an age where he’s doing a lot of things. Being able to see him as much as possible was definitely a plus. It will be hard when the time comes for me to spend the summers away from him.”

OK, but there is that million-dollar pot of gold at the end of the baseball rainbow and the dream every kid has of playing major league baseball.

Musgrave admits he’s had the dream, but it just isn’t as strong as it is with other kids.

“A baseball career is not the most important thing. It would be cool to get paid and play baseball, but there’s more to life than baseball, and I understand that,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’d like to do, but it’s not life or death or anything like that. It would be a good opportunity or a dream come true, but it’s not the end of the world if I had to get a normal regular-person job like everyone else in the country.”

Egads, the guy’s as flaky as every one of those left-handers.

Or is it just that he’s exactly what he is ... a laid-back dude who dances to the music he hears in his head?

Pitching is just part of him, something he is very, very good at, having followed that big year last season with one equally as big this year, starting 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA ... and almost always facing the ace of the opponent’s staff.

He can pitch. There’s no doubt about it.

But why can he pitch?

Fair question, but don’t ask him.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” he answers. “When I watch myself throw, I kind of wonder how I get anybody out. Maybe something is a little bit better than I give myself credit for. I just couldn’t tell you.”

There must be something, though.

“The only thing I pride myself on is I don’t let anything affect me when I pitch, but why I’m successful, I have no idea,” he said.

The thing that he does know is that he throws between 91 and 95 miles an hour, but that when it comes time to get the hitter out, like so many other left-handers, it’s the changeup he relies on.

“I realized after 2 1/2 years that college hitters can hit any fastball, no matter how hard you throw. So if you throw something that will keep them off you it seems to work,” he explained.

Of course, none of this would have happened had he not had the Tommy John surgery after detaching a tendon after winning four games as a freshman in 2011.

And, a couple of weeks ago, there was a reminder of the surgery when Dr. Frank Jobe, who had invented it in the 1970s, died.

“He’s a guy who gave what, tens of thousands of people’s dreams back to them,” Musgrave said of Jobe. “What he did for everyone is tremendous. Without him and Tommy John himself, I would be done playing baseball.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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