Harrison following path of World Series-winning uncle

June 1st, 2023

NEW YORK -- Phillies infielder was a year old when his uncle, former center fielder , helped the Dodgers defeat the Athletics in the 1988 World Series.

Harrison sometimes jokes that he remembers his uncle in that Fall Classic, which saw pull his Roy Hobbs impression in the ninth inning of Game 1 and hit the dramatic game-winning home run that changed the momentum of the Series.

In reality, Harrison, 35, was old enough to remember Uncle John as a coach for the Dodgers, Pirates, Orioles and Brewers. Harrison calls his uncle “the legacy-starter” in the family when it comes to baseball. Shelby is Harrison’s mother Bonita's brother.

As a kid, Harrison and his family would get tickets from Shelby to attend games between the Dodgers and Reds in hometown Cincinnati. Josh had the pleasure of going into the Dodgers’ locker room before games and meeting players he admired such as Gary Sheffield, Shawn Green and Hideo Nomo.

“I’m probably in middle school and people are getting autographs. I was never the autograph type,” Shelby said recently. “I was just intrigued in getting a chance to meet them, pick their brains. I was like, ‘This is going to be me one day,’ not knowing the magnitude of what I was saying. I was confident back then. But at the same time, my uncle was able to show me and my family … that you can achieve [your baseball dream].”

Harrison eventually followed in his uncle’s footsteps when the Cubs drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Harrison’s biggest success, however, came with the Pirates from 2011-18. He was a two-time All-Star in 2014 and ‘17. Other highlights include winning the Gold Medal for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in ‘17 and the Major League Baseball Players Association’s Heart and Hustle Award in ‘14.

Harrison remembers that when he entered the Major Leagues with Pittsburgh in 2011, he wasn’t playing often, but he ran into Shelby, who was then a coach with the Brewers. Harrison remembers Uncle John giving him sound advice.

“I’m frustrated, but at the same time I’m one player away from getting in [the lineup] -- not wishing any injury on anybody,” Harrison remembers. “My uncle said, ‘Don’t give them a reason to say that you are not working hard,’ which he knew I was going to do. He said, 'Keep working.' It’s one thing to hear that from a coach, but to hear it from my uncle is like, that’s the same message I was getting my whole life. …

“Those conversations never ended. They still don’t end to this day. He tells me how proud he is of me, especially where I came from. It’s the same message my parents gave me. Also just knowing him, he lived every angle as a Minor League player, big league player, Minor League coach and Major League coach. He has seen everything. I don’t take that lightly. How many people in the league can say they have a family member that has been able to experience what we are going through and pass down some knowledge?”

Harrison and Shelby are often in touch. This past Spring Training, they saw each other four times in Florida. The last time they spoke was on Mother’s Day. Shelby was hanging out with his mother that day.

Before his playing career comes to an end, Harrison wants to win a World Series ring like his uncle. Shelby won two of them, the first coming with the Orioles in 1983.

“Winning is everything,” Harrison said. “I’ve been in the league since ‘11. I was able to play in the postseason three times -- 2015 was my last time. I can sit here and speak from experience that the years go by fast, and you are not guaranteed to make the playoffs and nobody is going to play forever. You only have a limited chance in this game. So winning would be everything.”