In celebration of breaking the Cincinnati Reds’ color barrier and his 28-year career working for the Hamilton County Courts and Ohio First District Court of Appeals, the late Chuck Harmon was honored with a permanent display at the William Howard Taft Law Center on Thursday.
During a ceremony in one of Judge Ralph Winkler’s courtrooms, Harmon’s son, Chuck Jr., and grandson, Chazz, helped unveil a framed display that will henceforth remain on the ninth floor of the courthouse, an area visited by tens of thousands of people annually. The tribute to Harmon will teach generations to come the impact he had on and off the field.
“This is a great honor. I know it will give people who don’t know who Chuck Harmon is an opportunity to appreciate and learn who he is and what he stood for when they come to the courthouse and see this display,” Chuck Jr. said.
Harmon made his historic debut for the Reds on April 17, 1954. He played third base and outfield during parts of the 1954-56 seasons before being traded to the Cardinals and then finishing his four-year MLB career with the Phillies.
Following his playing career, Harmon scouted for the Indians and the Phillies. The former college basketball star also served as a scout for the Indiana Pacers. After moving from Indiana and settling back in Cincinnati, Harmon went to work for the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts as deputy clerk beginning in 1976. He was promoted to the administrative office for the Ohio First District Court of Appeals in 1995, where he remained until his retirement in 2004. Harmon was 94 years old when he passed away on March 19, 2019.
“He broke the color line for Cincinnati Reds baseball, and he broke the color line in the Hamilton County Courthouse, leading the way for many African Americans to play baseball in the big leagues and for many African Americans to work in the courthouse,” Winkler said. “Both things happened way too late. But he gave people without a voice in baseball a voice and gave people without a voice in the courthouse a voice.”
In addition to Harmon’s son and grandson, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman and Reds Hall of Fame executive director Rick Walls were on hand, as well as several local dignitaries, elected officials and former co-workers and friends of Harmon.
Brennaman spoke fondly of his many encounters over the years with Harmon, recounting their first meeting when Brennaman arrived to the organization in 1974 and introduced himself to Harmon by excitedly sharing how he had his baseball card -- the same thing he did when he introduced himself to longtime radio partner and friend Joe Nuxhall.
“He was gracious, humble, had a sense of dignity that most people can only aspire to have and he was a very kind gentleman. I would equate him with Joe in so many areas,” Brennaman said. “He never said a cross word about anybody, he always had a smile on his face, and he always was respectful of anybody who knew him or was introduced to him for the first time.
“If there was definition of a Major League Baseball player in the dictionary, they could have very well put Chuck’s picture in there because of the things that he did, the way that he carried himself and how he represented the game of baseball.”
Walls also addressed the room and shared what an important part of the Reds family Harmon was. Over the years, the Reds have recognized the tremendous life and career of Harmon in many ways, including the 50th anniversary of his debut when he broke the color barrier, the 2014 Powel Crosley Jr. Award, his statue outside the P&G MLB Reds Youth Academy and most recently as a prominent part in the Reds Hall of Fame exhibit, “Pursuit of a Dream.”
“The Hall of Fame’s mission is to celebrate greatness, preserve history and provide inspiration,” Walls said. “And when I think of Chuck, I think of all those things.”
Before revealing the new display, Chuck Jr. also spoke to the room with his son standing by his side wearing his grandfather’s Reds hat.
“I really didn’t think of my dad as a great baseball player. He was a great dad,” he said. “And the thing he loved most about the game of baseball was the companionship,” he said. “Meeting a lot of different players from different walks of life, different cities, different countries was just a great honor for him. My dad never saw himself as a groundbreaking person. He just loved the game, and it was something he wanted to do every day.”