Thursday, March 7, 2013

#510 - Wayne Garrett

Shea looks busy in this photo. Wayne Garrett sets a pose behind the batting cages while a coach – Yogi Berra? – is checking out whoever is occupying the cage. There is also a guy with what looks like crazy long hair immediately behind Wayne watching the cage action. I have no idea who that could be since Ted Simmons was still with St. Louis. ’73 was a big season for Wayne. Though by this point in his career he’d been with NY for five years, for four of them the Mets were always looking for a third baseman. Wayne platooned with Ed Charles his rookie year. Then the Mets got Joe Foy in ’70 and he bombed. They they got Bob Aspromonte in ’71 and he was just too old. Then they got Jim Fregosi in ’72 and he was a mess. So in ’73 they finally let Fregosi go and opted to use the guy they had all along, and guess what? Wayne had a pretty good season. He led the team in OBA, was second in homers, and third in RBI’s while only missing a couple weeks, which was unusually durable for that team. Defensively he was second for double plays at third and fourth in assists in the NL. He was super hot down that big September stretch that took the Mets over the hump. And he was the middle guy in the “ball off the wall” play which nailed Richie Zisk at the plate in an extra-inning game and was pivotal in helping NY leapfrog the Pirates to get to first place. He could have hit better in the post-season but so could have lots of guys. All in all it was a memorable year for Wayne, maybe not as big a deal as his rookie one, but he sure showed management they didn’t have to give up Amos Otis or Nolan Ryan. And those two guys maybe could have helped NY to a ’73 Series win.

Wayne Garrett was a Florida kid and was drafted by the Braves out of Sarasota High in ’65. There he was predominantly a shortstop, a position he continued to specialize in his first few pro seasons. His first summer he hit .269 in Rookie ball but in A ball in ’66 he slumped to .200. He upped his average in a ’67 split between two teams at that level to .241 and played a few games at second. In ’68 he moved up to Double A, did a bunch of work at third, and hit .239. After the season the Mets made him a Rule 5 draft pick for $25,000.

Garrett had to stay on the ’69 NY roster all season in order to not be returned to Atlanta. That turned out fine for both parties. Incumbent third baseman Ed Charles was getting up there and while Ken Boswell could play third in a pinch, he was needed at second base. So manager Gil Hodges asked Wayne if he could fill in at the hot corner and five minutes later he was. While his average was nothing special his defense was handy as was his ability to move around the diamond as he also started a bunch of games at second. He had a nice post-season, hitting .385 against Atlanta in the playoffs and then getting a couple walks in his three appearances against Baltimore in which his playing time was restricted because Charles started. Ed “retired” after the ’69 season and Wayne was gung ho to step in but instead NY made genius move number one by sending Amos Otis to Kansas City for Joe Foy. Foy, rumored to be a problem child, didn’t have a terrible season. But Otis had a better one and so did Wayne, who hit twelve homers, and got his BB/K ratio back to where it should have been in his part-time role split between second and third. ’71 was a hot mess. First he had to do his military tour the bulk of which was five months with the National Guard that began in the winter and made him miss spring training and most of the first half of the season. In the meantime NY acquired Bob Aspromonte from Atlanta to fill the third base spot and Wayne just couldn’t get it going when he returned. The next year produced genius trade two when NY sent Nolan Ryan to California for Jim Fregosi. Fregosi had been an All-Star shortstop but he’d basically ruined his foot in ’71 and was damaged goods when he got to NY. Meanwhile Wayne injured both his shoulder and a hamstring during spring training and missed the first six weeks of the season. When he returned his numbers pretty much rivaled Fregosi’s and by the end of the season he was the starting guy.

In ’74 Garrett was – finally – named the opening day starter at third base. He promptly went into a tailspin at the plate and was still hitting below .200 in early June. Part of that was due to reinjuring his shoulder during spring training. He finished with a .224 average that year and was considered one of the main reasons the club had a pretty terrible year. Prior to the ’75 season NY acquired Joe Torre from the Cards to play third and while a bunch of Joe’s time was actually spent at first, Wayne’s starts halved from ’74. Still, he hit much better, raising his average to .266 and putting up 34 RBI’s and 49 runs in 274 at bats. By ’76 Torre was strictly a first base guy and Wayne split time at third with rookie Roy Staiger. He was still getting on base at a pretty good clip but his average was back to its ’74 level when he was traded in July to Montreal with Del Unser for Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer. With the Expos Wayne split time at second base with Pete Mackanin and added about 20 points to his average. In ’77 he returned to third to back up Larry Parrish and had a decent offensive year, hitting .270 with a .385 OBA. In ’78 his average slipped 100 points in the same role and mid-season he was sold to St. Louis where he hit .333 the rest of the year. By then Wayne’s shoulder and legs were hurting so much he opted to go play in Japan where he would get more playing time and more money. While there for the ’79 and ’80 seasons he hit .241 with an OBA of .327. He then retired with a lifetime average of .239 with a .350 OBA, 61 homers, and 340 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .179 in 17 games.

Garrett returned to Florida after his career ended. There he ran a courier business, managed a golf course, and most recently has been a salesman for his brother’s irrigation supply company.

This is a good card back. Wayne, like his two baseball-playing brothers, used his middle name as his preferred one. I guess On Base Average was such a novel concept back then it required quotation marks. Topps sure does him justice with that last star bullet. Wayne also struck out eleven times, which back then was a Series record. Finally, this cartoon is another appropriate one for Kelsey.

These two almost faced each other in the ’73 post-season:

1. Garrett and Stan Bahnsen ’77 to ’78 Expos;
2. Bahnsen and Jesse Jefferson ’75 White Sox.

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