#28: Gene Garber

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Righthanded Pitcher
Seasons With Braves: 1978-1987
Stats With Braves: 53-73, 3.89 ERA, 141 Svs

In the past, I’ve written that Mike Remlinger was the best reliever in Braves history, and I still believe that on a peak quality basis. But Gene Garber had twice as many seasons in a Braves uniform and well over twice the innings, and I have to give the edge to him on career value. Since his peak was also quite high, I’ll give him the nod.

The seventies were the golden age of sidearm pitching; Garber joined the likes of Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve, or rather they joined him. Garber was an odd sort of harbinger; he pitched for the Pirates in the years before they came up with Tekulve, then moved on to the pre-Quiz Royals. I don’t know that he was the first of the group, maybe I’m missing someone. Gene also got the majors very quickly, at the age of 21; most sidearmers don’t make it up until they’re at least in their mid-twenties. Garber was eight months younger than Tekulve but debuted five years earlier. The Royals traded him to the Phillies, where he was part of that devastating bullpen I mentioned in the Ron Reed comment. The Phillies traded him to the Braves for Dick Ruthven early in 1978. Ruthven went 13-5 and helped pitch them to the division title, but it was a good trade for the Braves.

Among the advantages of sidearmers are that most of them are pretty durable (valuable in the seventies because of the huge number of innings relief aces were asked to log), they generally have good control, and they get ground balls. The disadvantages include inconsistency from year to year and vulnerability to lefthanders. Garber did have some off years, but interestingly he wasn’t particularly vulnerable to lefties. His career splits are .252/.304/.361 against righthanders, .262/.322/.374 against lefties, which if anything are smaller than usual for “normal” righthanded pitchers.

Garber started off his Braves career with a bang. Coming over on June 15, he went 4-4 with 22 saves and a 2.53 ERA. The next year he managed 25 saves but his ERA ballooned to 4.33 and he lost 16 games, and the Braves turned to Rick Camp. While Camp pitched excellently, Garber gave them a solid season and a very good one, and when Camp moved into the rotation Garber went back into the closer role.

In 1982, he had his finest year as a Brave, saving a then-team-record 30 games, a record that would stand for fourteen years, and posting a 2.34 ERA. He also threw 119 1/3 innings that year, so it’s no surprise that he came up lame in 1983 and Bedrosian and Forster took over the closer role. In 1984, Torre never did settle on a closer, and Garber was one of several who held the job for a time.

So in 1985 came the disastrous Sutter signing. When Sutter went down in 1986, Garber checked right back in and put up another strong campaign, 24 saves and a 2.54 ERA. 10 saves into 1987, with an ERA a little above the league, Gene was traded to the Royals, where he finished his career.

Gene Garber 2.jpgGarber retired as the Braves’ all-time save leader, a record he held until Smoltz broke it in 2004. I’m fairly certain that nobody’s anywhere near his 856 relief innings… I wish I could have found a card where he was about to release the ball. He looked like he was bowling some of the time. Or shooting craps. I’ll settle for the card on the right, which will demonstrate to you youngsters what the seventies could do to a man.

Gene Garber Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

20 thoughts on “#28: Gene Garber”

  1. And let’s not forget the Pete Rose moment in 1978, where Gino struck him out to put a cap on the 44-game hitting streak. After the game, Rose cussed on live TV, moaning that Garber wasn’t man enough to throw him a fastball. “Well,” I remember thinking, “that’s just tough, Buster Brown.”

    Garber was one of those guys that Braves fans didn’t really appreciate. In fact, I can’t say I was ever in love with the guy—but he was mostly a good pitcher for us.

  2. Garber was my favorite reliever as a kid, going back to his Phillie days. Of course, it was all due to the pitching motion, which we used to try and imitate. The key was to keep the ball in the glove while you hunched your back and twisted until your back faced the catcher. Once the twist was completed, then you’d drop your pitching arm straight downwards, pause, then uncoil and fling it underhanded. It really was hard to throw the ball even waist-high using the Garber motion, not that you’d want to.

  3. Yes Sir Mac BRAVO A++ Garber is in my Top 10. Mean Gene was the man, He came on strong, with Larry McWilliams starting the gp at AFC and Garber K’ing King Peter Rose in the 9th to end the game. That was our world series until 95 man. He was so screwed over by Mullen, getting screwed around by slugs like Camp and Sutter. he could have easily tacked on another 100 saves to his career total
    Love Geno
    More bad braves,Cox brings Damo Garcia over from TO, and he brings his leg in ST, On the DL all year, makes the team the next april to get cut in May as he sucked
    Favourite Bravo names Preston Hanna, not sure why though like it

  4. I don’t know that he was the first of the group, maybe I’m missing someone.

    Submarine style pitchers go back at least to Carl Mays and Eldon Auker. The great Walter Johnson threw somewhere between 3/4 and sidearm, but didn’t drop below 90 degrees like Garber did.

    A more recent predecessor of Garber was Ted Abernathy. Abernathy was briefly a top-flight reliever in the mid 1960s who pitched briefly for the Braves. As fitting for the Bravos in most of their Atlanta years, Abernathy sandwitched an awful partial year as a Braves (1966 93 IP 4.55 ERA 8 saves) around two excellent years (1965 – 136 IP 2.57 ERA 31 saves; 1967 – 106 IP 1.27 ERA 28 saves) in which he lead the league in saves both seasons.

  5. Not sure if it’s been mentioned on here, but Terry Pendleton remains for 2007 – Nationals now will choose from a field that does not include Girardi, Pendleton, Gonzalez, or Piniella.

  6. I realize that there have been submarine pitchers for a long time. For that matter, originally you had to throw underhand. What I’m talking about is the group of sidearm relievers who were a major strain in the origin of the modern bullpen. Come to think of it, I guess Cecil Upshaw was up several years before Garber, though I don’t know how low he went.

    There’s a bit in one of James’ books about how he was surprised there weren’t more sidearmers/submariners. One reason is, I think, that only a few teams have been willing to use them. (The most important, however, is that they don’t seem to make good starters.) Garber pitched for the Pirates, Phillies, Royals, and Braves. Tekulve mostly pitched for the Pirates and Phillies. Quisenberry pitched for the Royals.

    The Braves have had a lot of sidearmers over the years, when you think about it. In addition to Upshaw and Garber, two of the other longtime submariners, Mark Eichhorn and Steve Reed, pitched in Atlanta briefly, and the team developed Clontz and Cather. Chad Bradford, your moment awaits.

  7. The Braves gave Peter Moylan a chance too, although I’d prefer to forget about that.

    Greg McMichael was close to a sidearmer, although not quite. He had sort of a hitchy (is that a word?) 10 o’clock delivery.

  8. How can you forget McMichael…he has his own show on HGTV (Major League remodel), or at least he has shot a few of the episodes. I tried to watch once…

  9. Losing Andrew is going to suck worse than losing any other player during the stretch run. Worse than losing Maddux, Glavine, Millwood, Justice, Dye, Furcal, and (tear) Julio. I don’t like thinking about it.

  10. Gotta love Boras dont you! $25 mil per year, give me freakin break. They can have him and his .260 average for anything over 12 per year. I guess we can say see ya later Andruw.

  11. Worst case possible. Andruw will use his 10-5 rights to stay in Atlanta in 2007, and then leave to the Dodgers for some gross amount of money. The Braves don’t keep Andruw Jones or get anything for him. Losing a player of that caliber to free agency and getting diddley squat in return hurts.

  12. Well, the good news is that free agent compensation wasn’t eliminated after all:

    Draft-pick compensation for losing Type C free agents is eliminated. Compensation for Type B free agents is changed from direct (losing draft picks) to indirect (sandwich picks). Starting in 2007, Type A free agent redefined to top 20 percent at position (from top 30 percent) and Type B to 21-40 percent (from top 31-50 percent).

    Andruw will be Type A. Of course, that only matters if the Braves offer Andruw arbitration.

  13. Who would be capable replacements for Andruw both offensively and defensively. It hurts losing the best centerfielder of all time, but it hurts even more when he’s also your clean up hitter. Any possible replacements besides Langerhans and having him bat 8th?

  14. Boras didn’t actually say $25 million; that was the writer o fthe article. Nevertheless, I think Andruw is gone–at his best, he is nowhere near as good as Boras thinks. There is no way that Andruw is worth $17-20 mil to the Braves–hello New York, LA, or Boston. I say good riddance, frankly. Andruw is a good player but not that good. If Andruw can get that kind of money, more power to him and don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. Boras can stick his stats up his ass for all I care.

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