Gene Garber (by Rusty S.)

Gene Garber broke into the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969. The Pirates had little use for him (he spent all of 1971 in the minors), and in 1973 they traded him to Kansas City for Jim Rooker. In 1974, the Royals sold him to Philadelphia, where he began to have some success. He had double-digit save totals for the Phillies in 1975, ‘76, and ‘77.

The Braves acquired Garber in 1978 for Dick Ruthven. ‘78 was probably Garber’s best season. Between Philadelphia and Atlanta (mostly Atlanta) he had a 0.953 WHIP, allowed 6.5 hits per nine innings, and also had 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He saved 25 games.

For the 1982 Braves, Garber saved 30 games with a 2.34 ERA and a 1.106 WHIP. He had eight wins, but he also had ten losses and eight blown saves. He also blew a save and took the loss in Game Two of the NLCS. (In fairness, he was being asked to pitch the final three innings.) He finished seventh in Cy Young award voting and 19th in MVP voting that year, the only year he placed in either category.

Garber had a strange, sidearm delivery and in his good seasons he mostly relied on a low walk rate to keep his WHIP low. He was never especially dominating for a closer, with a career record of 8.7 H/9, and 5.6 K/9. Despite his sidearm delivery, he did not have unusually large splits between right handed and left handed batters.

Garber may be best known for ending Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978. Here’s the video; in it you see examples of Garber’s delivery.

Garber stayed with the Braves until 1987, when he was traded back to Kansas City for Terry Bell. He was released by Kansas City in 1988, at age 40.

Gene Garber was good enough to pitch in the majors for 19 seasons, yet he never made an All-Star team. I think that summarizes his career pretty well.

59 thoughts on “Gene Garber (by Rusty S.)”

  1. Happy Hall of Fame Week everyone. Looks like Griffey and Piazza will sail in and Bagwell and Raines have an outside shot. Especially encouraging for Raines as this is his penultimate year on the ballot and needed to make a big jump this year to have any real shot next year. Raines should absolutely be in the HOF.

    Link to the HOF tracker:

    https://t.co/iUgNL16LCl

  2. I wonder how Garber would have done in today’s environment of 1 inning relievers. He averaged pitching about 2 innings per outing (69 appearances in 119 innings in ’82) and the batters seemed to start figuring him out by his third inning. I also wonder how fast his pitches were. His fastball probably topped out at about 85, but given his changeup and funky delivery, it must have seemed like 100 mph.

  3. My friends and I had been imitating Garber’s delivery in pickup games for a year or two by 1978 (we played in a vacant lot next to the Brittany pool in Brookhaven, if anyone knows that area), so we couldn’t believe our luck when the Braves acquired him. Used to do Hrabosky, too, but our game had broken up by the time the Mad Hungarian came aboard. The Garber delivery was a good one for a kids game — the ball stayed down for the most part, so it was easy to control, and as a batter you wouldn’t worry so much about one coming at your head.

  4. Sidearm/underhand deliveries are just about all relievers, right? On the Braves, off the top of my head, Abernathy Garber and of course Moylan. Quisenberry… The science is supposed to be that the angle increases the effective velocity to the batter, not just the variation. And, as td says, Garber’s devastating pitch was the change, not the fastball. This always made it hard for me to understand why they were almost all relievers; pressure on the arm/shoulder? (Should be easier on the elbow… Though see Moylan) Who is the best sidearm/underhand starter in baseball history?

  5. I want to say that Eckersley’s motion as a reliever was just a radicalized version of the motion he’d always used, that he could always have been described at least as a side-armer. Gettysburg Eddie Plank had a “cross-fire delivery”. A lot of those old time pitchers were “slingers” to some extent.

  6. JonathanF at 4,

    TYPICALLY, side arm delivery produces more pronounced platoon splits. Thus, a right handed sidearmer usually can’t get left handers out (and vice versa). So, you see very few lefthanded sidearmers.

    At his peak, Moylan used a fastball with hard arm side run countered with a 2 / 7 slider and a glove side running changeup to attack lefties pretty successfully.

    I have seen some medical experts say a submarine delivery like Bradford puts much less stress on the arm and general body, so injury risk is much lower.

  7. Garber’s career was sort of the transitional phase to The Closer (TM). But it hadn’t yet evolved to I Only Pitch the 9th Inning If We Are Ahead. So he was asked to put out fires in the 8th or other innings where the Braves had issues. (Frankly, I think that makes much more sense.) I’m not sure it’s apples to apples to compare his stats to modern Closers (TM).

    For those not yet born, Pete Rose’s bush league complaints about the Braves ending the 44 game hit streak (he complained that Garber was actually trying to get him out) confirmed for any in doubt what a jackass he was.

  8. Just imagine if the 1982 NLCS Game 2 was like the 2013 NLDS Game 4 or whatever (David Carpenter grooves a gopher ball to Uribe) and Kimbrel actually came into a non-Closer (TM) situation. It’s so asinine to only have a closer pitch the 9th. But I bet someone (agents, closers themselves, managers) doesn’t want closers having blown saves and losses. WIN THE GAME!

  9. Amazing thing about Garber was the frequency of him throwing his changeup. Changeup tends to imply that you have other pitches and this pitch is a change from those. If I remember correctly, Garber would throw changeup after changeup and batters would look surprised every time they saw it. Given the way he pitched and the velocity (or lack thereof) on his pitches, it is not surprising that he lasted 19 years.

  10. What was the comment about Garber? He could throw three different speeds, slow, slower, and slowest?

  11. Tim Raines only did 2 things wrong: 1) he played his best years for the Expos, 2) his career overlapped with that of Rickey Henderson. Raines is one of the best lead-off men of all time, but he was the second best of his era. He also played for several years with lupus. He should definitely be in the Hall. But what about Kenny Lofton who had a similar career and will never be remotely considered?

  12. Brad Clontz, who I believe was a side-armer, had a 5.69 ERA in 1996 while appearing in 81 games. Could you imagine what we would be saying in the social media age if Fredi did that?

  13. @13

    I always thought of the Big Train as having a three-quarter motion, but that slo-mo makes it pretty clear he was side-arming.

    @17

    Lofton seemed like a HOFer to me when he played. Raines too, in his Montreal years.

  14. It’s been interesting looking back at this era; I’m glad that Alex had the idea. I still have on a shelf the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract. I think that was the first edition that was mass published (if not, it’s close.) It’s been really cool looking through the Baseball Reference from back then and thinking about the changes in the game that were about to transpire.

    Garber was mostly a starter in the minors; relievers at that time were usually just failed starters. It’s instructive about that ’82 team that in the NLCS they brought Niekro back on 2 days rest after the Game 1 rainout, and tried to get a 3 inning save out of Garber. Looking back, it really was a small miracle they won that division.

    It’s also really cool to be 51 and have someone ask you to look back at when you were 18.

  15. http://m.braves.mlb.com/news/article/161015164

    “When the Braves outrighted Brandon Cunniff to their Triple-A Gwinnett roster in December, they provided a glimpse of how their depth has changed over the past few months. Cunniff made the third-most appearances (39) by an Atlanta reliever last season. Now, he stands as a long shot to begin the upcoming season in Atlanta’s bullpen.

    This past summer, the Braves were forced to call upon Minor League journeymen such as Jake Brigham and Ryan Kelly, and roll the dice on veteran big league castoffs like Nick Masset, Dana Eveland and Ross Detwiler.”

    May I have the mercy to forget those names…

  16. The Braves should be better next year – I know that’s not saying much. They were horrible last year because they stunk in 3 areas – Starting pitching, relief pitching, and hitting. As it stands, they will be much better in the bullpen and the same to better in hitting depending on how well Olivera does. Our starting pitching looks worse, but we at least have a little more potential than last year.

    My expectation is 5 to 8 more wins than last year, but it all centers around starting pitching. If our starting pitching actually turns out to be league average or better, we could be 5 to 10 games over 500. Over 500 is not likely, but it’s at least a little more probable than last year.

  17. One of the biggest Keltner reasons to support him, I think, is how many playoff races he personally had a hand in swinging.

    First of all, as I wrote: Since 1948 — the last time the Indians won the World Series — the Indians have been to the playoffs eight times, and Lofton contributed to all but two: 1954, when Willie Mays made The Catch; and 1997, when he was with the Braves.

    After he turned 30, he basically become a playoff good luck charm for hire:

    Lofton was in Cleveland from 1992-1996 and 1998-2001, and then he became a journeyman. In 2002, he began the year with the White Sox, and he was having a decent enough year for a 33-year old center fielder, putting up a 102 OPS+ with basically average defense. Then the Giants traded a couple minor leaguers who never did anything for Lofton, who replaced the awful-hitting Tsuyoshi Shinjo in center field. They were 58-47 at the time, six games back. They went 37-19 for the rest of the year, finished in second place and won the wild card, and wound up losing the World Series to the Angels.

    His most notable pennant race was probably 2003. He began the year with the Pirates, and he was having a decent enough year for a 35-year old center fielder, putting up a 98 OPS+ with basically average defense. Then the Cubs traded for him on July 23 (it was a notorious salary dump; the Pirates threw in Aramis Ramirez, and all they got back was Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill, and Matt Bruback). At the time of the trade, the Cubs were 50-50, in 3rd place, 5.5 games out. Lofton hit leadoff and replaced Corey Patterson in center field, hitting .327 in 56 games, during which time the Cubs went 38-24 and won the division. They lost to the Marlins in the NLCS, which you probably remember, but still.

    He went to the playoffs with the Yankees in 2004, but he was basically Bernie Williams’s backup and didn’t have a great deal of effect on the pennant race; he went to the playoffs with the Dodgers in 2006 and was the regular center fielder but he really wasn’t very good, as his defense had slipped badly.

    He finally came back to Cleveland in late July of 2007, taking over for Jason Michaels. At the time, the Indians were 60-43 and a half-game out of first; they went 36-23 with him, and won the division by eight games. They lost the ALCS to the Yankees, famously, but Lofton was terrific, playing all four games and batting .375 while batting seventh. The Indians haven’t been back to the playoffs since.

    (After I wrote that, they lost the Wild Card game in 2013. It doesn’t really change the thrust of what I wrote.)

  18. @23 “My expectation is 5 to 8 more wins than last year, but it all centers around starting pitching. If our starting pitching actually turns out to be league average or better, we could be 5 to 10 games over 500.”

    I agree that the 2016 Braves will likely be better than the 2015 squad – a low-to-mid 70’s win total feels about right. That said, it would take a lot of doing for the Braves to climb all the way back to .500, let alone 5-10 games over .500 (playoffs? you’re talking about PLAYOFFS?).

    Keep in mind, the Braves had the majors’ worst offense last year by wOBA *and* the worst pitching staff by WAR (starters were 27th, ahead of DBacks, Rockies and Phils… and the relievers were 29th, ahead of only the Red Sox). I believe we’ll see a league average or better relief staff next year, but probably only moderate improvement from the offense and starting pitching (and don’t forget, the D is going to take a hit without Andrelton). The wild card here, as you note, is all the young starting pitchers – it’s not out of the question that the Braves could get good production from one or more of Wisler, Banuelos, Blair, Foltynewicz, Gant etc. to go along with Teheran and *blech* Bud Norris.

  19. Re Lofton, and I said this at the time, I thought that there were one or 2 years where he was the best player in baseball.

  20. @27 – To start the year last year I would have given the Braves a 2% chance to make the playoffs. Starting the year this year I would give them a 4% chance. Not likely by any means, but they at least have a bullpen and starting pitching with a slight hope of turning things around.

    I will be surprised if we have the worst pitching staff by WAR this year, but given our young starting pitching, my expectation is the bottom 1/4 of the league. If something crazy were to happen and our pitching staff finished in the top 1/2 of the league, I think a .500 or slightly above finish is doable. Who knows, maybe Fredi will even learn how to manage. That expectation is less than our pitching staff somehow catching fire. :-)

  21. I vaguely remembered the Lofton Keltner and thought I was losing my mind there for a second.

    What we need is a Motörhead Keltner. Or is it too obvious?

  22. Re: Garber,
    Don’t forget he spent a lot of times on memorably bad Braves teams. Only the 80 – 84 squads played near .500 ball (let’s forget the strike shortened ’81 season, please!)The ’78,’79,’85 and ’86 teams all lost 89 or more games and the ’87 teams was in pace for the same when he got traded.

    Was Cecil Upshaw a side-arm guy or did he just have an ‘out’ pitch?

  23. DOB gives the Braves better than 50/50 odds to re-sign Kelly Johnson. You have to figure they’ve got a trade lined up for Swisher or Bourn if that happens.

  24. I really like KJ at 3B or 2B against righties. I’d imagine it’d be 3B, which leaves Peterson against righties and Beckham/Bonifacio against lefties at 2B. If KJ and Garcia could repeat their 2015’s against the respective handedness, you’re talking about a .280/.330/.475 with 25+ HR 3B platoon. There are much worse ways of spending a couple million bucks.

    I’d imagine it’s Swisher who is being dealt. KJ takes over the 1B backup job, which is really the only use Swisher has. Bourn is still largely irrelevant too with Bonifacio able to play CF. Maybe they’re both gone.

    Definitely interested in seeing how these young players/Olivera do. So much potential in this roster. There’s definitely a Rookie of the Year candidate in the rotation.

  25. I really hope we just cut Bourn and Swisher. KJ would be a good addition.

    Inciarte, Markakis, Freeman, and Aybar are our offense. Let that sink in for a moment. Hopefully Adonis can be a surprise, but I expect nothing from Olivera at this point.

  26. Lineup definitely lacks star power, but I do like that it’s mostly void of the Struggla/Mupton/CJohnson/Peterson-at-600-PAs/Swisher/Bourn/Simmons black holes that we’ve had over the past several years. Olivera is a huge wild card, but C/1B/3B/SS/CF/RF all look league average or better per position norms. Empirical evidence be darned, but I simply can’t live in a world where Olivera can’t at least muster a .750 OPS considered he had a .715 OPS in limited time last year, and our scouts were so bullish on him at two different points last year.

  27. He probably knows he’ll be traded again but would prefer to spend the first half of the season in Atlanta, as opposed to somewhere else.

  28. It looks as though the HOF website has given away the inductees as pages for Griffey and Piazza say access denied and Raines and Bagwell come up page not found. It was trending that way on the tracker but will be interesting to see how close Raines and Bagwell got and if they can make the leap next year (last chance for Raines). First timers next year will be I-Rod, Manny, Vlad and Posada.

    Offical results announced at 6PM.

  29. Swisher
    Bourn
    Bonifacio
    Peterson
    KJ
    Adonis
    Beckham.Olivera

    Something has to give here. We have 8 utility players. KJ needs to be starting in LF or at 2B over this bunch.

  30. Rumble is that Marlins are about to trade Ozuna for a Ranger pitcher named Chi Chi Gonzalez. I looked up his stats and Chi Chi looks a little “meh” (1.2 to 1.3 whip, 7 or so k / 9, 2.5 or so k / bb). Does have 6 full years of control.

    If that would get Ozuna, I wish Braves could get him.

  31. I’m pretty glad Inciarte hasn’t been traded. This is showing a commitment to putting a good product on the field in 2016 despite trading away Simmons and Miller.

    Watch him get traded tomorrow.

  32. Rusty S.

    Thank you for these player write-ups. They are a great reminder of why these guys stick so long in our memories.

  33. Yes, really enjoy this. These fellas were before my time, so it’s nice to hear about the Braves from yesteryear.

    Some ’90s Braves would really be a welcome reminder that better days are, hopefully, ahead.

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