Dan's Dugout: Former closer says baseball should improve its product • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Former closer says baseball should improve its product

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The man who stopped Pete Rose wants to rattle Rob Manfred’s cage.

Gene Garber, who retired Rose twice to stop his 44-game hitting streak in 1978, insists Major League Baseball is cheating the fans by putting an inferior product on the field.

“Teams used to have eight pitchers, but now they have 10 or 12,” he said in an exclusive radio interview with BRAVES BANTER Thursday night. ‘That means managers only have three extra men on the bench. And one of them is your backup catcher so you can’t even use him.

“Closers used to face really good extra guys late in games. But not anymore.”

Gene Garber helped the Braves win a divisional title in the 1982 NL West

Gene Garber helped the Braves win a divisional title in the 1982 NL West

Garber, who played for both Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in a career that took him to four different teams, said expanded the 25-man rosters by a man or two would improve the product immensely. He knows, however, that it would cost more.

“Baseball has changed,” he said. “When closers come in today, they only pitch one inning so managers ask them to throw as hard as they can.

“When I played, I was often called in the seventh inning and had to finish the game.”

That’s how Garber got to Rose. He relieved starter Larry McWilliams in the seventh and retired Rose on a line-drive to Bob Horner at third base. Atlanta then took a huge lead, prompting Cox to consider saving Garber’s arm for another night.

“I’m not coming out,” said the bearded veteran, a Lancaster native who rooted for the Phillies before touring pro. “He’s going to get up again and I want to be the guy to stop him.”

When Rose strode to the plate with two down in the ninth, Garber got behind him, two balls and one strike. “For the first time, I was nervous and felt my knees shaking,” he said. “He hit a foul ball to make the count 2-2. I didn’t think my next pitch was a very good one.”

Garber, who befuddled batters with a back-to-the-plate motion copied from Luis Tiant in the minors,

Pete Rose in 1965, three years before Gene Garber stopped his streak Credit: Diamond Images

Pete Rose in 1965, three years before Gene Garber stopped his streak
Credit: Diamond Images

used his patented change-up to fan Rose for the final out. That fulfilled a prophesy, as Garber had predicted to his wife that morning that he’d be the one to stop the Rose streak.

He was so full of adrenalin at the time that he actually struck out the side – one of the few times in his long career that happened. Most of the time, he coaxed hitters to ground out.

“I loved being a closer,” said Garber, who was called a short reliever in the baseball vernacular of his day. The compact righthander was fifth in appearances and sixth in saves at the time he retired – right up there with the likes of Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers.

He had a career-best 30 saves for the 1982 Braves team that won the National League West flag but lost 16 games, a record for any reliever, three years earlier.

“The Braves were not a good defensive team,” he explained, “and we played in a small ballpark.”

In 1977, Garber’s combination of funky windup and slow pitches made him the first man to win a postseason game for the Phillies in 62 years. He also pitched for the Pirates and Royals – but never had to shave his beard.

“When the Phillies traded me to the Braves, I joined the team in San Diego,” he recalled. “Bobby Cox told me he didn’t allow facial hair but would make that decision after we got back to Atlanta. I was a veteran who was pitching pretty well so he told me I could keep it.”

Garber admitted he was afraid his son, now a partner in his Pennsylvania chicken farm, would not recognize him if he had to shave.

Johnny Bench gave Gene Garber fits. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Johnny Bench gave Gene Garber fits.
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

He also hoped that Johnny Bench wouldn’t recognize him either. “He had the best plate coverage I ever saw,” the former pitcher said. “He could handle pitches way inside or way outside.”

Frank Robinson was another hitter who had his number, Garber added.

Thanks to his change-up, Garber actually handled lefthanded hitters better than righties.

Garber still ranks third on the Braves club list for saves, trailing John Smoltz and Craig Kimbrel. He follows the team closely, watching games when time permits, and serves as a special instructor during spring training in Florida.

“Roger McDowell has treated me very well,” said Garber of the Atlanta pitching coach, also a righthanded reliever as a player. “He told me to say whatever I wanted to the pitchers.”

Gene Garber is still doing just that.

Elsewhere in baseball:

The Fielders, father Cecil and son Prince, finished with exactly the same number of home runs (391) after the son had to quit at 32 because of two neck surgeries . . .

The sudden retirement of Prince Fielder adds to the list of sluggers who won’t be back next year,

David "Big Papi" Ortiz is retiring after this season Credit: Bill Menzel

David “Big Papi” Ortiz is retiring after this season
Credit: Bill Menzel

including Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and David Ortiz . . .

Injured Rockies slugger Trevor Story was the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year before injury intervened, shelving him for the season after an NL rookie record 27 home runs by a shortstop. Now fellow shortstop Corey Seager of the Dodgers should win the award, and maybe the MVP too, by topping Nomar Garciaparra’s major-league record of 30 . . .

Terry Collins did a good job of keeping the lid on his combustible temper until the Mets dropped to .500 by losing a three-game series at home against the struggling Diamondbacks . . .

Can’t believe Alex Rodriguez is going to be content to complete his career three home runs short of 700 . . .

Veteran closer Jim Johnson, almost traded by the Braves twice in the last two months, has rebounded so well that Atlanta is thinking of bringing him back next year – if it can extend his contract and keep him from free agency . . .

Now that Gary Sanchez has established himself as a better choice behind the plate, Brian McCann may still be traded this month — provided the Yankees agree to eat some of his contract.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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