Lefthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder
Seasons With Braves: 1968-1975
Stats With Braves: .317/.350/.429, 49 HR, 247 RBI, 470 RS
Ralph Garr was, in a way, similar to the young Lonnie Smith, though hardly the same disaster in the outfield. He was very fast and hit for a high average (his .317 batting average with the Atlanta Braves is the highest of any player with at least 2000 PA) but didn’t have the defensive skills for center or the power expected in left, so he didn’t get a chance until he was 25. Drafted out of Grambling, Ralph was putting up insane numbers in the minors, capped by hitting .386 in Richmond in 1970, but couldn’t get into the lineup in Atlanta — which admittedly had Carty and Aaron in the outfield corners.
When Carty went down with his broken knee, Garr inherited most of his playing time. Garr responded by hitting .343 (second in the league). When Carty came back you couldn’t exactly bench the guy who hit .343, so Garr played right field most of the time in 1972 (with Aaron shifting to first) and hit .325. After Carty was traded, Garr stayed in right field and “slumped” to .299.
I just give the batting averages because Ralph didn’t really have much power or walk a whole lot. Still, .320 batting averages cover a lot of ills. In 1974, playing mostly left field, he hit .353/.383/.503. The .503 is largely a fluke, spiked by a league-leading 17 triples (the same number Carty hit in his entire career) but he did hit a few more homers. He won the batting title and made his only all-star team.
Garr had a bad year in 1975, hitting .278/.327/.384, and the Braves (as I’ve noted) had a “sell low” philosophy in place. They traded him and Larvell Blanks to the White Sox for Dick Ruthven, Ken Henderson, and — I swear — Ozzie Osborn. Osborn wasn’t really a player, but Ruthven gave the Braves two and a half solid years, then was traded for Gene Garber, and Henderson filled in admirably for a year and then was part of the Burroughs trade. So that worked out okay. Garr hit .300 his first two years in Chicago, then fell off, and when he wasn’t hitting .300 he wasn’t much use. He was out of the majors at 34.
Garr ranks here because this is where he ranks, to put it tautologically. I am not enamoured of the high-average speed merchant as a type, but Garr in his Atlanta years was very good. Only eleven players (ten of whom are yet to be listed, and Ron Gant) created more runs in a Braves uniform from 1966-2006. He’s further above average than Gant. I can’t say that if I were picking a team I wouldn’t rather have Carty or Gant or Klesko, but I’m going by the numbers here.
Tangential note: Garr led the league in intentional walks in 1975 with 17, and is 12th on the Atlanta career list with 37 (leaving exactly 100 unintentional walks in his career). It seems odd to walk a leadoff hitter with no power, but when you think about it it makes sense. With the intentional walk to prevent one run from scoring, the high-average guy is the most dangerous, not the power guy — I mean, if you’re trying to prevent one run, who cares if two score instead? Also, with a runner at second, the impact of Garr’s speed was minimized. And #2 hitters are usually weak hitters — Garr was normally behind followed by Marty Perez.