Who is this player?
Wayne Garland, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians
The 1980 season for Wayne Garland began much as the previous three; frustrating and in pain. So much so, that as Spring Training wore on, his future with the Cleveland Indians seemed questionable. Likely due to his historic contract, Wayne earned the final spot on the Indians' staff and was used sporadically to start the season. He even tried adding a knuckleball to his repertoire in an effort to earn a spot back in the starting rotation. Garland was given his first start on June 16th and he responded with a complete game victory against the Chicago White Sox. Three weeks later, he fired a two-hit shutout against the New York Yankees before 73,096. Naturally, the optimists hailed a return to form, but Garland was still cautious. He was unable to build upon these performances and lost his final five decisions of the season. Garland finished 1980 with a 6-9 record and a 4.61 ERA.
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Wayne Garland was drafted as a 18-year old graduate of Cohn High School by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. During this period, the Orioles farm system was one of the finest in Major League Baseball, with an emphasis on signing and developing young pitchers. Garland was certainly no exception. He had a fabulous 1971 season at Double-A Dallas-Fort Worth, winning 19 games, posting a 1.71 ERA and leading the Spurs to the Junior World Series. However, he was unable to crack the Orioles deep pitching staff during a times when the O's owned the American League East. When he fired a no-hitter at Triple-A Rochester early in the 1974 season, he was brought up to the Orioles for good.
Wayne spent the 1974 and 1975 seasons in the Orioles bullpen, occasionally given a shot as a spot starter and occasionally earning a save or two. More importantly, Garland established a pattern by hiring an agent and not quickly signing a contract for 1974 as well as 1975. At this time in the game's history, players who had agents were treated with skepticism and criticism by management. By the time 1976 rolled around, Garland again did not sign a contract and since he was not an integral part of the Orioles, it did not appear to be their top priority.
As is now well known, Garland took advantage of the opportunity presented to him in 1976 when the Orioles had a shortage of starting pitchers early in the season. He would go on to win 20 games and post a 2.67 ERA and was among the league leaders in nearly every pitching category. At 25 years old, the righthanded Garland was widely acknowledged as as a coming star and since he finished 1976 without a contract, one of the most desirable free agents. Free agency was new that winter and was by no means as routine as it was today. What happened would stun the media, the baseball world and even Garland himself.
The Cleveland Indians signed Garland to a $2.3 million dollar contract for ten years and the entire landscape changed for major league baseball. Although most point to this contract as an example of free agent "busts" Garland blazed a new trail that generations following him would benefit from. As he often said that year and after why would he turn it down?
However, Garland received criticism from the moment he signed the deal, even from former teammates such as Jim Palmer. He was even criticized for wearing number 23, which was a constant, unfortunate reminder of his contract. Needless to say he was eager to prove that he was "worth it." Unbeknownst at the time, Garland suffered a shoulder injury in his first Spring Training game with the Indians. It was later revealed that he tore his rotator cuff, a death knell for pitchers during this era. Nonetheless, he played through the injury, trying to earn his contract; pitching 282 inning with 21 complete games. However, his cast behind him in Cleveland wasn't the same as Baltimore and he lost 19 games.
The following year, he attempted to again pitch through the pain until he succumbed to surgery. Instead of taking time off to heal, he returned 10 months after surgery in what proved to be a mistake as he never again was able to pitch consistently effectively. It was a testament to his will and courage that he was even able to return to pitch at all even with the added pressure of "the contract" and the fans of Cleveland which by now had grown impatient. So too did Cleveland management, who released him after the 1981 season, effectively ending his 9-year career. He attempted a comeback with Nashville in the Yankees organization, working on his knuckleball with Hoyt Wilhelm. Eventually though, Garland decided to retire outright.
Garland worked in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system as a coach and was named the head coach at Aquinas Junior College in Nashville in 1984. He also coached in the Cincinnati Reds organization. However, health issues continued to plague Garland as six back surgeries by 2003 curtailed his coaching career as well. Today, Wayne Garland is living the Lakeland, Florida area.
Why I love this card
I have mentioned this before, but this card reminds me of Sunday, August 24, 1980. My grandpa had been sick for some time and died that day. I had just bought a pack at the 7-11 and was sitting on the curb with some buddies and this card was inside. My dad and uncle came around the corner in my dad's huge 1978 Buick and gave me the "better get home" look. There are a handful of cards from this pack that I associate with that day and Garland is one. Sorry to be so morbid, but Garland reminds me of Grandpa today.
Three of the top pitchers in 1976 were Mark Fidrych, Randy Jones and Wayne Garland. Before Opening Day 1977, all three would have suffered injuries that significantly shortened and ultimately ended their careers. Interesting to ponder what the late 1970s would have been like had all three remained healthy and had longer careers.
This blog is inspired by several influences; first, the other blogs dedicated to a single season of Topps sets and the folks at http://www.deanscards.com/, who provide a great resource of all years of cards (and from whom I stole the awesome header).
Mainly though, this blog is inspired by my Dad who during the summer of 1980, fully introduced me to the great game of baseball through these cards. Every one of these cards is somehow connected to a memory of that time.