Obituary: Adrian Garrett (1943-2021)

RIP to Adrian Garrett, a powerful, multi-position player whose career in MLB amounted to about a season’s worth of games over a 10-year span. He died on April 22 from pneumonia at Ascension Seton Hays Hospital in Kyle, Texas. Garrett was 78 years old. He played for the Atlanta Braves (1966), Chicago Cubs (1970, 1973-75), Oakland Athletics (1971-72) and California Angels (1975-76).

Henry Adrian Garrett Jr. was born in Brooksville, Fla., on January 3, 1943. He was one of three brothers to play professional baseball. Wayne Garrett (born in 1947) played with the Mets, Expos and Cardinals from 1969 to 1978. Charles Garrett (born in 1945) played in the Braves organization from 1963 through 1969. Of the three, only Adrian could boast of having Ted Williams as a co-star. Williams once pitched kids’ shoes in a TV commercial. After Williams said his lines, the ad showed a young slugger smacking a baseball as hard as he could. That was Adrian Garrett. He knew Williams well, beyond the commercial. He grew up watching the Red Sox at their spring training camp in Sarasota, and he modeled his swing after Williams’.

Garrett was part of a Sarasota Seminoles baseball team that won the District 3 Babe Ruth League Championship in 1957. A multi-position player — he was a catcher, first baseman and outfielder in the majors — Garrett played center field in the championship game and had 3 hits, 2 RBIs and a stolen base. He was also captain of both the baseball and football teams while attending Sarasota High School. He was a halfback on the football team and played pretty much anywhere on the baseball diamond. In his senior year, the left-handed Garrett batted .451.

Source: Austin American-Statesman, August 6, 1964.

Garrett graduated from Sarasota High in June of 1961 and quickly signed with the Milwaukee Braves organization for what was called a “very substantial” bonus. Within weeks, he was playing for the Palatka (Fla.) Redlegs of the Florida State League. In his first taste of professional ball, the 18-year-old Garrett hit in the .240s and didn’t show much power. That would start to change in the next year.

Garrett joined the inaugural Cedar Rapids Braves of the Class-D Midwest League in 1963 and clubbed 19 home runs to finish second in the league. He drove in 87 runs and showed a little speed, with 11 stolen bases. He was moved to center field to take better advantage of his speed, in fact. His batting average was just .254, but he also walked 91 times for a .385 on-base percentage. He split 1963 between Class-A Boise and AA Austin and hit 13 more homers, but his batting average with Austin was below .200.

Briefly, Garrett was a member of the Mets organization. He had been purchased by New York, played in the team’s training camp for a few weeks and had 1 hit in 4 pinch-hit at-bats. He was them dealt back to Milwaukee in a deal that sent shortstop Roy McMillan to the Mets in exchange for pitcher Jay Hook. “I’m what they call an unnamed player to be announced later,” he explained. He was a little disappointed that the Mets traded him away so quickly. “I think I had a better chance with the Mets. Milwaukee is loaded in the outfield. But not the Mets. They’re hurting.”

Garrett slashed .280/.357/.437 upon his return to the Austin Senators. After spending some time in the Florida Instructional League, he moved up to the AAA Atlanta Crackers of the International League. in 1965. Again, his average was on the low side (.224), but he homered 20 times, including 3 long balls in a 3-2 win against Toledo. He played well enough to merit a stay in Atlanta in 1966 — when the Braves were coming to town after leaving Milwaukee.

Garrett was an inaugural Atlanta Brave and played in the team’s second-ever game, on April 13, 1966. He pinch-hit for starting pitcher Ken Johnson and popped out to the catcher. He appeared in 4 games for the Braves and was hitless in 3 at-bats. The Braves sent Garrett to AAA Richmond when the rosters had to be trimmed in early May, and that was the last big-league action that he would see for the next four years.

Between 1966 and 1969, Garrett toiled away at the upper levels of the Braves’ minor-league organization. He hit plenty of home runs, including 28 in 1967, but he never hit well enough to guarantee playing time at the major-league level. His treatment at the hands of the Braves wasn’t appreciated by at least some members of the family. Wayne Garrett hit a home run off Atlanta’s Pat Jarvis in the 1969 NL Championship Series, helping to knock the Braves out of the postseason. “That’s for what they did to my brother,” he told a reporter. When asked for details, he simply said, “Never mind. They’ll understand.”

Adrian Garrett finally got away from Atlanta shortly after Wayne and the Miracle Mets won the 1969 World Series. The Braves sold his contract to the Chicago Cubs’ organization, but the Cubs didn’t do much with him either. In 1970, he had three pinch-hit appearances and struck out in all of them before being returned to the minor leagues. In 6 career plate appearances to that point, Garrett had 5 strikeouts and a pop fly to the catcher.

The Cubs sent Garrett to the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League for the rest of 1970, and he responded with a league-leading 29 home runs and a solid .277 batting average. He then moved to the Tacoma Cubs of the offense-oriented Pacific Coast League in ’71. He batted .289 in 1971 and hit 43 home runs, leading the PCL. He also drove in 119 runs, second to Spokane’s Ron Cey. His performance was so great that the Oakland A’s acquired him and brought him to the majors in September. He wasted no time, getting his first two major-league hits in his first game, on September 1 against the California Angels. Both came off Angels starter Andy Messersmith. His first major-league home run was on September 19 off Milwaukee’s Bill Parsons. In 14 games, he had a .143/.308/.286 slash line, with 3 hits in 21 at-bats.

Garrett started 1972 with the Iowa Oaks, the Athletics’ AAA club. As he always did, he impressed the minor-league brass with his professionalism, attitude, and willingness to work with the younger players on the team. But he had been in professional baseball for a decade, and the grind was starting to get to him. He admitted to a reporter from The Shreveport Journal that he thought about quitting, as his brother Charles had done when he got tired of the minor leagues.

“[But] somehow when the spring rolls around I always keep coming back. My wife, Linda, gives me the inspiration. She wants me to stay because that’s what I am, a ballplayer. She thinks I’m good enough to play in the big leagues,” he said, also crediting brother Wayne for his constant support.

Garrett did report to Oakland that year, when the A’s owner Charlie Finley decided that the team needed a left-handed bat off the bench. He played in 10 games and was hitless in 8 at-bats, with one walk. His stay in the majors ended quickly that year, but Garrett’s chances to play in the majors came a little more frequently. It just required a pretty significant position change.

To this point in his professional career, Garrett had been an outfielder. Aside from some time in the infield in high school, he’d never played anywhere else. However, the A’s sent Garrett back to the Cubs, and the team presented him with a unique opportunity in spring training of 1973. Pete Reiser, a coach, asked Garrett if he’d ever been a catcher. “No,” he replied. “Willing?” Reiser asked. “Of course.”

Source: SABR

So Garrett broke camp as the Cubs’ third-string catcher, behind Randy Hundley and Ken Rudolph. Though he appeared in a mere 36 games, he stayed with the team for most of the season. He pinch-hit in 24 games, caught 6 times and played in the outfield 7 times. He had 12 hits, including 3 home runs, for a .222 batting average. In the times where he did catch, he wasn’t awful at it, either. His fielding percentage was .941, but he did throw out 3 of 7 base-stealers.

“Anytime you can learn to play another position, it makes you more valuable,” he reasoned.

Garrett never played much more with the Cubs after that, though he continued to hammer pitching in the minors. He was hitless in 10 games with the Cubs in 1974 and started 1975 with an .095 batting average. He had just 2 hits, but one was a 3-run home run that helped the Cubs rally to a 3-2 win over the Mets. He was acquired by the California Angels in mid-season and given a chance when first baseman Bruce Bochte broke his thumb. Garrett, at 32, played regularly in the majors for the first time in his career, and he made the most of it. In 37 games with the Angels, he slashed .262/.344/.477 and homered 6 times, driving in 18 runs. He helped the Angels whip the Yankees 8-1 on August 9, with 2 singles and a ground-rule double.

Garrett’s last run in the major leagues came with the Angels in 1976. He spent most of the season on the bench, hitting .125 in 29 games. The Angels sold his contract to the Hawaii Islanders, and he proceeded to put on a power display that wowed the local fans. He hit 9 home runs in 31 games and batted .310. The power display was good enough that Garrett was able to continue his playing career in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Over three seasons, Garrett was one of the top sluggers in the league, with 35 home runs in 1977 and 40 in ’78. He played in the 1978 Japan All-Star series and hit 3 home runs in one game, driving in 6 of his team’s 7 runs. He also tied the league’s record with 15 home runs in a month, equaling the mark set by the legendary Sadaharu Oh.

Adrian Garrett goes into a home run trot after a home run in an All-Star game in Japan. Source: Hartford Courant, July 23, 1978.

“I came to Japan to play because it was a great opportunity to prolong my baseball career. It also provides my family with more money and better things,” he said. Along with the money, the other perks were pretty nice. When he was named the Central League’s MVP for the month of April, he received a large shipment of rice and other gifts from the Japan Agricultural Cooperative.

Garrett, 36, slumped in his final year of professional ball, hitting just .225 for Hiroshima. He still managed 27 home runs and singled in the go-ahead runs over the Kitetsu Buffaloes in Game Three of the league championships. The Carp won the series, and Garrett ended his playing career as a champion.

All total, Garrett spent 19 seasons in professional baseball with 21 different teams, more or less (He played with the Austin Senators and Austin Braves — same team, different name, so I counted it once.) He played in 163 games in the major leagues across 8 seasons, with a .185/.263/.333 slash line. He had 51 hits, with 8 doubles and 11 home runs. Garrett also drove in 37 RBIs and scored 30 times. He batted .259 with 280 home runs in the minors across 16 seasons, and .260 with 102 homers in his 3 seasons in Japan. Add it all together, and you have 393 career home runs — 398 if you add in his winter instructional league numbers.

As noted, Garrett was frequently praised for being a great teammate in the minors, and those people skills translated well to a career in coaching and managing. From 1982 through 1984, he was a manager in the White Sox minor leagues, and his Appleton Foxes won the Midwest League championship in 1982. He stayed with the White Sox as a minor-league hitting instructor before joining the Royals. He was a third base coach and hitting coach at the major-league level from 1988 through 1992. After that, he served as a minor-league coach for the Marlins and Reds and was a part-time hitting instructor for the Reds as well, through the 2015 season.

Garrett is survived by his wife Linda, two children and three grandchildren.

Adrian and Linda Garrett, on the grounds of Austin’s old Disch FIeld. Source: Austin American-Statesman, July 9, 2000.

For more information: Chicago Sun-Times

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