No one ever bounded into major league baseball with a more resounding hit barrage than Ralph A. Garr, the real-life roadrunner -- not Cobb, Musial, Ruth, Williams, Aaron, Mays, Pete Rose or Bill Terry. It was virtually the most glittering opening act in the annals of the game, 813 hits in his first full four years, an annual tattoo of 219, 180, 200 and 214 hits.
Only Ty Cobb matched it. Musical had 20 fewer for that period, Mays 135 fewer and Aaron nearly 100. Williams was not even close.
They were measuring Ralph for a suit at Cooperstown before the the ink was dry on his bonus. Even Ty Cobb's lifetime 4,191 his seemed hardly safe. w
In 1974, Ralph Carr's .353 led the National League in batting. He led the runner-up by 32 full points. He had 100 hits by June 1 that year and the league record of 254 by Lefty O'Doul and Bill Terry seemed about to fall. A late-season injury stalled him at 214. But he had barely missed the batting title in 1971 when he hit .343 with 219 hits, and in 1972 when he batted .325.
Ralph Garr was as hard to get out as an impacted tooth. He didn't require strikes. He hit anything that didn't hit him first. He utilized every part of the ball park except the outfield seats (his few home runs went between, not over, people).
Wee Willie Keeler "hit 'em where they ain't." Babe Ruth his 'em where they'd never be. Ralph Garr hit 'em where they couldn't get. He once had eight straight hits, and four of them never left the infield. If the third baseman played back, he dropped a bunt. If he played in, he chopped it over his head. He went down the first base line so fast, the first baseman didn't dare play the hole. On balls hit to deep short with no one on, the shortstop threw to second.
Ralph Garr once stole 63 bases in the minor leagues and 35 in the majors. But , on the Atlanta team with Henry Aaron, Rico Carty, Orlando Cepada and Darrell Evans coming up next, stealing a base was like putting a a pail full of water in an ocean.
But that was all prologue. That was scene-setting for the emergence of Ralph Garr, superstar. Life was to be a parade down Broadway, autograph signings, books, calls from Johnny Carson. The Heights. Warner Brothers even gave him permission to use their copyrighted nickname "The Roadrunner." It was good publicity for them, they figured.
And, then, life began throwing curves. The man who was supposed to be chasing Ty Cobb was suddenly chasing a spot in the starting lineup. The Cooperstown Express couldn't get a through track out of Georgia. The fast start had run into a big washout.
What happened? Well, the Braves had lost their power source. Aaron, Cepeda, Carty all left. Suddenly the team didn't need a roadrunner, it needed a home run trotter. Ralph Garr began to look at better pitches. And to miss them. The man who got 1,000 hits in a little over his first five years in the big leagues got only 500 in his next four.
The Braves traded him to the Chicago White Sox, which is sort of a halfway house, a rest home for highpriced disappointments. Reject Manor.
Never to be confused with Tris Speaker in the outfield in the first place (he made 52 errors in his National League career), Ralph Garr played more and more infrequently despite batting .300 two years in a row with Chicago. It was Goodbye, Ty Cobb, and Hello, utility, for Garr.
The White Sox didn't have any plans for him. The White Sox didn't have any plans for the White Sox. They released Ralph Garr to the Angels for mere cash last September as the California team was bucking for the pennant.
It's always sad when a player who once used to say, "I am this team," is reduced to saying, "I think I can help this team," the utility man's prayer, but Ralph Garr thinks he sees the ghost of seasons past on the scorecard now. "You know, it's hard to get notice when you're on a team that isn't going anywhere," he reminds you. "Your abilities tend to get overlooked."
The Angels look to Ralph Garr more like a reincarnation of those early Atlanta teams when he used to look like a threat to Ty Cobb. A lineup with Don Baylor, Dan Ford, Carney Lansford, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich and Joe Rudi on it looks to Ralph Garr like an ideal spot for a little more road running. In fact, even though Ty Cobb is now safe, he thinks it might be a situation where someday someone might say, "Let's se, California 1980, Wasn't that the lineup that had Ralph Garr in it?"