Righthander Wayne Garland has a nickname that doesn't fit. He is often mistaken for other players. His teammates can't agree on what makes him tick. And though he may be the most extraordinary pitcher in this season of extraordinary pitchers, he was left off the American League All-Star team.
Garland's teammates on the Orioles call him Grump, but only because he looks that way. He isn't a bit grouchy. It does not matter to him that he goes unrecognized despite having the best record in the league (13-2), and a 2.59 earned run average. He won't even remind you that he has pitched effectively in 19 of 26 appearances. For Garland isn't all that concerned about stardom right now; he's perfectly happy to have achieved starterdom.
For the last 15 seasons or so, Baltimore has produced outstanding pitchers almost as prolifically as it has turned out crab cakes, but even on a team that has Jim Palmer, Garland is something special. This spring he was considered a long reliever, a handy euphemism for a pitcher barely good enough to make the squad. Baltimore's management thought so little of his 7-11 record and 3.39 ERA during the three previous seasons that it cut his $27,000 salary the maximum 20%. Garland refused to sign, and looked forward to becoming a free agent after he had played out his option year.
But once the season began, the ailing Orioles found they needed plenty of quick, long-lasting relief. Beginning with a 7‚Öì-inning, three-hit masterpiece, Garland came in from the bullpen to win three games and added another victory in a spot start. When Starters Ken Holtzman and Doyle Alexander were traded to New York on June 15, Garland was added to the rotation. Two days later he stopped Texas 4-1, allowing four hits in seven innings. On June 21 he pitched 7‚Öî innings of no-hit ball, beating Boston 2-0 on two hits. It was his first complete game in the major leagues. On June 26 he made it two, defeating the Indians 2-1. Even when Garland finally suffered his first loss after eight wins—a 6-4 defeat by the Red Sox on June 30—he was less at fault than his teammates, who fielded and ran the bases in slow motion.
August 15, 1976
Despite Garland's 8-1 record, American League Manager Darrell Johnson did not name him to the All-Star team. So Garland won his next two starts, and quietly expressed only "disappointment" at Johnson's decision. (By contrast, Palmer, also left off the All-Star pitching staff, called Johnson "an idiot.")
In Johnson's defense it must be conceded that Garland does not look—or pitch—like a stopper. A blocky six feet, 195 pounds, his appearance is more like that of a catcher. He uses no windup and little follow-through. His best pitch is a changeup that acts like a screwball, breaking away from lefthanded hitters. He throws it by gripping the seam of the ball with three fingers and turning his palm outward on delivery. This unusual pitch makes Garland's hard pitches seem faster than they are, and it is so befuddling that batters say it is a spitter—a sure sign they are impressed. "It does behave like one," Garland admits.
"Wayne has always had great stuff," says Palmer. "When Andy Etchebarren was catching for us, he said Wayne had the best stuff on the team. The problem was that he had the tendency to come in and throw a bad pitch. That gets magnified when you're relieving. When you're starting, you can make your own trouble and get out of it."
"The guy is a killer," says teammate Reggie Jackson. "He's the kind of guy who will go one-on-one with you and come up shaking hands. He's the first guy I would compare with Catfish Hunter, and you don't just throw that kind of talk around." Jackson differs with Palmer on one point: "Wayne doesn't have great stuff—better than average, but not great. It's his competitive attitude that makes him a winner."
Garland could pass for Hunter off the field, too. With the requisite moustache, a frizzy permanent, colorful clothes and high-heeled shoes, he looks and dresses like many of today's players. (The latest sociological phenomenon in baseball is that all the white guys look alike.) "One of the best things about pitching well is that people in Baltimore aren't mistaking me for Ross Grimsley any more," says Garland.
To achieve recognition, Garland has had to make the kind of changes at age 25 that most pitchers make at 30. Signed out of Florida's Gulf Coast Junior College in 1969, he showed up in the majors four years later with a reputation for throwing hard because he had led the International League in strikeouts. Sent to the Baltimore bullpen, Garland, a starter since his Little League days, quickly discovered that he was not fast enough to break into the Oriole rotation by relying strictly on his hard pitches. "They had Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—you just couldn't name them all," he says. "I began thinking I'd be better off elsewhere."
When he got a rare start on July 15, 1974 against Oakland, Garland showed signs that he already was changing from a thrower to a thinker by holding the A's hitless for 8‚Öì innings before losing in the ninth. "He had more tricks than a kid on Halloween," says Jackson, who was then with the A's. "Fastball, curve, slider, changeup, forkball, knuckler." Unfortunately some of his tricks, most notably the curve, were treats for the hitters. Now Garland limits himself to fastballs, sliders, changeups and occasional knucklers and makes them all work, as Hunter does, by keeping the ball low and pitching to spots. An ideal game for Garland would be 27 ground outs. In 139 innings he has struck out a modest 68, but he has walked only 37 and given up just 128 hits. His 13th victory, a 6-2 defeat of the Indians last week, was slightly subnormal on only one count—he allowed 10 hits. Otherwise Garland followed his usual pattern, walking no one and inducing Cleveland batters to hit 15 grounders.
Although his 20% pay cut has been restored, Garland continues to hold out, but his goal is no longer becoming a free agent. "Now that I'm a starter, I figure holding out helps my bargaining position with the Orioles," he says. "I would like to sign a two-year contract and buy a house in Baltimore for my wife and two kids. Security, that's what I want. I really don't care about playing out my option. Deciding between four or five different teams puts too much pressure on the individual." But not as much pressure as Grump is laying on the hitters nowadays.