Friday, October 12, 2012

The Last Great St. Louis Browns Player

One of the most respected players of his era, Ned Garver broke into the big leagues as a 22-year old rookie for the lowly St. Louis Browns in 1948 and quickly established himself as one of the best and most durable pitchers in the American League.

In his first four years he was arguably the best (and most valuable) pitcher in the AL and easily led all pitchers with a 20.4 WAR. In 1951, he became the first pitcher in modern baseball history to win 20 games for a team that lost 100 games. With renown stamina, he completed 42 of 49 starts in a stretch spanning 1950-52 and led the AL in complete games in 1950 (22) and 1951 (24). Runner-up to
Yogi Berra as American League MVP in 1951, Garver played for some of baseball's worst teams in his 14-year career, finishing in the bottom three 11 times and never better than fifth place. Hampered by arm and knee injuries in the second half of his career, Garver retired with 129 victories (157 defeats) and logged almost 2,500 innings.

Down-home with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, 86-year old Garver reminisced recently about playing baseball in the 1940s and 1950s. His stories about playing conditions, travel, teammates, coaches, owners, and the reserve clause showed the passion he had to play the game and the dramatic changes the sport has experienced.

Wolf: Could you tell me about growing up and playing baseball in Ney (population 300) in northwest Ohio in the 1930s and '40s?

Garver: I was born and raised on a farm. We farmed by horses. It was a lot of manual labor which was good to develop your physical strength. It was in the Depression and nobody had any money to do things or go places. Every little community had their own baseball team. We called these "town teams." You didn't have to go far to play games. That what we did for recreation—play baseball. I started playing town ball when I was a freshman in high school. That was an excellent experience. Many of the players were older and more experienced than I was and it was a challenge.

Wolf: When did you start playing baseball?