Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date including the man they called Scrap Iron. John Fredland contributes his Jolly Roger Rewind with a game picked out especially for Garner’s birthday. If you missed the post from this morning, please check out the recap of Pittsburgh’s first game as a member of the National League, a game that occurred exactly 125 years ago today. The article can be found here and it includes real photos from 1887 of each of the nine players that participated in that first game.
Phil Garner (1949) All-star infielder for the Pirates from 1977 until 1981. The Pirates acquired Garner from the Oakland A’s in a nine player deal on March 15,1977 that was covered here. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, Phil had played two full seasons with the A’s and was named to the American League all-star team during the 1976 season. He was the third overall pick in the 1971 amateur draft, one spot behind outfielder Robert Jones, who was picked by the Pirates second overall and whose minor league career lasted just 34 games. Garner saw most of his time at third base for the Pirates in 1977, but he also played 50 games at second base and saw some time at shortstop as well. He played 153 games and hit .260 with 17 homers, 77 RBI’s, 32 stolen bases, 35 doubles and 99 runs scored. The home run total as well as his runs scored, doubles and RBI’s were all career highs.
In 1978 Garner split his time evenly between second base and third base, playing 81 games at each spot(some games he played both positions). That year he had a .261 average and really liked the number sixty-six. He had 66 walks, 66 runs scored and 66 RBI’s on the season. The 1979 season was obviously a special one for the Pirates and Garner did his part in helping the team get their fifth World Series title. He again split his time between 2B/3B and hit .293 with 76 runs scored and 59 RBI’s in 150 games. In the playoffs he was even better, hitting .417 with a home run in the NLCS against the Reds and .500 in the World Series, with five RBI’s against the Orioles. In 1980, he became the Pirates regular second baseman, playing 151 games at the spot and making his second all-star team.
In 1981, Garner was hitting nearly .300 through the end of May but as the strike deadline approached he began to slump and his poor hitting continued through the month of August after the players returned from the 49 day strike. Luckily for Garner, the all-star game was held right after the strike ended so he was able to make the team for a third time in his career. On August 31, 1981, the Pirates traded Garner to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitcher Randy Niemann, minor leaguer Kevin Houston and another minor league player, who went right to Pittsburgh to fill Garner’s spot at second base. That player turned out to be Johnny Ray, who made his major league debut just two days later. Garner ended up playing in the majors until 1988, finishing his career with a .260 average, 738 RBI’s, 225 stolen bases and 780 runs scored in 1680 games. Since retiring as a player, he has managed for 15 seasons in the majors, the last time being 2007 for the Astros.
Jeff Reboulet (1964) Infielder for the 2003 Pirates. Prior to signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent on April 18,2003, Jeff had played 11 seasons in the majors, spending time with four different teams. He had played over 900 games at that point and had seen action in over 230 games at three different positions, second base, shortstop and third base. In 2002, Reboulet played 38 games for the Dodgers, hitting .208 with two RBI’s in 58 plate appearances. He also saw his first action in the minors since July of 1992. The Pirates started him out in the minors, recalling him in mid-May. He played 93 games for Pittsburgh, spending most of his time at second base where he played 76 games. Jeff hit .241 with 25 RBI’s and 37 runs scored in 299 plate appearances. He retired from baseball after 2003 with a .240 career average in 1018 games.
Tony Brottem (1891) Catcher for the 1921 Pirates. During Spring Training of 1921, the Pirates thought Brottem was going to be a member of their team but the commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis stepped in and awarded his rights to the Washington Senators. Tony had trained with the Pirates prior to the decision by Landis. On June 29th, the Pirates purchased Brottem from the Senators after he played just four games over the first two full months of the season. For Pittsburgh, he played 30 games, starting 25 behind the plate and he batted .242 with nine RBI’s. That would end up being his last season in the majors and sadly, his career had a tragic ending. After playing four seasons(1922-25) for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, records of Brottem’s playing days are spotty but it is known that in 1929 he played for the Daytona Aviators of the Central League. Just two weeks after being released, and believing his baseball career was over, Brottem committed suicide on August 5,1929. Prior to 1921, his major league career consisted of 26 games for the St Louis Cardinals in 1916 and another two games for them again during the 1918 season.
Jolly Roger Rewind: April 30, 1980
Phil Garner celebrated his 31st birthday with his first career two-home run game, leading the first-place Pirates to a 5-0 victory over the Expos at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Bucs’ third consecutive triumph followed an afternoon of off-the-field drama. Hours before the first pitch, executive vice president Harding Peterson announced that Bert Blyleven, arguably the team’s best starting pitcher over the previous two seasons, had requested a trade and departed for his California home. Blyleven’s disenchantment stemmed from manager Chuck Tanner’s perceived willingness to replace him prematurely with pinch hitters or relief pitchers, rather than allow him to continue pitching in hopes of earning victories and complete games. As Blyleven informed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a telephone interview, “[w]ith the Pirates, I was always looking over my shoulder after the fifth inning. Tanner showed very little faith in me. I began to lose my competitiveness.” Peterson characterized Blyleven as “semi-retired” and indicated that he would pursue trade options.*
On the field that night, however, the Pirates’ performance belied any notion of discord. Garner, playing in career game #832, hit a Bill Lee pitch over the left-field wall with Lee Lacy on second base in the second inning to increase the Bucs’ lead to 3-0. In the sixth inning, the Bucco second baseman took a Fred Norman offering over the left-field wall for a solo shot, extending the advantage to 5-0.**
By then, Pirates’ starter Jim Bibby had all the run support he would need. In an ironic epilogue to Blyleven’s criticism, Bibby pitched all nine innings, scattering six hits to earn his 17th career shutout. He also benefitted from strong defense; Russ Franke’s Pittsburgh Press article noted that Montreal “hit line drives all over Three Rivers Stadium,” only to see Bill Madlock and Omar Moreno successfully diffuse the Expo smashes. Moreno provided an unusual twist in the ninth inning: the centerfielder recorded a putout at second base by alertly stepping in to tag out Gary Carter after a wide turn around the base.
* The remainder of Blyleven’s saga: returned to the Pirates ten days later, finished 1980 with the only sub-100 ERA+ in his first 17 full MLB seasons, traded to Cleveland on the day after John Lennon’s death for very little return, pitched through the 1992 season, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, found post-baseball calling as Twins broadcaster/Telestrator maven.
** Garner would have one more two-homer game as a major leaguer. As a Houston Astro in April 1986, he hit two home runs off the Giants’ Vida Blue.
Box score and play-by-play.
Pittsburgh Press’s game account.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.