Southpaw Garvin Befuddled Hitters and Base Stealers Alike for Two Months

Mixed feelings: Jerry Garvin has mixed feelings a he goes through his paces at the Blue Jays' training camp in Dunedin; Fla. Garvin says his arm is in fine shape as he launches his comeback but he misses his wife who stayed in Utah.
Toronto Public Library photo

 

Just as Otto Velez was a one-month force for the expansion 1977 Blue Jays, so was LHP Jerry Garvin.  Unlike Velez, Garvin was not a minor league veteran who couldn’t crack an MLB roster; plucked from the Twins in the expansion draft, Garvin was still six months away from his 22nd birthday when he made his MLB debut for Toronto on April 10, 1977.  Like Velez, he was a one-month (and a bit) wonder whose statistics came back to earth by season’s end.

Sinkerballer Garvin had a very deceptive delivery, featuring a high leg kick the likes of which we just don’t see any more.  He used that windup to effectively control opponent’s running games.  When Garvin went into the stretch, he was able to sneak a peek over to 1st as he brought his leg up, and if he saw the runner leaning or with too big a lead, he would fire over to 1st.  Despite that deception, Garvin tended to do things within the parameters of the rule book – he was called for only two balks on the season.

In his fourth start against the Red Sox in the first game of an April 25th double header, Garvin picked off three Sox – all at 2nd Base.  Exactly one month later, against his hometown Oakland A’s, Garvin picked off four base runners – the only Pitcher in MLB history to do so.  In fact, there are only 9 MLB hurlers who have picked off as many as three runners in a game, and Garvin had done it twice before the season was two months old.  Teams did catch on to Garvin, but most runners tended to stay close to the bag when he was on the mound; would be base stealers were a dismal 10-30 against him, and Garvin picked off 23 runners altogether that season, the highest total in MLB history by a wide margin.

Garvin’s debut against the White Sox was a masterpiece.  He pitched 8 innings of 5-hit ball, walking 4 and striking out a pair.  His sinker was working that day, as evidenced by his 11 ground outs.  Garvin won his first five decisions, which included victories over the Yankees and Royals.  He pitched at least 7 innings in each of his first five starts.  By the end of May, Garvin was 6-3.

Garvin would need that excellent pick off move as the season progressed.  Because he tended to pitch to contact, he gave up more hits than innings pitched.  Also, his lots-of-moving-parts delivery caused him to lose the strike zone on occasion.  Garvin was also prone to the long ball, giving up 33 HRs, including 10 in September.  As teams caught on and he began to wear down, Garvin lost ten consecutive decisions from June until late August.  For the season, he was 10-18, with a 4.19 ERA – respectable numbers for a rookie who made 34 starts.

As the season progressed, Blue Jays Manager Roy Hartsfield, who had little to choose from in terms of starting pitching, continued to trot Garvin out to the mound (Garvin’s 34 starts tied for the team lead) even though it was obvious that he was tiring.  Garvin pitched a career-high 244 innings in those pre Year After Effect days – he had thrown 200 innings in the Twins system as a 19 year old.  The thinking in those days was that a sinkerballer could handle the extra work load, as the pitch was supposedly less harmful to a Pitcher’s arm.  Garvin’s experience showed quite the opposite:  he was never the same hurler again after 1977.  Ineffectiveness caused him to pitch just over half (144) as many frames the following season.  A shoulder issue limited him to 22 big league innings in 1979, and when he returned the next season, he was used almost exclusively in relief.

Garvin pitched fairly well out of the bullpen for two seasons (which included a ten-club record 61 appearances in 1981), but was hit hard in 1982, and found himself in AAA Syracuse for a stretch.  Garvin was the team’s all time leader in He returned for a pair of September outings, which proved to be his last in an MLB uniform.  Garvin was sold to St Louis in the off season, but failed to make the club, and returned to California, where he became involved in the real estate business.

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