Playing for clubs rarely in post-season contention, and in the shadow of stars like Atlanta Braves teammate and home run king Hank Aaron, Ralph Garr could be the most under-rated player of the 1970s. Drafted by Atlanta out of Grambling University where he led the NAIA in 1967 with a .585 average, Garr set an International League record hitting .368 in 1970, and became the Braves starting left fielder in 1971 when Rico Carty was injured in winter ball.
Garr was an immediate sensation by hitting .400 through mid-May and was tabbed ‘Road Runner’ for his speed. Aaron once remarked, “Ralph gets down the line as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen.” While he hit only 9 home runs that year and never topped 12 in a season, Garr made like Aaron on May 17th against the Mets. He blasted a game-tying, 2-out 10th inning shot off Tom Seaver (imagine a starting pitcher still out there in the 10th inning!), followed by a 2-out walk off to win it in the 12th. Garr finished the season second in the National League with 219 hits and a .342 average, scored 101 runs, stole 30 bases, and led the league with 314 putouts and 15 assists.
In 1972 Garr hit .325, again good enough for second in the National League. In 1974 he made his only All-Star appearance and had a career year, leading the NL in average (.353), triples (17), and hits (214). After the 1975 season Garr was traded to the Chicago White Sox where he enjoyed two more .300 seasons. By 1978 his bat speed and legs had slowed down, and his career came to an end in early 1980 with California.
An infielder in college, Ralph was immediately moved to the outfield after turning pro, but was never considered a strong defensive player. He was however, a talented top of the order hitter and an overall offensive force – topping .300 5 times, 200 hits 3 times, and leading the league in triples twice. For the decade Garr ranked 9th among all 70s players with a .307 batting average, was 11th best with 1,546 hits, and #6 with 64 triples. He also tallied 703 runs scored, 201 doubles, and 170 stolen bases. Impressive numbers, though one could argue that Ralph’s skill set was not a match for tiny Fulton County Stadium. With his speed and line drive bat who knows what Garr could have hit playing his home games in one of the many large turf NL ballparks. And had he not batted ahead of so many sluggers like Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Dave Johnson, and Darrell Evans, there is no telling what Garr’s stolen base totals might have looked like.
As it is, Garr will have to settle for being perhaps the best kept secret of the decade.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His new book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games was just released on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: