On the Tribe’s Wayne Garland, and efforts that backfire

Wayne Garland Cleveland Indians

Come with me, to the land of unintended consequences.

We’re going to begin with some yard work. You got a long sleeve shirt? Good. Here’s a cigar and some gloves. No, I am not going to put on my aerator spike shoes. At this point, I am wondering when I am going to live that one down.

The cigar is of the garden variety (pun intended). I like a good cigar, but in the yard, I commonly forget where I have placed it. When I rediscover it (my neighbor warns me to be sure it’s a cigar, and not something the dog left behind), it needs to be relighted. To do that, you need to pinch the burnt end and roll the cigar between your thumb and forefinger to get rid of the ash; if you don’t, the cigar tastes awful. Even if you do, it doesn’t taste as good as it did when you first lit up. Hence, the qualities of a good cigar are lost.

The shoes had been the result of a brainstorm I’d had, when I wanted to aerate the yard. I wanted to rent a gas-powered unit from the rental place, but I couldn’t lift it into my old Toyota Rav4. I actually would have liked to have one of those old fashioned aerator barrels that you fill with water for weight and push around the yard, but I don’t see those around anymore.

But I had the aerator shoes. They were great, in theory; nine, 5” spike nails protruded through the bottom. The theory of aeration is to give grass roots better access to water, and to allow them to spread out at a lower depth than at the warmer, dryer surface. The shoes were kind of fun to wear, too. They reminded me of the “moon shoes” we wore as kids. Those were thick platforms you similarly strapped to the bottoms of your shoes. They had short, stout springs inside of them that compressed and returned to their original state when you walked in them. They gave the sensation that you were walking on the moon as you bounced along (toys related to space exploration were popular, circa 1970). And since you were a kid, you didn’t pay attention to the springs’ groaning and squeaking with each step.

To strap on the aerator spikes, you first stomped the spikes into the ground. After you stepped into the thin, hard, flat base, you tightened the straps around your toes and ankles. I also took the additional step of tying the two straps together.

Unfortunately, the straps sometimes slipped while walking. It usually happened when doing a lot of pivoting and backing up, so the spikes were best used for straight-ahead lawn mowing, vs. raking leaves (leaves also accumulated on the spikes, limiting their ground penetration).

When I first received the shoes in the mail-order envelope, I inserted the spikes and tried them on in the front yard. The straps began to slip, so I had to stop, sit down, and retighten them. Tiring of that, I began to ignore the slippage. I was able to walk behind the mower while thrusting my toes deeper into the front straps, like walking in extra large thongs. Eventually, one of the spike shoes fell away. My soft rubber sole planted firmly on my next stride- directly onto the exposed, upside-down spikes. The nails penetrated my shoe, and the pain gave me a flashback to my early grade school days, when I stepped on a rusty nail on a collapsed billboard in an overgrown empty lot near our neighborhood (yes kids, there once was such a thing as an “empty lot”). After I extricated my shoe from the spikes, I removed my shoe and sock. I discovered that the spikes did not draw blood. There merely were yellow marks on the bottom of my foot. Another memory flashed- that one time when my BB gun jammed, and I shot myself in the palm of my hand when I tried to free up the screwed-on end of the barrel. (“I’m SHOT. Should I be falling down, like on TV? Oh. No blood? OK.”)

My life story is full of seemingly great ideas that have resulted in unintended consequences.

When the girls were very young, they often forgot to turn things off when they were no longer in use. Curling irons were the biggie, and we got a handle on that hazard. But boom boxes, and especially room lights, were constantly left on.

I was excited about a solution I came up with: a light switch with a motion detector. I purchased one, and installed it in the girls’ bathroom. When they entered, the light turned on, and once they left, it eventually turned off. Brilliant.

That evening, my wife and I were relaxing in the family room. Suddenly, a blood curdling scream pierced the entire house. I bolted up the stairs, to the girls’ bathroom. Our daughter was still crying a little; she was standing in the shower, behind the still curtain, with the light switched off. The bathroom had unexpectedly gone pitch black on her. The next day, I reinstalled the old light switch.

Then there was the time I bought a mail-order portable ice rink. The photos looked great: an entire family, in scarves and mittens, laughing and skating together under the bright sun in the snow-covered yard. I took a look at the specs: 20-by-40. They provided you with a heavy duty liner and connecting PVC tubes for the perimeter. The edge of the liner folded over the tubes, and you locked it in place with a sleeve you snapped over the length of each tube. The tubes were raised 8-to-10 inches off the ground with brackets that you cut out of thick insulation styrofoam, using a stencil template they provided. You filled it with water, and ba-da-bing.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I think it would be- if you could get the water to freeze. Well, first, you need a very level spot in your yard- after a little landscaping to build up one portion of the yard, I had a semi-level spot. (Yards that appear level may really be anything but.) But getting that water to freeze is the hardest part. I spent several days outside, filling the rink, in windy, overcast, 25-degree weather. If the ground isn’t frozen, the water isn’t going to freeze, either. Also, it is surprising how much water is required to fill a rink 20-by-40-by-10. Due to one end of my yard being a little lower than the other end, the water bulged at the lower end. I needed to provide the extra support of more brackets, mid-fill. Inevitably, my rink suffered the occasional breakdown- a few brackets would topple and water would run over the edge. A few inches of water, 20 feet wide, is very powerful and difficult to stop. Running around my shins, a lot of water was lost every time the rink suffered a ‘breach’ (that was the catchword, as this was soon after Katrina’s battering of New Orleans).

Once filled, the rink just sat there, accumulating oak leaves blown from up the street. It got very cold a few times, but the rink never froze solid enough to skate on.

To this day, one particular co-worker asks me to put the rink up every winter- to him, that prevents frigid weather.

It doesn’t take a lot of probing to find an example of a Cleveland Indians initiative that backfired.

I recall a late summer day at the stadium, in 1977. My friend Pete and I weren’t old enough to drive yet, so we’d become accustomed to getting dropped off near Gate D (the south east corner) for Indians games. As was typical for us, we spent much of the pregame wandering around the mammoth old barn. We eventually passed through the low tunnel that emptied out at the box seats around home plate. The plan was to take a look around, and return to the cheap seats in the upper deck. There, we would spell out messages by strategically folding down empty seats (like “BIG MON”, as a salute to Rico Carty). We would sit a few seats apart and slam the adjacent seat bottoms in rhythm along with John Adams, who in year four was already a fixture out in the bleachers pounding his bass drum.

The area behind home plate was pretty crowded and active that day, and cascading all around us were loud, booming BOOOOOOOOs.

It was startling, and a little oppressive. We quickly understood the booing to be directed at Wayne Garland, who was beginning his pregame warmup from the pitcher’s mound. We Cleveland fans sure are passionate, whether we love you or hate you.

Garland had been taken with the fifth pick in the 1969 amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles. From 1973 to 1975, he developed into a starter under manager Earl Weaver, and in 1976, Garland had a huge year for the O’s. He went 20-7 and sported a 2.67 ERA over 232 innings. He was known throughout Baseball as a hard-throwing righty who had the poise of an ace. Garland did not nibble around the strike zone; he came right at the hitter.

Back in 1974, Major League Baseball had seen Jim “Catfish” Hunter be awarded free agency status. It occurred when A’s owner Charlie O. Finley breached his contract by not honoring a requirement to fund an annuity for him. MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller saw how teams lined up to bid for his next contract. Miller eventually wanted to fully test free agency, and by 1975 pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally had provided the test cases he wanted. These unsigned players were willing to be bid upon by teams other than the ones they’d been with. The team owners held that the reserve clause meant the unsigned players remained the property of the teams with whom they’d previously had contracts. Their cases went to arbitrator Peter Seitz, and when the owners refused to budge or even negotiate on the reserve clause (a stupidly short-sighted stance), Seitz declared Messersmith and McNally full free agents. The floodgates were opening.

After Wayne Garland’s dominant 1976 season in Baltimore, his contract expired. He became the very first star to sign as a part of full-blown free agency in baseball history (McNally was well past his prime by the time he became a free agent, and Messersmith was never really a star). The Cleveland Indians, a franchise noted for a lack of 1) capital, 2) competent talent evaluation, 3) player development and 4) attendance, signed Garland to a very high-profile, 10-year, $2.3million contract.

The Tribe was coming off Frank Robinson’s historic season as Baseball’s first black manager. He’d provided additional excitement as a hitter as well. The year ended with the team at 81-78, a rare year over .500. The Tribe brass apparently thought the timing was right to make a splash, and they won the bidding for Garland despite being awash in financial losses going back to at least 1972.

Unbeknownst to others at the time, Garland suffered a shoulder injury during his first season with the Indians, in 1977. It would later be diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff. Garland played through the injury. Fans were impatient with the pitcher. Tribe brass such as Phil Seghi and Gabe Paul were direct with Garland, as well: he needed to ‘earn’ that money.

He pitched 282 innings- 50 more than in his previous, dominant year. He pitched 21 complete games! However, he often was hammered by the opposition throughout 1977. There were factors that compounded Garland’s predicament as well. One was his uniform number, 23, which was a constant, unfortunate reminder of his $2.3 million contract (he soon changed it to No. 17, which he’d worn with Baltimore). Another factor was Garland’s demeanor, which was constantly sullen. He never seemed to smile. This surely worked against him in the court of public opinion.

Wayne Garland pitched valiantly in 1977, but was largely ineffective and unappreciated. The team finished 71-90, which caused Frank Robinson to be fired as the team openly questioned his leadership. Garland came back in 1978, again tried to pitch through pain, and finally underwent surgery in May. His rehab should have consisted of a year of healing and a second year of strength-building. Instead, he began pitching again in 1979—ten months after his surgery. This was a huge mistake. It guaranteed he would never again pitch effectively. His comeback attempts ended in 1981, when he went 3-7, and he was released at the end of the season.

Years later, in retirement, Garland insisted that he’d tried his hardest to live up to the expectations created by his then unheard-of contract. He agreed he hadn’t been worth the money- but it was the team who’d offered it. He didn’t force them to.  Actually, contracts were soon being signed that far surpassed Garland’s (within six years, George Foster was the first player to be paid $2 million per season).

On that August day back in 1977, Buddy Bell homered in a 12-4 romp over the Milwaukee Brewers (I loved that Cleveland lineup- they could score runs). Garland overpowered the Brewers with a complete game victory. The crowd’s roar carried nary a boo. They’d seen a brief glimpse of the pitcher the Tribe thought they’d signed with the first star free-agent contract in MLB history.

Whoops, my cigar is out. You need a light?