Originally published on the Society for American Baseball Research.
If the New York Mets only had confidence in Wayne Garrett as their starting third baseman, the franchise might have never traded Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis. Instead, New York’s National League team spent nearly every offseason during Garrett’s 7½-year Mets tenure searching for someone else to take over the third-base job. Considered a good glove man who could play three positions, Garrett was initially seen as a utility infielder, but he ultimately played an offensive role for two legendary Mets teams.
Ronald Wayne Garrett was born on December 3, 1947, in Brooksville, Florida. He played baseball at Sarasota High School and was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves in the sixth round of baseball’s first amateur draft, in 1965. The Braves were well aware of the Garrett family as Wayne’s brothers both were already in the Braves’ minor league system. Like their younger brother, Henry Adrian Garrett and Charles James Garrett were called by their middle name.
As a 17-year-old, Wayne played for his hometown Sarasota team in the Florida Rookie League. In his professional debut, he collected four hits in his first four at-bats. He hit .269 in 43 games for the year. It was his highest batting average during his four years in the Braves’ farm system, including stops in West Palm Beach, Kinston, and Double-A Shreveport. After the Atlanta Braves left him unprotected in the 1968 Rule V draft, the Mets paid $25,000 for the 21-year-old infielder. Garrett turned out to be the club’s only move before the 1969 season.
Mets scout Bob Scheffing had watched Garrett in the Arizona Instructional League in 1968 and was impressed with the young infielder. Mets general manager Johnny Murphy was looking for a utility infielder in case Bud Harrelson was not ready following knee surgery. Joe McDonald, who led the Mets farm system, said, “We really didn’t have him listed as a prospect. But we found out later that six clubs that saw Wayne in Arizona also had him on their draft lists. We just were fortunate enough to have an early pick.”
In Garrett’s first major-league training camp, the Mets didn’t wait long before giving the fresh-faced, red-headed kid a look. The team kicked off its 1969 spring-training schedule with four rookies starting against St. Louis, including Garrett, who played shortstop. Of the four new faces, Garrett was the only one to play a role for the 1969 world champions.
With the Mets required under the draft rules to keep Garrett on the team or send him back to Atlanta, Wayne was added to the 25-man roster out of spring training as a utility player. He watched from the bench as the Mets got off to a sluggish start. He started at second base in his first major league game on April 12, 1969. As an example of the lack of Mets firepower, the rookie, who hit below .250 in his minor league career, batted third in the order. Garrett went 1-for-3 in a 1â0 loss to Dave Giusti and the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I was so scared. It was just like at the World Series. I wasn’t nervous at all at the plate, but in the field … God, I was so tense, my hands were like iron,” Garrett recalled several years later. He had never been to a city the size of New York before Opening Day 1969. It took getting used to both on the field and away from it.
Manager Gil Hodges penciled the skinny redhead into the lineup the next day, April 13, against future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Garrett doubled off Gibson, but the Cardinals hurler beat Mets ace Tom Seaver, 3â1.
The rookie, nicknamed Red and Huckleberry Finn (a name he never liked) for his youthful appearance and golden features, used his flexibility to play a key role in 1969. He filled in for starters serving in the military reserve. Garrett played three infield positions. He played nine games in place of Bud Harrelson at shortstop. He split time with Al Weis filling in for second baseman Ken Boswell. Garrett even played the last two innings as a defensive replacement at second base in Seaver’s “Imperfect Game” on July 9. (Chicago’s Jimmy Qualls broke up Seaver’s bid for a perfect game with a single in the ninth inning.)
Most of Garrett’s starts, however, were at third base. He was the 40th third baseman in the Mets’ eight-year history and one of six that season. In his first start at third base—at Wrigley Field on May 4—he had his first multi-hit game as the Mets stunned the red-hot Cubs with a doubleheader sweep. In his second start at third, two days later, Garrett crushed his first and only regular-season home run that year in an 8â1 win over Gary Nolan and the Cincinnati Reds at Shea Stadium. Garrett’s power display had The Sporting News wondering if the revolving door at third base was over for the Mets. Under a photo of the Mets’ rookie third baseman was the line: “Red Garrett…End of Disaster Era?”
Garrett continued to impress in 1969 in a third base platoon with veteran Ed Charles. The accolades rolled in. Hodges pointed to Garrett as one of five players who transformed the Mets from mediocrity to a championship-caliber club (the others were Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Harrelson, and Tug McGraw). Hodges called Garrett “the surprise of the year.” Tom Seaver suggested Garrett, Gary Gentry, and Hodges as the reason for the team’s success.
Dick Young of the New York Daily News called the Mets’ $25,000 payment to draft Garrett “the bargain of the year.” Another New York sportswriting fixture, Jack Lang, wrote that the Garrett deal was the best since “some Indians sold Manhattan for $24.”
Garrett’s heroics continued throughout the season, including a 15th-inning single against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 4. His drive skipped under outfielder Willie Davis’s glove and scored Agee with the winning run.
Garrett also played a key role in one of the biggest moments of 1969. During the sixth inning of the September 8 showdown against the Cubs, Garrett stepped to the plate with Agee on second. He hit a single to right off Bill Hands. Right fielder Jim Hickman gobbled up the ball and unleashed a strong throw to Randy Hundley; the catcher tagged Agee but not before the runner reached the plate. Umpire Satch Davidson’s call sparked a heated argument with Hundley and Cubs manager Leo Durocher. The Mets won, 3â2, and crept to within 1½ games of the Cubs for the NL East lead.
Garrett hit only .218 in his rookie season while playing in 124 games and collecting 400 at-bats, but he was a star in the first-ever National League Championship Series. He batted .385 while starting all three playoff games and batting second against the right-handed Braves starting staff.
Garrett doubled and scored the tying run during the Mets’ five-run eighth inning in Game One, had two hits and knocked in a run in Game Two, and stroked a pitch over the right-field wall in Shea’s first postseason game in Game Three. His homer off Pat Jarvis with Nolan Ryan aboard put the Mets up 5-4; they ultimately won the game, 7-4, and swept the series with Garrett throwing to Ed Kranepool to retire Tony Gonzalez for the final out.
Garrett sat out the first two World Series games, but started Game Three against Baltimore’s Jim Palmer, collecting two walks in four plate appearances.
After their shocking World Series win, the Miracle Mets were the toast of New York. Garrett was a bachelor and enjoyed the Miracle Mets gravy train that offseason. He even appeared on The Dating Game with Rod Gaspar and Ken Boswell.
“That 1969 year I had a good time. I was just discovering everything, New York, nightlife, being a big-league ballplayer, having fun at all times. It was terrific,” Garrett said.
His platoon partner, Ed Charles, retired after the 1969 season, but the Mets were not content with Garrett as their lone third sacker. In what became a theme over the next few seasons, the Mets looked to add another third baseman. Echoing similar statements by Mets brass in future years, Murphy said after the 1969 season, “I think that kid Garrett is going to make a heck of a third baseman, but we need someone to take Ed Charles’s place.”
The Mets’ “solution” was trading one of their top hitting prospects, Amos Otis, to the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Joe Foy. Otis went on to a solid career in which he stroked more than 2,000 hits. Foy, on the other hand, struggled in New York, and the Mets cut loose the troubled player after one season.
Splitting time between third and second, Garrett hit 12 home runs in 1970, third best on the team, while leading the club with a .390 on-base percentage and batting .254. A highlight of his season was a game on July 26 in which he stroked two homers against the Dodgers, but as an example of how the team brass remained unsold on the slightly built youngster, Hodges pinch-hit Agee for Garrett later in the game. The move backfired as Agee grounded into a double play in the 5â3 loss to the Dodgers.
Though he didn’t have faith in Garrett that day, Hodges considered him his starting third baseman for 1971. Alas, another issue blocked Red’s path to the starting third baseman’s job—military service.
Garrett joined the Bayside National Guard Unit after the 1970 season. Draft-exempt his first two years with the Mets because of a back ailment, Garrett was reclassified 1-A and considered ready for duty. With Garrett slated to spend at least four months on active duty, the Mets traded pitcher Ron Herbel to Atlanta for former Brooklyn Dodger Bob Aspromonte.
Garrett entered the service as his teammates traveled to start spring training in St. Petersburg. He spent the next five months in the Reserve in Army communications school while his team sputtered through mediocrity. His military training completed, Garrett was optioned to Tidewater in July before returning to the Mets.
Garrett’s time away from major league ball wasn’t evident in his season debut as his three singles, two runs batted in, and three runs scored helped the Mets beat the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium, 9-3, on July 24. Despite that great start, Garrett struggled through much of 1971, with a 0-for-29 drought near the end of the season relegating him to a .213 average.
While Wayne struggled in 1971, his older brother, Adrian, who spent 11 years in professional baseball and collected only six at-bats in the majors (including five strikeouts), finally got the call. Adrian tore up the Pacific Coast League with the Chicago Cubs’ Tacoma farm team that year, stroking 43 home runs and 119 RBIs. The Oakland A’s, who were on the cusp of a three-year dynasty, were impressed with the numbers and traded for the slugger. He played with the club during the final month of the season. Topps named Adrian a Triple-A All-Star at the end of the season.
Things were looking up for Adrian, but Wayne received more sobering news during the offseason. The Mets made what is still considered the worst trade in franchise history by dealing future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and three other players to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. The former All-Star shortstop was seen as the answer to the team’s third-base puzzle, and again that solution did not include Garrett.
But Fregosi’s body was well beyond his 30 years. While Ryan went on to greatness he only hinted at in Flushing, the Mets bounced Fregosi’s achy body and weak hitting by the middle of 1973.
During spring training in 1972, Fregosi broke his right thumb while taking ground balls from Hodges. The Mets skipper moved to Plan B and planned to split time between Garrett and Tim Foli. Garrett, however, strained his shoulder lunging for a grounder and pulled a hamstring. The injuries cut short a spring training in which he was hitting .276. Plans changed as a strike shortened the end of spring training, Foli was traded to Montreal in the Rusty Staub deal, and one of the great shocks in franchise history occurred on April 2 when Hodges died of a heart attack.
A hamstring injury kept Garrett from joining new manager Yogi Berra’s club until April 30. He reinjured the muscle running out a double in his first start, on May 3 in San Francisco, and sat out another two weeks. Garrett ultimately played 82 games at third and 22 at second base in his injury-marred 1972 season, hitting .232 with four game-winning RBIs in 298 at-bats.
Entering the 1973 campaign, the Mets saw Garrett as a 25-year-old utility infielder and Fregosi as their third baseman. Fregosi, who had come to spring training overweight the previous year, was both in shape and enthusiastic in ’73, but a sore arm impeded his throws to first base. The injury created an opening for Garrett, who in 1973 became the third baseman the Mets had sought since the team’s founding. The Fregosi era, on the other hand, ended on July 11 when the Texas Rangers purchased his contract from the Mets.
Garrett had a career year for the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets. Inserted into the leadoff spot in May, he was second on the club with a career-high 16 home runs, and was also second in triples and walks; he was third in RBIs, doubles, runs, and hits. He led the team in stolen bases with six (the team did not believe in speed; the 27 stolen bases by the club are the lowest in franchise history in a nonstrike year). On the defensive side, Garrett was second among NL third basemen with 36 double plays.
While he played a complementary role for the 1969 Miracle Mets, Garrett was a leader for the 1973 squad. He played a key part in one of the biggest moments in Mets history—“The Ball on the Wall Play.” Just three weeks after being in last place, the Mets found themselves battling for first place against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing Pittsburgh on September 20, the Mets rallied to tie the game in the ninth. With the Pirates’ Richie Zisk at first in the 13th inning, Dave Augustine crushed a Ray Sadecki pitch to left. The ball carried over Cleon Jones’s head and appeared headed to the Whitestone Bridge, but the ball landed on top of the wall. Rather than ricochet over the fence for a home run, the ball bounced back on an arc directly to Jones.
The left fielder spun around and fired the ball to the cutoff man Garrett, who had moved to shortstop in extra innings. Standing in short left field, Garrett took the throw and fired to catcher Ron Hodges, who tagged Zisk before he reached the plate. The play came to symbolize the never-say-die, miracle-redux nature of the 1973 season. The Mets won the game in the bottom of the inning and took over first place the next night.
Garrett was clutch in 1973, leading the team with 11 game-winning hits, including four in September: a leadoff homer against Montreal’s Steve Renko in a 1-0 Mets win; a pinch-hit single that beat the Phillies 4-2 in 12 innings; a two-run homer on September 22 that provided the only runs in a shutout of the Cardinals; and a two-run triple that broke up a 2-2 tie and carried the Mets to a 5-2 win over the Cards the following day. Garrett hit .323 with 6 home runs and 17 RBIs during the final month of the season and his .393 average with two homers and six RBIs earned him NL Player of the Week (September 17-23).
The 1973 postseason was not nearly as strong for Garrett. He hit .087 against the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series and .167 in the World Series against the Oakland A’s, including 11 strikeouts, which tied a World Series record (since broken). His only two hits in the World Series were home runs, including his leadoff blast in Game Three at Shea. His popup while representing the tying run against Darold Knowles was the final out of the Series, the only one of Garrett’s four career postseason Series that didn’t end with a frenzied celebration at Shea Stadium.
After a great year in which he helped his team to the World Series, the future looked bright for the young man. But during the offseason, Garrett injured his shoulder while horseback riding in Tennessee. He struggled with throwing the ball during spring training in 1974, but he played through the pain during the season.
Garrett reached career highs in games (151) and at-bats (522), led the team with 89 walks, stroked 13 home runs and had 53 RBIs in 1974, but his average dropped to .224 for the first Mets team to not achieve a winning record since 1968. His playing time decreased in 1975 after the Mets acquired former All-Star Joe Torre. (Ironically, the Mets had tried to acquire Torre during Garrett’s first Mets training camp in 1969, but the team had passed because the Braves had wanted both Ryan and Otis.) Garrett hit .266 with 6 homes runs and had 34 RBIs in 274 at-bats in ’75. He was a successful pinch-hitter, batting .545 in 11 at-bats, including two home runs.
In 1976, Garrett split time at third with youngster Roy Staiger. With many of the Miracle Mets either already retired or playing elsewhere, Garrett’s days with the Mets also came to an end. He was traded with outfielder Del Unser to the last-place Montreal Expos for Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer on July 21. At the time of the trade, Garrett was hitting .223 with four home runs and 26 RBIs. “I am surprised, certainly, but it hasn’t been a good year for me, and I guess that was the reason,” he said at the time.
Garrett finished his Mets career with a .237 batting average, 667 hits, 55 home runs, and 295 RBIs. His 709 games at third base were the most for any Met at that time. As for the trade: It wasn’t the Ryan or Otis deal, but the Mets traded two starters for two players who played just eight games for the Mets after 1976.
Garrett took over second-base duties in Montreal, and hit .243 in 59 games. He made his former team pay in their last home game of the season as his grand slam helped propel the Expos past Seaver and the Mets, 7-2, at Shea. His first career grand slam was also his sixth home run of the season and second with Montreal.
During the offseason, the Expos acquired Dave Cash and planned to play Garrett more at third along with Larry Parrish and Pete Mackanin at new Olympic Stadium, but Garrett’s right shoulder continued to bother him. Expos manager Dick Williams initially gave Parrish the third-base job and Garrett was once again spending most of his time on the bench. He was hitting only .133 after 45 at-bats after the first game of a doubleheader on June 26, but Williams began platooning him against right-handers and a hot streak helped push Garrett’s final average to .270. His season ended early after he suffered ligament damage in his right knee while sliding into second on a steal.
Once again in 1978, Garrett fought for playing time along with Stan Papi, Sam Mejias, and Unser. Garrett was hitting .174 in 69 at-bats when he was sold to the Cardinals on July 21.
For the Cardinals, Garrett hit .333 in 33 games, including .389 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals saw him as a utility infielder and pinch hitter for 1979, but the two sides could not agree on a contract, so Garrett left the U.S. and got a job with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.
“I just couldn’t run anymore. The Cards could see that. I got an offer to go to Japan for two years and I accepted it. They paid me $125,000 for the two seasons, about twice as much as I was making in the big leagues,” Garrett said.
“I had so many injuries. I was so discouraged. I was just burned out. I wish it had lasted a few more years, but I probably would have just been hanging on. If I could have played well, run, and thrown normally, that would have been different. I went to Japan, took the money, and did as well as I could. I earned my salary there. It wasn’t the same. It was just to make a few bucks. It wasn’t a lot of fun,” he added.
Forty years after the Miracle Mets, Garrett remained a regular part of 1969 Mets reunions and fantasy camps. He has worked in the courier business along with other ventures in Sarasota. He was one of 40-plus Mets invited to Shea Stadium’s closing ceremonies at the end of the 2008 season. The team’s brass may have overlooked his ability during his playing days, but Garrett’s invitation to the Shea Goodbye ceremonies showed the team understood his stature in Mets history. For the millions who cheered for him at Shea, Red Garrett was the finest Mets third baseman in the team’s first two decades. And despite many bigger names who manned the hot corner at Shea, Garrett remains the only one to play on two Mets pennant winners.