Former Shoe Shine Boy Went On to Become Braves Baseball Star
Dreams do come true.
Just ask Ralph Garr. He went from virtually nothing to the bright lights and standing ovations. Garr grew up on the poor side. He had limited financial means while growing up in the Deep South.
This is a “rags to riches” experience, for sure. Garr spent a good many years of his youth working as a shoe shine boy in a barber shop in his hometown of Ruston, La.
The back-breaking work and the long hours for just a pocket full of change did not prevent Garr from chasing his dream. Young Garr’s goal in life was to become the next great athlete.
And baseball was his first love. It was his passion. Garr kept dreaming, believing and playing. He honed his skills. He belted his blistering doubles. And he used the natural ability that God gave him.
Garr could run like the Louisiana wind, and the boy could hit. Garr could splinter a wooden bat, and he could circle the bases like an Olympic track champion.
Running and hitting came natural to this back woods kid from Louisiana. Yes, he was a country boy and proud of it. One day he would become a famous ball player of the baseball kind.
Garr would one day trade in his shoe shine equipment for a baseball uniform with the name, Garr, on the back of it. Good ol’ No. 48 would make a name for himself, and he would earn a much better lifestyle than that of a shoe shine boy from a barber shop.
Young Garr was destined for baseball greatness. The first hint of it came as a college baseball player for Grambling State. In 1967, Garr, a second baseman, led Grambling to a 35-1 record. Garr was the heart and soul of that Tiger squad as he stroked the ball for a batting average of .585.
The Atlanta Braves liked what they saw. Atlanta plucked Garr out of the third round of the amateur draft. History was made that day. The Braves never regretted it and neither did Garr, the former shoe shine boy.
Garr, a left fielder in the big leagues, went on to become one of the all-time Braves baseball immortals. He batted left. He threw with his right hand, and Garr brought the Braves faithful to their feet constantly at the old Fulton County Stadium.
In time and over the seasons, Garr became known as the “Road Runner.” He was a sprinter in baseball shoes. Garr could go from home plate to second base in one blink of the eye. No. 48 had speed to burn.
He was an “old school” baseball player. Garr ran out everything, including ground balls, which he very often turned into infield hits. Garr was not much of a home run hitter, although he did wallop two homers to beat Tom Seaver and the New York Mets on May 17, 1971.
Garr was more of a classic contact hitter. He could clobber the ball and then run the rubber off his shoes. Garr led the National League in triples with 11 as a member of the 1975 Braves.
Five times in his Major League career, Garr batted .300 or above. In the 1974 season, Garr won the National League batting championship with a .353 average. That is not all he did for the Braves. Garr also hit 17 triples and 24 doubles for the ’74 Braves.
Garr also swiped 26 bases. The “Road Runner” was always thinking of taking one more base. He usually did. In the 1971 season, Garr stole 30 bases. He came back with 25 steals in 1972 and then 35 steals in 1973.
Meanwhile, Garr had batting averages of .343, .325 and .299 from 1971 through 1973. In his final season with Atlanta, Garr ripped the ball for a .278 batting average in 1975. He also picked up his team countless times with 26 doubles, 14 stolen bases and 11 triples.
Ralph Garr played eight wonderful seasons for the Atlanta Braves. Garr also played five more seasons with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels.
He called it quits after 13 Major League seasons. Garr left behind the cheers, the grass stains, the post-game celebrations, along with 1,562 base hits, a .306 lifetime batting average and 172 stolen bases.
Garr will forever be known as the “Road Runner” in Atlanta. No. 48 was a gamer, and he is a Brave for life.
The author of this article can be reached via email at [email protected]