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The beauty of old baseball cards is that they reveal something new every time you look at them, no matter how many times you look at them.
Take the 1979 Topps Mike Garman card, for example.
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I’ve probably come across this particular hunk of cardboard a couple dozen times over my 35-year collecting journey, but I had long ago relegated it to *meh* status because … 1) Mike Garman didn’t make it out of the 1970s (baseball-wise) and 2) Mike Garmand sports a 22-27 career record.
It’s been several years since I last saw this card, though, and it jumped out at me as I was shuffling through some stacks recently.
Most likely, it was the name.
That name wouldn’t have meant much to me 15 years ago, but now I immediately think … “navigation.”
And when you look at the 1979 Topps Mike Garman card with “navigation” whispering in the back of your mind, it’s hard not to look at what he might be trying to tell you.
Garman is posed in the shadows of, I think, Candlestick Park, with a bank of orange seats and a simple on-deck circle behind him. The white band looks like a symbol on a map and invites you to follow its arc in search of something more.
So you do …
Garman’s shiny blue Montreal Expos warm-up jacket can’t hide the roundness of his torso and serves to accentuate his slender legs. And the classic M.e.b. logo on his hat draw your eye to his eyes, steely — maybe wary … maybe weary. This is a veteran.
He’s been around awhile, but may not be around the next time you look.
Then there is the follow-through, with index and middle fingers pointing subtly toward the bottom of the card. Do they indicate the direction of Garman’s career at that moment?
No, this is a baseball card, after all, and those digits are inviting you to learn more.
Turn me over.
And so, of course, you do.
The first thing you might notice, sitting here safely in the 21st century, is that the stats block covers Garman’s entire nine-year Major League career. At 22-27 with a 3.63, his overall record was nothing exciting, but what the Topps card doesn’t tell you is that Garman recorded 42 saves and was slightly better than league average by Sabermetric standards over the course of his big-league tenure.
Overall, though, it’s an underwhelming resume for the guy the Boston Red Sox selected with their first pick (third overall) in the 1967 amateur draft. Those were pretty heady days for the Sawx, as they barely lost an epic seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals that October.
You know they expected big things from their low-round picks.
But, even though Garman didn’t turn into a star of any sort, he lived the dream for nearly a decade … and he left this nifty 1979 card for us to ponder, complete with a mystery.
It’s right there in the little bio line at the bottom of the card:
Son of Stephen Garman, former pitcher in Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.
“Baseball Family Tree” is a fun game to play if you have a few hours to kill, and it gets more involved all the time. With families like the Boones, Griffeys, Bells, Bondses, and others piling up generations of MLB players, baseball bloodlines get pretty interesting.
But some of the most intriguing families are the ones with lest obvious, less public stories.
Take the Garmans, for example.
A quick Google search for “Stephen Garman baseball player” turns up Stephen K. Garman — “Steve” — who Wikipedia tells us is Mike’s older brother.
Steve played baseball at the University of Idaho and then spent two years (1968-69) as an infielder and outfielder in the San Francisco Giants farm system.
So did Topps have it wrong? Was the Steve Garman they referred to actually Mike’s brother rather than his father?
Maybe, but they were pretty specific about Stephen’s Pittsburgh Pirates affiliation, and brother Steve seems to have been relegated to the lower reaches of the Giants’ organization.
The rest of the Google results, though, devolve into a series of LinkedIn profiles and Facebook pages, none of which could feasibly belong to the elder Garman.
When confronted with this sort of seeming dead-end, modern baseball seekers can turn to the marvels of sites like Baseball-Reference.com.
In this case, a B-R search for minor leaguers named “Garman” returns a list that looks like this:
That last entry, Stephen Garman, is Mike’s brother.
Most of the rest of the players on this list fail at a quick glance because they played in the wrong era, for the wrong team, or with the wrong name.
In fact, none of them are Steves or Stephens.
Ah, but one of these guys did play in the Pittsburgh organization — see there how Houston Garman “Last played for PIT“?
That looks promising, as do the years of his career, 1949-50.
But Houston? That’s not even close to “Stephen”!
True enough, but the Baseball Reference results page also gives us a field called “given,” and Houston Garman comes in with a value of “Houston S.”.
Could it be that ol’ Houston wasn’t so fond of his birth name and opted for something more middle-of-the-road in everyday life? Something like … Stephen?
Back to Google for “Houston Stephen Garman” … and … seems like lots of unrelated paid people directories at first, but if you keep sifting through the results, you’ll find a page called “Descendants of Henry Garvin.” And if you click on over and scroll a bit, you’ll eventually come to entry number 1312:
The gang’s all there, right?
We have Mike …
Big brother Steve …
And father Stephen (via Houston).
Looks like a Bingo! to me.
Now, one last stop, back to Houton’s B-R page to check out his minor league career.
In 1949, Garman appeared in 20 games for the Modesto Reds (Class C), sporting a 2-11 record with a 5.44 ERA. He was 22 years old and would not pitch professionally again, at least according to Baseball Reference.
The elder Garman does garner a batting line for the 1950 Waco Pirates (Class B), thought, but has no statistics
And that’s all I’ve been able to find about the first Stephen Garman’s baseball career … no photos … no box scores … no baseball cards.
They might be out there, waiting to be discovered — or rediscovered — but they’re elusive for now.
Thanks to his son, Mike, though, and his career-capping 1979 Topps baseball card, we got to find out a bit about Houston Stephen Garman and the brief realization of his baseball dreams.
Who says baseball cards aren’t worth much anymore?
Earliest Known Reggie Jackson Pre Rookie 1966 Modesto Reds Signed Baseball PSA
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