February 2 – Happy Birthday Mike Garbark
His name was Nathaniel Michael Garbark but everybody called him “Mike.” Growing up in Texas, he was a great all-around athlete and after completing an outstanding football career at Villanova University, he followed his older brother Bob into a career in professional baseball. When he signed with the Yankees in 1938, New York hoped he might some day replace the great Bill Dickey. But Garbark’s weakness was his hitting. He struggled at the plate for the next six years, at every level of the Yankee farm system. By 1944, however, Garbark and 37-year-old Rollie Hemsley were the two best catchers left in the Yankee organization who had not yet been drafted. Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy, promoted Garbark to the big league roster that year and as the 1944 season started, he served as Hemsley’s backup. Then in mid-August of that year, Hemsley was drafted and the 28-year-old Garbark became the starter. He caught 29 straight games and earned the admiration of his Manager, teammates and the Big Apple sports media by doing a decent job behind the plate and surprising everyone by hitting a solid .261 in 89 games of action.
That performance earned him a second season as the Yankee starting catcher and that’s when his offensive problems returned. He was hitting .038 at the end of April. Incredibly, he went hitless in May and lowered his average to .020. At one point, Garbark went on an 0-49 streak at the plate. After one fruitless at bat, the frustrated Garbark returned to the Yankee dugout and did his Paul O’Neill interpretation by smashing the water cooler, destroying the bat rack and kicking the bench. McCarthy actually had to physically sit him down, rub the guy’s shoulders and tell him not to worry about his hitting because he was going to keep catching for the team, no matter what. That assurance probably helped because Garbarak did start hitting a bit and by the end of August, he had his average back up to .218. But the Yankees had also brought in new catchers like Aaron Robinson and Bill Drescher. By the end of the 1945 season, the war was over and so was Garbark’s big league career. He went on to become a Manager in the minor leagues.
So why wasn’t Garbark drafted also? He was declared 4-F by his draft board but I couldn’t locate the reason cited for that classification. He passed away in 1990, at the age of 80. Garbark shares his February 2nd birthday with this outfielder who was known as “Mickey Mantle’s legs” and this one-time Yankee outfielder nicknamed Papa Bear.