Whatever happened to Garth Garreau ...

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 16, 2014 



    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Richard Vollmer of Hilton Head Island for sharing a story that is appropriate for the days of spring training.

"Whatever Happened to Garth Garreau, Bat Boy of the Giants?"

By Richard Vollmer

The name Garth Garreau might not ring many memory bells for you, but it does for me. He was a hero of mine who left behind a great legacy of what it was like to live out one's dream -- in this case, with members of the 1947 New York Giants baseball team.

Garth and I were from the same home town, Teaneck, N.J., and attended the same high school, Teaneck High. He was fortunate to be hired as a bat boy while he was still in high school. Garth had his schedule modified so that he was assigned his major classes in the morning and then was released from school early in order to get to his "job" at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Teaneck is just about five miles from the George Washington Bridge. With good bus and subway connections, it is possible to get to 155th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, home of the Polo Grounds, in plenty of time for him to get to work.

I grew up in the late 1940s and early '50s and became obsessed with Major League Baseball, and the New York Giants was "my" team. I devoured newspaper accounts of their wins and losses. Their pictures were plastered on the walls of my bedroom, and now I had a direct link to them because Garth Garreau from Teaneck was their bat boy. However, that was the closest I ever got to him or the Giants.

Garth began living his dream when he was promoted from visiting team bat boy to home team bat boy at the beginning of the 1947 season. He took the job after graduating from high school and postponed going to college for one year in order to wear the home team uniform with "GIANTS" across his chest.

Garth wrote a book about his experiences titled, "Bat Boy of the Giants." Reading it brought back all of the solid memories of those heroes of mine when I was growing up.

There was Johnny Mize at first base who chased Babe Ruth's home run record that year, but fell short with 51. He did lead the league with RBIs that year.

At second base was Bill Rigney who would later manage the Giants after they moved to San Francisco. At shortstop Buddy Kerr set a record for chances without an error. Third base was shared by Sid Gordon and rookie "Lucky" Jack Lohrke.

Behind the plate were Walker Cooper and Ernie Lombardi.

In the outfield, rookie Bobby Thompson played center. He later became famous for "the shot heard 'round the world," his remarkable and dramatic home run in the 1951 playoffs for the National League pennant.

Pitching for the Giants that year were Larry Jansen, a 21-game winner; Bill Voiselle; Monty Kennedy; Mort Cooper; and the "Hondo Hurricane" rookie Clint Hartung.

These were the Giants of manager Mel Ott who made a run at the pennant but fell short and finished in fourth place. They did set a major league record of 221 home runs that season.

Garth Garreau saw it all and lived it all. He even went on the final road trip, courtesy of the Giants, and wrote about his adventures traveling to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Sportsman's Field in St. Louis and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Not bad for a youngster just out of high school preparing to enter college right after the season ended.

So whatever became of Garth Garreau? I can report that he fulfilled another of his youthful dreams and goals by attending Michigan State University at East Lansing and graduating with an engineering degree. He participated in the NROTC program at school and earned his wings with the U.S. Navy after graduation.

But misfortune was to follow. It was described as a NATO training mission, a simulated bombing run originating off the coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean. Catapulted off of the flight deck of the USS Coral Sea, something went terribly wrong. An eyewitness account of the tragedy reported that in trying to stabilize the plane, the wing tip of the AJ-2 caught the water. The aircraft cartwheeled into the sea and exploded in a huge fireball. All three crewmen died on impact. Only one body was recovered. LTJG Garth Garreau, serving as navigator, was lost forever. The date was Nov. 8, 1954.

I understand that the San Francisco Giants will honor the 1954 New York Giants team this baseball season. That was the team that won the last championship in New York before moving west to San Francisco.

The 1954 Giants went on to win the World Series, sweeping the powerful and favored Cleveland Indians. That championship was won Oct. 2, 1954, just five weeks before the death of Garth Garreau.

Wouldn't it be fitting for the San Francisco Giants to pay tribute in some way to the memory of a one-time member of the Giants' family who gave his life serving his country?

I never had the opportunity to meet Garth Garreau. He was too far ahead of me at school. I did apply for his job, though. I received a very polite reply from the Giants telling me the position was filled.

In the last chapter of his book, Garth wrote that he was sorry for letting down the Giants. It was a teenager's attempt to rationalize that he should have done more for the "team."

But he didn't let anybody down. He left behind a wonderful legacy of what it was like to live one's dream. I am not sure what impact his story had on others, but, to me, it helped shape my love of sports and gave me an appreciation of loyalty to a team.

Thank you, Garth Garreau. Rest in peace.

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