Angel With an Attitude Conquers the World as a Weightlifter : Baseball: Garrett, Controversial former major league pitcher from Hart High has set 15 powerlifting records.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 46 years, Greg Garrett's wont--call it an attitude if you like--has been to search for competitive worlds to conquer.

Reaching the summit of whatever the endeavor, Garrett, a 6-foot, 250-pound bearded mountain of a man, barely has taken the time to pound his 60-inch chest before looking for the next peak to ascend.

Garrett's accomplishments are many--and equally remarkable in their diversity:

* He pitched two seasons in the major leagues with the California Angels and Cincinnati Reds before abruptly retiring after stormy disagreements with management.

* He earned All-American honors in badminton at Cal State Fullerton, where he also excelled in archery, golf, racquetball and swimming while earning a degree in physical education and health.

* He played slo-pitch softball professionally throughout California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, slamming tape-measure home runs in 28 consecutive at-bats.

* He won the first of three world championships as a powerlifter at age 40, setting 15 world records.

One look at Garrett, who bears a strong resemblance to former Los Angeles Raider lineman Bob Golic, and it is hard to believe that in 1965 he was a scrawny, 5-foot-8, 150-pound senior left-hander at Hart High.

Yet Garrett was 15-1 that season and somehow managed to overpower hitters in a manner that likely had professional scouts both puzzled and dazzled. He posted 11 shutouts with 131 strikeouts and an 0.32 earned-run average in 87 innings.

"I always thought I was a late bloomer," Garrett said. "I didn't throw very hard in high school and I didn't throw 90 m.p.h. until I was with the Angels. I just always thought I could get anybody out at any time in any situation with any pitch that I had.

"That was my attitude."

Attitude has always figured more prominently than aptitude in Garrett's life. The past two years, it has figured more than ever.

In November, 1991, Garrett underwent surgery for a kidney transplant. But the threat of tragedy barely slowed his gait.

Garrett spent five months waiting for a donor, a pager on his belt, a bevy of things to do on his agenda. He continued working for the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce as a handyman with a Housing and Urban Development Project created to renovate low-income housing. And he continued to lift weights at a frantic pace.

Five weeks after the operation, described by doctors as remarkably successful, Garrett, who lives in Valencia, was back at work and back in the gym. The following summer, he captured gold medals in the softball throw and bowling at the National Transplant Olympics at UCLA.

"He's done so much stuff, sometimes I think I should write a book," said Pam Garrett, his wife of 23 years. "He's like, 'What do I do next?'

"He must think about things in his sleep. He used to pitch in his sleep. I'd have to duck. He'd wake up and say, 'I was in the middle of the seventh inning . . .' "

These days, Garrett is in the middle of mastering bowling. Until the Transplant Olympics, he hadn't rolled a ball in more than 20 years. Today, his average is 195 and his goal is to join the professional seniors tour when he turns 50.

"Anything he does, he goes all-out and gives it 100%," said Hart baseball Coach Bud Murray, who enlisted Garrett as his pitching coach during a tenure at Mission College in the late 1970s. "He got so big bodybuilding he could hardly walk."

It's all mind over matter, as far as Garrett is concerned.

"I didn't touch a weight until I was 35," Garrett said. "I had the dedication to go to the gym every day and train 2 1/2 hours, five-six days a week by myself and motivate myself. That's just me. I take everything to the extreme."

Attitude had everything to do with Garrett getting to the majors. And it most certainly figured in his departure.

After one-year stints at Pierce College and Washington State, Garrett signed with the San Francisco Giants, who promptly traded him to the Angels. In 1970, Garrett joined the big club as a 200-pound fifth starter and long reliever. He appeared in 32 games and posted a 5-6 record. He also had the staff's lowest ERA at 2.64.

"I remember the guy had pretty good stuff and he had this really good move to first base," said Norm Sherry, the Angels' pitching coach in 1970 and manager in 1976 and '77.

Sherry, now the manager for the Giants' rookie league affiliate in Everett, Wash., also remembers Garrett as being independent.

"He was a typical left-hander," Sherry said. "You talk about left-handers being a little different than the rest of us. Who knows what they're gonna do?

"He'd come to the ballpark dressed like a bum some days. One day, he came in looking like he had just painted his house. I said, 'You can't come in here looking like that.' "

As Garrett recalls, he often headed straight to Anaheim Stadium after a day of drag-racing at Orange County Raceway. He did a lot of that in those days. Raced motorcycles too.

"What does how I'm dressed have to do with walking into a ballpark to play a game?" Garrett said. "On the road, I wore a coat and tie."

On the mound, Garrett wore a stern expression. In his first big league appearance, he struck out Lee Maye of the Senators on four pitches with two out and two runners on base in Washington's RFK Stadium. "I threw him two sliders he had absolutely no chance of hitting," Garrett said.

That season, Garrett pitched in every American League ballpark, handling the league's best hitters as if he had a checklist for success. Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Howard, Tony Oliva all went down on strikes. Garrett fanned Tony Conigliaro of the Red Sox four times in one game.

"Every time I faced Boston I ate them up alive," Garrett said. Beating Boston in Boston was Garrett's biggest thrill, "because left-handers weren't supposed to be able to pitch there."

Harmon Killebrew never hit a home run off Garrett. Reggie Jackson did--the 200th of his career--but to Garrett, it was a meaningless ninth-inning hit that didn't prevent him from posting a 4-1 victory.

"The only guy I ever had trouble with was Lou Piniella," Garrett said. "Other than that, no one else ever hit me hard."

Garrett appeared to be a budding star. The National League champion Reds must have thought so, considering they traded veteran right-hander Jim Maloney, a two-time 20-game winner, to California for Garrett after the 1970 season.

So what if he was demoted to triple-A Indianapolis at midseason in 1971? Happens all the time to young pitchers, especially in top-rank organizations like Cincinnati. He'd be back and he knew it.

"There wasn't any player at the time that I thought was better than me," Garrett said.

If Garrett sizzled with attitude on the mound, he was still smoldering when he entered the clubhouse. And during one steamy afternoon in Indianapolis, his career reached its boiling point.

After an extra-inning loss in which Garrett exited after eight innings, he became involved in a shouting match with Manager Vern Rapp.

"It's hot and humid and I'm sitting in the clubhouse with a beer in my hand," Garrett recalled. "He calls me in and chews my butt out left and right: 'When we lose a game, you don't drink. All you think about is that ballgame and how we lost it, until the next game.' "

Garrett's reply:

"Hey, when I'm not in the dugout and when I'm not on the field, I'm my own man. . . . If I want to have a beer after the game, I'm going to have a beer after the game."

A week later, Garrett was shipped to triple-A Phoenix in the Giants' organization. He spent the 1972 season with double-A Charlotte, N.C., in the Minnesota Twins' organization, but he never again pitched in the majors, and retired in the spring of 1973.

The reason remains a sore spot with Garrett to this day. Being a left-hander made him a screwball from the outset. Telling off Rapp gave him a reputation. And subsequent head-butting with Minnesota management about the length of his hair didn't help matters.

"By that time," Garrett said. "I was supposed to have an attitude problem. They told me to cut my hair and I said, 'Send my final paycheck home. I don't need to take this crap anymore.' "

"Greg was never arrogant," Pam Garrett said. "Some of the articles said he was cocky. But he was never nasty or a bad sport."

Sherry recalled Garrett as a favorite of former Angel Manager Lefty Phillips. But Garrett's run-in with Rapp "doesn't surprise me," Sherry said.

"He was spirited all right," Sherry said. "I guess he might have rubbed management the wrong way."

Attitude? Definitely. A problem? Garrett never thought so.

"When I crossed that line, nobody was a better competitor than me and I did everything to win, even if it meant throwing an illegal pitch or hitting somebody," he said. "At that time, if you thought that way, you were a flaky left-hander. Today, everybody thinks that way. I guess I was 20 years ahead of my time.

"I don't have any regrets about anything I've ever done. A lot of people might have said, 'You're an idiot for getting in a confrontation.' But my self-respect is worth a hell of a lot more than my career."

And so, the baseball career ended and the adventures began. At Fullerton, Garrett played badminton for a lark "and the next thing I know, I'm on a team," he said.

He earned his degree in 1978, then began smacking softballs incredibly long distances in local parks-and-recreation leagues. "Just bat speed and power, I guess," Garrett said. Soon, he was playing in professional tournaments for $25 a game.

In 1982, Garrett's wife suggested he join a gym to stay in shape. "That was the biggest mistake she ever made," Garrett said.

Garrett's life, to say nothing of his physique, changed dramatically. He grew to 327 pounds while his waist remained 41 inches. His biceps swelled to 23 inches, his thighs to 33.

Five years later, Garrett was in Lima, Peru, lifting his way to one of three International Powerlifting Federation titles. He also earned crowns in England and at March Air Force Base in Moreno Valley.

Garrett set IPF records for seniors (age 40 and over) in the bench press (601 pounds), squat (855) and dead lift (755), although those records have since been broken.

Three years ago, Garrett began experiencing nausea every morning. Between trips to the gym he made trips to his doctor. Garrett was told both his kidneys had been declining for perhaps as long as 12 years.

"He was a little angry. Anybody would be," Pam Garrett said. "But it kind of wore off after he realized this was just how it was gonna be. Our lives really haven't changed."

The family of a 20-year-old victim of a motorcycle accident near Santa Barbara provided a donor kidney. The match was near-perfect and doctors were amazed at how easily Garrett's body adjusted. His hospital stay lasted only 5 1/2 days. He missed only five weeks' work.

These days, Garrett's pace has slowed. He lost his job in June when his position was eliminated after the HUD project changed management companies. And he still faces the possibility of his new kidney being rejected.

Begrudgingly, Garrett admits the operation has forced him to slow down--a bit. But perhaps it's time.

"I'll be a patient for life," he said. "The operation was the easy part. The hard part is afterward. Physically, I'm not as strong. But I'm back in the gym."

In July, 1992, he was back on the mound at Anaheim Stadium. In a poignant gesture, the Angels asked Garrett to throw out the evening's first pitch while honoring a contingent from the Transplant Olympics, which were sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation.

Of course, Garrett threw a strike--albeit with a little less velocity than the old days.

And a little less attitude.

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