GENE GARBER starts his days at around 4:30 every morning. Whether he's in the chicken house, out in the fields or tending to his flock of several thousand emus, the 60-year-old former reliever loves every minute of his workday. "I enjoy everything about farming," says Garber, who, along with his two sons, owns 400 acres outside Elizabethtown, Pa. "I enjoy getting out and working the ground and planting. And it gives me the opportunity to spend time with my sons."
Garber was once one of the hardest-working pitchers in baseball. When he left the game in 1988—"I didn't retire, they retired me," explains Garber—he was fifth in alltime appearances and held the Braves' record for career saves (141) until John Smoltz broke it in 2004. But for all he did in 19 seasons with the Pirates, Royals, Phillies and Braves, the sidearmer is known best for snapping Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak on Aug. 1, 1978.
Rose's streak had created a frenzy of interest that summer. (A few games after it ended, Padres announcer Jerry Coleman memorably stated, "If Rose's streak was still intact, with that single to left, the fans would be throwing babies out of the upper deck.") The first time Garber faced Rose that night in Atlanta, in the seventh inning, he got Rose to line into a double play. In the ninth Garber begged manager Bobby Cox to let him stay in the game with the hitless Rose due to bat third, even though the Braves were up 16--4. Garber ran the count to 2 and 1, then knew he had to rely on his best pitch, a changeup. "I was scared to death that I might walk Pete Rose to end his streak," says Garber. "My knees were shaking." Two pitches later Rose went down and Garber was assured of a place in baseball history. "I have Pete to thank for that," says Garber, "because after the game he ripped me pretty good for 10 minutes and then said, 'I don't want to give him any more ink.' That's exactly what he had done. I get calls probably every year around August to talk about it."
Garber, who grew up on a dairy farm in the same area of Lancaster County where he now lives, decided in the early 1980s that he wanted to have his own farm with his wife, Karen. Garber's latest venture: He is developing a website to sell emu oil, which is touted to relieve sore joints and help with burns and dry skin. However that venture goes, he will still have his 4:30 starts, which is fine by him. Says Garber, "I've had two jobs in my life, and I've loved them both."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (GARBER NOW)
GETTING EMU-TIONAL Garber, who put Rose in a foul mood by ending his streak, now hangs with the birds.
CHARLES PUGH/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/AP (GARBER)
AP (ROSE 1978)