Phil Garner

UT Knoxville, ’73

Phil Garner
Photo by UT Knoxville Video & Photography

What moments shape a man’s life and influence his character? For Phil Garner, member of the World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates (1979), three-time All Star and manager of the National League winning Houston Astros (2005), one key moment happened during his sophomore year at UT Knoxville.

Garner’s teammate, Richard Walkney, had borrowed the car of Garner’s girlfriend (now wife). Walkney returned just at curfew and blocked Coach Bill Wright’s car as the coach checked that players were in for the night. When Wright attempted to move the car behind him, he smelled something that sent him running to the residence hall.

“Richard came to me and says, ‘You gotta cover for me. I’m already in trouble, and I might get kicked off the team,’ ” Garner recalls. “Richard had spilt whiskey in the car. We all loved Richard; he was the funniest guy and was always into minor trouble. So I said that I would.”

When Wright confronted Walkney, he said Garner did it. Wright told Garner to be at the track at 5 a.m., where Wright had him run five miles. Driven by fear, Garner ran each mile in under six minutes. That afternoon, UT won both games of a double header, and Garner hit two homeruns.

“Afterwards, Coach told me, ‘Well, if you’re gonna play like that, it might be OK if you have a drink every once in a while.’ I learned it’s good to be firm, and you need rules, but sometimes a little flexibility goes a long way.”

Now Garner’s flexibility with rules focuses on his six grandchildren, all living near his Woodlands, Texas, home.

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.