Monday, August 12, 2013

#575 - Steve Garvey



Remember when Steve Garvey was squeaky clean? Remember when he played third base? Back in ’73 most people didn’t know about the squeaky clean part so that was just beginning. But this was the final card on which he would be designated a third baseman and Topps seemed reluctant to let that go because in ’73 Steve actually put in zero time at that position. Thanks to the near-meteoric ascendency of Ron Cey that year, third base was finally free of the decade-plus mess of new faces it had been. And while Steve’s climb to regular status during the year was much more sublime than Ron’s, it was still impressive in what was an important transitional season for him. After three years of limited success trying to break into the line-up at third, the acquisition of Ken McMullen and the call-up of Cey left Steve without a position to start the ’73 season. He got some April starts in left field, but after going ofer in the last three of them that quickly ended. So for the first half of the season Steve was a pinch hitter and he did nice work in that role, going eleven for 26 for a .407 average in the pinch. That work got him some starts at first in late June during which he continued to hit and by early July he had taken over the position, pushing Bill Buckner to the outfield. On his action shot here Steve appears to have either just whiffed on a pitch or avoided an inside toss in what I assume is Philadelphia, the site of the other LA away action shots. Topps gives him an honorary card number which is quite prescient of them as was giving Steve and fellow ’74 MVP winner Jeff Burroughs an action shot for their big seasons. I always liked this card as I always liked his ’73 card in which he is nearly obscured by Wes Parker’s back. On that card Wes appears to be congratulating Steve after the latter guy just scored a run, possible following a homer. But in a more figurative way it could have been Wes passing the torch – delayed a year – to the new institution at first base for the Dodgers.

Steve Garvey was born in the Tampa area of Florida shortly after his folks had moved down from NY to run a motel. His dad had been a Dodgers fan and, as luck would have it, by the time Steve was about eight his dad had shucked the motel biz and become a bus driver. That spring was the first in which he became the Dodgers spring training bus driver and he leveraged that position to get his kid in as batboy. From there it was to local fame as a third baseman and in football first as a halfback and then a quarterback. His senior year of ’66 he had lots of offers from local schools to play baseball – he was seen generally as too small for football – and was drafted by the Twins. But his high school baseball coach was buddies with the coach at Michigan State and Steve got a scholarship there to play both sports. His freshman year he was shut out from playing football but he had a big role playing ND quarterback in practice the week before that huge game and in baseball he hit a grand slam in his first at bat. His sophomore year he was a defensive back and recorded thirty tackles and in baseball he hit .383 with nine homers and 38 RBI’s to get an All-American nod. LA nabbed him in the first round and he signed and in Rookie ball that summer hit .338 with 20 homers and 59 RBI’s in only 216 at bats. In ’69 around some military time he put up a .373/14/85 season in 316 at bats while playing both infield corners in Double A. Then in ’70 after a pretty-much hitless month of April in LA he was part of the wildly loaded Triple A Spokane club for whom he had a .319/15/87 year while moving back to third base full time. In July he returned to The Show almost for good.

Garvey had made his MLB debut in April and returned in July of ’70 to try to add his wood to the line-up. His best shot was at third base, a position which had been in flux since pretty much the early Sixties. In ’69 Bill Sudakis had settled in there but his bat went cold and he was needed at catcher so in ’70 new guy Billy Grabarkewitz pretty much took over. Billy was having a pretty good year but was putting up high K totals and was also needed elsewhere, he at second base and shortstop. So Steve got a bunch of starts at third in July and the rest of the month hit nearly .300. He then lost a bit of time for military stuff and got squeezed by roster moves back to Spokane, where he remained until September. He returned to LA to get some more work at third and pulled his average up another 40 points. In ’71 Billy G was a mess between injuries and a severely declined offense so Garvey again was the early-season starter at third and that year he remained pretty much the regular guy until breaking his hand in early June and then missing nearly two months. He retained his spot when he returned but his offense was a bit light so for the immediate future third base was still viewed as a bit open. In '72 Steve did get the Opening Day nod at the position and never really had a batting slump, but a lack of power and way too many errors – most of them throwing ones – opened the door for other guys to put in time there, namely Billy G and Bobby Valentine (though to be fair nobody performed well at the hot corner that year; the team as a whole recorded 53 errors!). In ’73 Steve finally got a regular gig for real, just on the other side of the diamond.

In 1974 Garvey began in earnest his onslaught of NL pitching. As part of an infield that stayed intact – actually beginning midway the prior season – through ’81, Steve was a huge offensive gun throughout his time in LA. Over the next nine seasons he would put up an average of .306 while averaging 198 hits, 22 homers, and 102 RBI’s in his full seasons (I am discounting the strike year of ’81 though that was a good one also). He got his MVP in ’74 with a .312/21/111 year while leading LA to the Series and was an All-Star in eight of those seasons and a Gold Glove winner in four of them. In ’75 he recorded his higest average - .319 – and hit total with 210. In ’77 he joined the LA power train, becoming one of four guys on the team with over 30 homers while recording a career-best 115 RBI’s. In ’78 and ’80 he led the NL in hits, both times with over 200. He had six 200-plus hit seasons in seven years. Not surprisingly LA was quite prolific post-season-wise during that span, making the playoffs five of those years and winning the Series title in ’81. He also put together his record 1,207 consecutive game streak during that time. When his contract expired following the ’82 season the dismantling of the infield continued – Davey Lopes left after the ’81 season – as Steve signed as a free agent with San Diego.

Garvey’s signing by the Padres was viewed as huge though many thought his best days were behind him. He was still a solid hitter and an excellent defender and would ably serve as a clubhouse leader. And things went well, at least until a dislocated thumb suffered at the end of July 1983 ended both his season and that consecutive game streak. But he still hit .294 in his 100 games and came back strong in ’84 when he helped take San Diego to the Series with a .284 average, 86 RBI’s, an error-less season at first, and a spanking time against the Cubs in the playoffs. He returned as the regular guy at first the next two seasons, posting 81 RBI’s in each one though his average slid, especially that second year. After an ’87 of mostly back-up and pinch hit work he retired. He finished with a .294 average on 2,599 hits, 272 homers, and 1,308 RBI’s. He upped his stats in the post-season to hit .338 with eleven homers and 31 RBI’s in 55 games. He is currently in the Top 100 all-time in hits, singles, total bases, and sacrifice flies, and just misses that mark in RBI’s. Defensively he is 13th in putouts, 47th in assists, 23rd in double plays, and seventh in fielding percentage at first base. At this point he seems about a push to get in the Hall, though it would have to be through the veteran votes.

Garvey was still a Golden Boy when he retired. He’d done lots of television work during his career and that seemed a good fit. There was also lots of speculation about him running for office (a conservative, he lionized Ronald Reagan). But things got public about Steve in a bad way when a contentious divorce amidst lots of extra-marital flings lended him in hot water image-wise. He ended up doing a pretty good Shawn Kemp impersonation by fathering eight kids with four women which pretty much killed his shot in politics. But he put together a media company that specializes in infomercials and has always been big on the corporate lecture circuit, both of which he has been doing since the late Eighties. He was inducted into his high school hall of fame in the Nineties and the Michigan State one in 2010.


Steve gets the offensive and defensive props on the star bullets. When he was at MSU one of his professors was Mike Marshall, his teammate on the ’74 pennant winner.

This one is faster than I would have thought and gets abetted by another ’74 teammate:

1. Garvey and Al Downing ’71 to ’77 Dodgers;
2. Downing and Dave May ’70 Brewers;
3. May and Bill Parsons ’71 to ’73 Brewers.

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