Garvey Belongs In The Hall

Steve Garvey should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Period. End of discussion. Wait. What? O.K. Go ahead, give me a reason why he shouldn’t.

“He didn’t hit a lot of home runs.”

Really? How’s six seasons of 200 hits grab you? .294 career batting average? Comparatively, 284 isn’t “a lot.” But Garvey wasn’t trying to hit home runs. He was trying for line drives. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hit for power. It was more that hitting for power wasn’t the best way to help the team. Foreign concept nowadays I know. Proof: he hit 33 one year. And had two other seasons of 28 and 26. He was usually in the high teens/low 20’s, which isn’t bad considering Chavez Ravine is where fly balls went to die in the 1970’s and 80’s before juiced baseballs and juiced players.

“He doesn’t feeeel like a hall-of-famer.”

How about a 10-time All Star? Yep. How about being the most valuable player on his team? Yep. How about the entire league? Yep. 1974 winner, second in 1978, top-25 nine times. He was so valuable, he didn’t sit. Period. Not that he wanted to. This from a Rick Reilly profile in Sports Illustrated 30 years ago this month:

“… he played at various times with a hyperextended elbow, 22 stitches in his chin,, a pulled hamstring, a bruised heel, a migraine, the flu, a 103° fever and a toenail so impacted they had to drill a hole in it to relieve the pressure.”

If not for a dislocated thumb that required a cast he would have surpassed Everett Scott for second all time (1307 games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the 1920’s ). As it is Garvey still holds the record for consecutive games played in the National League with 1207.

One more thing: four consecutive Gold Glove awards. There would have been more but for the baseball writers’ love affair with Keith Hernandez (all-time Gold Glove leader with 11).

“I don’t remember him being clutch.”

Put the bong down and slowly walk away. Postseason numbers: .338, 11 HRS, 31 RBI in 55 games. Garvey played in five World Series and hit .319. In three of them, he dominated, hitting .381 .375 and .417. Sure, there were two series he hit .200 and .208 but how many guys are out there that dream of even being able to hit that…

He was the MVP in the 1978 NLCS against Philadelphia.

Six years later he’d hit perhaps the most famous home run in San Diego Padre history when he hit a walk-off game-winner in Game 4 of the ‘84 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs. We was named MVP that series, too.

The Padres erected a plaque commemorating the event and retired his number. He played for San Diego for all of four full seasons. Name someone else whose number was retired after four full seasons.

The question to me is, was he one of the best players in the game for a decade or more? The answer is absolutely, and one of the best at the position all-time. When he first qualified for the ballot, the Baseball Writers Association of America gave him 35-40 percent on his first six tries. At the time, troubles of his own making in his personal life certainly didn’t help his chances. “I had a midlife disaster,” he told Reilly.

But those days are long gone and we can remember him for the player he was, not for his mistakes off the field.

His career Jaffe Wins Above Replacement rating is 50th out of all the first basemen who have played over the course of 120 years. And his numbers would be even better if the Dodgers hadn’t platooned him the first four years of his career.

Once he got going, he was one of the stars of the game almost immediately: MVP in his second full season. How big was he? After the Dodgers told him he was too old to be offered a long-term contract, his decision to take a five-year deal for $7 million from the Padres shocked the baseball world. It made the network news and many a 12-year-old boy had to learn about free agency and his favorite team failing to keep his favorite player after 14 years of service.

As it turned out, the Dodgers never made the World Series again with the likes of Greg Brock at first base. The loss of Garvey meant something to that team and those fans. Allowing Ron Cey and Davey Lopes didn’t help either. But Garvey did make it back to the series… and with the Padres of all teams.

Garvey was a winner and a helluva player and he deserves to be recognized.

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