December 22, 2011
On occasion, Big League Stew honors a birthday boy per week by taking a longer look at his career. Please join us in lighting the candles.
Steve Garvey was indescribably popular in the 1970s. He was handsome, a fine hitter and the anchor of the Los Angeles Dodgers, arguably the best team of the decade other than the Big Red Machine. He was squeaky clean, and the baseball writers bent over backwards to make him look good.
But as Joe Posnanski writes, "When you look back on Garvey with a sense of perspective, it's hard to see him as he was 30 years ago because now that .329 on-base percentage jumps out like Glenn Close in the bathtub." Garvey was exactly what a star looked like to the casual fan. He batted .300, he got 200 hits a year, he made the All-Star team eight straight times, he made five World Series appearances — hitting .319 overall in 28 games in the Fall Classic — and won a championship with the Dodgers. He looked like a movie star. And he had a movie star's success with the ladies ... while he was married to his wife. The revelation of the skeletons in his closet led to his public downfall.
In recent years, Garvey — who shares a Thursday birthday with 'Duk and turns 63 — has come into the news for money troubles. His lavish lifestyle has brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, but he and Orel Hershiser have emerged as the faces of one of the ownership groups bidding to buy the Boys in Blue back from Frank McCourt. As soon as he announced his desire to buy the team, he was fired from his position in the Dodgers' marketing and community relations department. As the sale proceeds, it will be interesting to see where he winds up.
Best Year: 1974: .312/.342/.469, 21 HRs, 111 RBIs, 5 SBs, 4 CS, 31 BB/66 K, 5.1 rWAR
Garvey wasn't the best player in the National League in 1974, the year he won his MVP — he was actually tied for 11th in the league in Wins Above Replacement. A big part of that is the position he played: He came up as a third baseman, but the Dodgers moved him to first, the least important defensive position, which meant that the only value he brought to the table was with his bat. In fact, to underline the importance of defense, the man who moved Garvey off third, Ron Cey, accrued more WAR in 1974 than Garvey.
That said, it was a great year, the best of his career, the first of eight straight All-Star appearances (he made 10 overall). Garvey was more of a solidly reliable guy than a superstar. He played every game of every season from 1976 to 1982. He never hit more than 33 homers or batted higher than .319, but he batted over .300 eight different times and finished sixth in the MVP voting three different times. He was always overrated, but he was always pretty good.
Worst Year: 1986: .255/.284/.408, 21 HRs, 81 RBIs, 1 SB, 2 CS, 23 BB/72 K, -1.6 rWAR
After spending 14 years as one of the most beloved Dodgers, Garvey took a ride on the highway down to San Diego in 1983 and started the last five years of his career. He didn't have much left in the tank, but 1986 was the absolute pits: He played nearly every game, but he had the fourth-worst qualified OBP in the NL, and, measured by Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, his first base defense was the worst in the league. He played 27 more games in 1987, then he had shoulder surgery, ending his season. And, as it happened, his career.
Claim to Fame: Garvey was a solid regular-season performer, but he was a stud in the playoffs and the All-Star game. Through 11 postseason series, including five World Series (and the bizarre 1981 strike season "Division Series"), he hit .338/.361/.550, with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 232 plate appearances, and in 10 All-Star games, he hit .393/.433/.821 with two homers and seven RBIs. That ties him with Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. for eighth-most in All-Star history. He was the NLCS MVP in 1978 and 1984, and also the MVP of the All-Star game in 1974 and 1978.
Off the Field: Steve Garvey was nicknamed "Mr. Clean" for his clean-cut image — and he wanted to be a U.S. Senator after he retired, which seemed eminently likely by the end of the 1970s, as did election to the Hall of Fame — but the end of the 1980s brought revelations of multiple illegitimate children, and dashed all of those hopes. However, it did provide fodder for a bumper sticker that said, "Honk If You're Carrying Steve Garvey's Love Child." It also inspired one of the blogosphere's best blog names.
Dodgers haters couldn't have been happier.
As Chris Jaffe, a lifelong Cubs fan, put it in an article titled "Hitler. Stalin. Garvey.":
It is so much better to have Steve Garvey as your least favorite player than anyone else... The attitude toward Garvey is reminiscent of a line from the Blues Brothers: "Use of unnecessary force in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers has been approved."
The more outlandish you can be towards Garvey, the better. He's our nation's favorite whipping boy. You can call Garvey the common enemy of all humanity and Mets fans, and the only protest you might get is for the needless slam taken at Mets fans. No one ever argues another player should be scorned as much as Garvey, let alone more.