First rate

Garvey defined consistency at first base in the 1970s

November 04, 2013
2014 Expansion Era candidate Steve Garvey. (NBHOF Library)

For baseball fans in the 1970s, consistency had a name: Steve Garvey.

More often than not, that name appeared on awards, All-Star Game rosters and postseason record lists – because Steve Garvey was consistently excellent.

Garvey, who played for the Dodgers and the Padres during 19 big league seasons, is one of 12 finalists on this year’s Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 8 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 9.

The 12 candidates on the Expansion Era Committee ballot are: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre and Garvey. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014.

The Committee consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and media members Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves.

Born Dec. 22, 1948, in Tampa, Fla., Garvey was an all-around athlete who attended Michigan State on a baseball scholarship. He also started for the Spartans’ football team as a walk-on defensive back, but Garvey’s first love was baseball.

“When I was seven years old, I was a batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Garvey said. “You’re there and you’re sitting next to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier.”

Garvey was taken by the Dodgers with the 13th overall pick in the 1968 MLB Draft, and a year later debuted in the big leagues. But after coming through the minors as a third baseman, Garvey found the transition to the big leagues difficult as a fielder. He committed 28 errors in 85 games at third base in 1972, then switched to first base a year later.

Suddenly, Garvey was a star. He was elected to the All-Star Game in 1974 as a write-in candidate, and he later won the National League Most Valuable Player Award that year – hitting .312 with 21 homers and 111 RBI while leading Los Angeles to the National League pennant.

“I had the God-given talent to pull the ball, but I found I could pull up my average by 25 points by learning to hit the opposite way,” said the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Garvey, who drove the ball from a compact, upright stance. “I wasn’t tall enough to be the kind of first baseman who could snatch high throws from the air, so I had to work on digging it out of the dirt.”

Garvey’s work paid off when he won the first of four straight Gold Glove Awards in 1974. Later in his career, he would set a new record (since broken) for first basemen by playing 193 straight games without an error.

Offensively, Garvey’s 1974 season was a harbinger of things to come. From 1974-80, Garvey averaged 201 hits per season – eclipsing the 200-hit mark six times. He also averaged better than 22 homers and 104 RBI a season.

The Dodgers won two more NL pennants in 1977 and 1978, but lost to the Yankees in the World Series both times. But in 1981, Garvey and the Dodgers got revenge by beating New York in six games to win the Fall Classic – with Garvey hitting .417.

Throughout these years, Garvey was compiling an impressive consecutive games played streak that didn’t end until 1983, when a broken thumb forced him from the lineup after a National League-record 1,207 straight games.

Garvey left the Dodgers for the Padres as a free agent following the 1982 season, and in 1984 he helped San Diego win its first NL pennant. In the National League Championship Series against the Cubs, Garvey batted .400 and won Game 4 with a ninth-inning, walk-off home run.

Garvey retired after the 1987 season with a .294 batting average, 2,599 hits, 272 home runs, 1,308 RBI and 10 All-Star Game selections. He hit .338 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 11 postseason series, was named the 1978 and 1984 NLCS MVP and won the 1981 Roberto Clemente Award.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum