Steve Garvey, to the consternation of certain factions of Dodger Nation, is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. A stalwart first baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, in the latter years of his career, the San Diego Padres, Garvey accumulated career statistics meriting inspection for entry into baseball’s shrine.
In his 19-year career, Garvey notched 2,599 hits. Though he did not reach the magic number of 3,000, the statistic is close enough when considered with excellence further reflected in his selection to the National League All-Star team 10 times—eight as a Dodger, twice as a Padre. More pointedly, Garvey’s eight All-Star appearances as a Dodger were consecutive, indicating a rare consistency usually seen in those with careers crowned with a plaque in Cooperstown. Additionally, Garvey won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1974 and four consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1974 to 1977.
Garvey’s career batting average of .294 adds weight to an endorsement for Hall of Fame inclusion. A mere difference of .006 points from the hallowed .300 batting average barometer ought be considered unimportant, especially when combined with the other statistics. Also significant is Garvey’s National League record of 1,207 consecutive games played. Post-season play adds weight: World Series appearances with the Dodgers in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981; the Dodgers won the World Series in the strike-shortened ’81 season. Garvey won another World Series ring with the Padres in 1984.
A strong case can be made for Garvey’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is, however, a case as yet unpersuasive to the voters. In his 2012 ESPN.com article “Steve Garvey’s reliability forgotten” Steve Wulf declared that a Hall of Fame plaque for Garvey is unlikely, given off-the-field exploits. “What happened to Garvey is partly schadenfreude: Writers turned on him for a complicated personal life that smudged an image so golden that he once had a middle school named after him,” wrote Wulf. “But he’s also one of the great players from that period who have been hurt by the inflation of statistics fueled by the increasing use of PEDs, which happened to coincide with the HOF eligibility for the earlier era.”
The “complicated personal life” involves extramarital affairs, two illegitimate children, strained relations with his two daughters from his marriage to television news personality Cindy Garvey, and a divorce that captured headlines. Consequently, Garvey’s image, once thought to be purer than Ivory soap, shattered into shards.
In the November 27, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated, the article “America’s Sweetheart” by Rick Reilly with Special Reporting by Kristina Rebelo depicts the foundation of Garvey’s “Mr. Clean” status. “He had mail to answer, business contacts to cement, a moral obligation to be at every Cub Scout banquet and Kiwanis dinner. He believed in doing the Right Thing. His parents smoked, but he never did. His teammates swore, but he never did. Cyndy says that when he was having trouble throwing in his first years as a Dodger, people would call and scream insults at him. He would listen to everything they had to say and then hang up. Punishment is important. Yet in 1983, when he broke the National League record for consecutive games, he took a $15,000 ad in the Los Angeles Times to thank the fans.
“But maybe sometimes he has confused responsibility to family with responsibility to fans.”
Whether Garvey’s denial of membership by the voters is sourced in scandal or statistics—or a bit of both—is a matter of debate. If the former subject is believed to be inconsequential in future votes, the latter subject deserves another examination.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 27, 2015.