Esposito: Why Not Garvey? – Missing Hall of Fame Again Amazing Oversight

Man, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

With this week’s announcement that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell had achieved enough votes by the latest version of the Veteran’s Committee to become the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I just can’t get over their oversight to neglect the accomplishments of Steve Garvey.

Yes, this is a personal view by someone who has followed the game for many decades, and not in any way an affront to their choices of Tram and Morris (although I do at least slightly question Trammell’s selection), but after taking a closer look at Garvey’s career, there’s a lot of bullet points that make me feel he should have been selected.

No, it’s not like I’m a longtime Garvey fan, I’m not his friend or even an acquaintance, nor am I some sort of blue blood Dodgers fan (although I am quite fond of Tommy Lasorda – who doesn’t love Tommy Lasorda, baseball’s greatest ambassador since Casey Stengel), but having been witness to Garvey’s era and even many years prior, I have developed a great respect for what Garvey did on the field, even in comparison with other first basemen of his era that are even already in the Hall of Fame.

First, the roots of this appeal. This year, the 16-member of the latest incarnation of the Veteran’s Committee deliberated on the careers of ten qualified finalists of what was being labeled as the Modern Baseball Era (candidates who played or served baseball between 1970-87). They considered Morris, Trammell, Garvey, Don Mattingly, Tommy John, Marvin Miller, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Luis Tiant.

There are those who likely could campaign for any of the above for selection, although this was definitely a group who for many years were, shall we say, “on the fence.”

The Vet’s Committee included a very qualified group of baseball players, executives and writers: Hall of Famers George Brett, Rod Carew, Bobby Cox, Dennis Eckersley, John Schuerholz, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount; Mets GM Sandy Alderson, Blue Jays exec Paul Beeston, Reds CEO Bob Castellini, Cardinals exec Bill DeWitt, Royals owner David Glass, and longtime baseball media members/historians Bob Elliott, Steve Hirdt, and Jayson Stark.

Quite a crew. They’ve seen or played in a million baseball games. They know the game. No complaint. So what do they have against Garvey?

So here’s my pitch:

Steve Garvey played 19 seasons (1969-87), for two teams – the Dodgers and Padres, and finished with a .294 average (seven seasons batting .300 or above, but those last few years, as with many players when they’re winding down, were below .300), 2,599 hits, 1308 RBIs, a ten-time All-Star, four times a Gold Glove, the NL MVP in 1974, the NLCS MVP – twice!, and six years apart, the All-Star Game MVP – twice!, and bonus! – a .338 average in 55 postseason games, with 75 hits, 11 homers, and 31 RBIs.

Doesn’t that sound like a Hall of Famer?

Breaking his career down even further, Garvey is the Lou Gehrig/Cal Ripken Jr., of the National League, still owning the league’s record of 1207 consecutive games played, so durability was never in question. And sure, that alone doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer, but the fact that he was available, and that his managers wanted him in the lineup every day as that gave them the best chance to win that day does say something.

Looking deeper, Garvey batted in the Top Ten in the NL six times, racked up at least 200 hits per season six times, was in the Top Ten of extra-base hits in the NL seven times, was on base at least 239 times each year five times, led the NL in Sac Flies in 1984, and finished in the Top Ten six times, was in the Top Ten voting for league MVP five times, Top Ten slugging twice, three times the Top Ten in home runs in the NL, seven times in the NL Top Ten in doubles, nine times the NL Top Ten in total bases, and with 1143 runs scored, twice in the league’s Top Ten.

Doesn’t that sound like a Hall of Famer?

Defensively, Garvey is 12th all-time in putouts (19.004), led the NL six times in putouts, is 49th all-time in assists (1,026), and finished in the league’s Top Ten six times, led the league in helping turn double plays in 1985, and is 24th all-time (1,498). And again, four Gold Gloves (‘74-’77).

Sounds like good background for a Hall of Famer, doesn’t it?

Consider this: In the ten All Star Games Garvey played, he was the starting first baseman nine times – with future Hall of Famer Tony Perez on the bench many of those games. Skeptics could point out that Garvey started as the beneficiary of fan voting those years, but since when is popularity a detriment. Fans knew what they saw, a good reliable first baseman who hit in the clutch (evidenced by his multiple MVP notations). The one time Garvey didn’t start, some guy named Pete Rose was the starter (1981).

Without diminishing Perez’s Hall of Fame career, certainly worthy, he does make a natural comparison showing again how Garvey is worthy of a plaque on the wall in Cooperstown.

As a contemporary of Garvey, Perez had 133 more hits (2732-2599), 344 more RBIs (1652-1308), but also played four additional years (1964-86). But in the postseason, Garvey has the edge. Garvey played in five postseasons with the aforementioned .338 BA, 11 longballs, and 31 runs batted in. Perez played in six postseasons, batted 100 points less (.238), and had six home runs and 25 RBIs. Good numbers, no doubt, but doesn’t that also verify Garvey’s clutch abilities?

Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

There’s just one thing Garvey didn’t excel at, he didn’t hit a lot of home runs. His total of 272 longballs was nearly a hundred less than Perez (379). So from a position that usually employs home run bangers (could be why Keith Hernandez is also on the outside looking in), Garvey bashers could point to this deficiency.

But I look at this as just a spot on the overall picture. Producing runs is the name of the game, winning is the name of the game, and Garvey was on the plus side of a great many games.

Arguably Garvey’s greatest accomplishment came not as a Dodger, but as a San Diego Padre when he went there as a free agent in 1983. Sports Illustrated once voted this deal as the 15th best free agent signing ever as of 2008.

The Padres had always been a floundering expansion franchise since they were born in 1969, but beginning with Garvey’s acquisition, they became aggressive and finally made it to the playoffs and World Series in 1984.

Garvey was an acknowledged clubhouse leader, and along with the likes of Tony Gwynn, Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, Terry Kennedy, Kevin McReynolds, and Eric Show, the Pads went from doormat to NL Champs. Garvey actually led the club with 86 RBIs (and 248 between the years ‘84-’86), was second in hits and batting average to Gwynn, and certainly one of the main go-to voices in the clubhouse for the media.

It’s also surprising that the media never did extend Garvey a valid showing in the 15 years he was on the ballot for Hall of Fame voting. Garvey never received more than about 42% of the votes from 1993-2007, and in the later years just around 20% of the vote.

What were they looking at? Again, maybe a home run backlash.

What’s surprising about that is that Garvey never turned down a request for an interview and with the public, was legendary for being an overall “nice guy,” never refusing an autograph or photo request. He had nicknames like “Mr. Clean,” and “The Senator,” and yes, there are stories that there was some resentment by some teammates that he was kind of a camera hog.

Again, none of this matters to Hall of Fame candidacy, but it does speak to his character, which is supposed to be a Hall of Fame consideration. Isn’t a ballplayer supposed to be a public entity and available to the media as a link to the fans?

His personal life did include arguably character flaws by fathering children with three women, and was married twice, but again, none of that should matter to his baseball accomplishments in regards to the Hall of Fame.

Another positive tribute to his character was being named with the Roberto Clemente Award in 1981, and his continual efforts as an executive with BAT, the Baseball Assistance Team that helps former members of the baseball community that need physical or financial help, and his efforts promoting prostate cancer awareness.

So you get the picture. I believe Garvey should be a Hall of Famer. If you disagree, I sure would love to hear a contrary opinion and the reasons.

The next time the Modern Era will be considered by a Veteran’s Committee will be 2020. I don’t know if Garvey will again be included as a finalist, but it sure would be nice to see that name considered once more.

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