Thirty-seven years ago, the San Diego Padres signed Steve Garvey.
The San Diego Padres have long had trouble attracting free agents to the team. In 1982, the Padres were finalists for the services of first baseman Steve Garvey. The Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Cubs, and Padres were all battling it out to sign the free agent.
The Dodgers were considered the favorites, and Garvey was reportedly close to re-signing with the team. In the end, the Dodgers’ final offer was four seasons and five million dollars. The Padres stepped in and offered Garvey the extra year of pay, and a guaranteed $6.6 million contract. Garvey signed on December 21, 1982, one day before his 34th birthday.
San Diego Padres president Ballard Smith needed to do something for a young Padres team that finished 81-81 in the 1982 season. The fourth-place finish in the division was a thing of promise for the young franchise, but they needed something more. Jack McKeon and Dick Williams longed for a veteran presence, and the “Iron Man” Garvey brought a blue-collar work ethic to the traditionally laid back Padres.
In 1982 for the Dodgers, Garvey started all 162 games, batting .282 with 16 home runs and 86 RBI’s. It was Garvey’s seventh straight season starting every game for the Dodgers. He was an absolute iron man on the field, and he took that streak with him to the Padres in 1983. Padres fans and the rest of the major league community were shocked by the signing.
Unfortunately for Padres fans, and Garvey himself, his consecutive games streak came to an end on July 29, 1983. Garvey broke his thumb on a collision at home plate against the Atlanta Braves. He was attempting to score from third base on an errant throw from pitcher Pascual Perez. Bruce Benedict grabbed a perfect rebound off the backstop and nailed Garvey at the plate for the third out of the inning. Garvey went out to play his position in the bottom of the first but had to call over trainers. He was immediately removed.
His streak was over that day as the game was the first game of a scheduled doubleheader against the Braves. Garvey had played in 1,207 games in a row, which was third-best all time. It is still a National League record to this day. It was a heartbreaking moment for Garvey, as he hoped to make a run at Lou Gehrig and his streak of consecutive games played. Remember, this is before Cal Ripken Jr. and his iconic run at the streak.
The 1983 season was a wash for Garvey, but the leadership skill he brought to the team helped cultivate young hitters like Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds, and Carmelo Martinez. Garvey was described as a perfect teammate and ultimate professional. He enjoyed the game and its surroundings, but at the same time, he concentrated on his craft and got the best out of his talent.
When the 1984 season came rolling around, the team had taken significant strides with its veteran leadership. Graig Nettles and Rich Gossage were both proven winners with the Yankees, and they brought a sense of confidence to this young ball club. Garvey’s power numbers declined in 1984, but he did play in 161 games for the Friars. His thumb injury zapped some home run power as Garvey only hit eight home runs on the season with 86 RBI’s. But he did hit .284 in the regular season and also hit the most significant home run in franchise history in the playoffs. His walk-off home run against hard-throwing Lee Smith and the Chicago Cubs was a great moment in the 1984 NLCS series. That ninth-inning blast propelled the Padres to one of the biggest comebacks in MLB history. The Padres were down 0-2 in the series at one point.
That moment alone justified Garvey’s entire contract. As far as Padres fans were concerned, he could do no wrong. The man is revered in Padres’ history for that home run, and his number was retired by the team. In reality, Garvey never had spectacular numbers as a Padre. He was good, but not great offensively. The winning attitude he brought was far more valuable than the home runs he hit. Garvey had a decent year in 1985 as he hit .281 with 17 homers and 81 RBI’s. The next season his power numbers stayed on par as he hit 21 home runs and drove in 81 runners, but his average dipped to a career-low .255, and he also recorded a new career-low on-base percentage of .284.
In 1987, Garvey was only able to play in 27 games. In May, he was injured and put on the disabled list for the season. He had a torn bicep muscle in his upper arm near his shoulder and required arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The team announced he would not be offered a contract for the 1988 season, and Garvey briefly explored free agency but ultimately decided to hang up the cleats. He had class even in his exit from the game. He could have easily held on and been a designated hitter in the American League but went out with dignity after an injury-riddled year.
In 19 years, Garvey was a 10-time all-star for both the Dodgers and Padres. He was the 1974 National League MVP after he hit .312 with 21 homers and 111 RBI’s as a 25-year-old first baseman. He was a four-time gold glove winner and the 1981 Roberto Clemente award winner. As a Padres player, he retired with a .275/.309/.409 batting line and 61 home runs. The Padres hall-of-fame member will always go down as one of the team’s most beloved players, even though he was a Dodger first. On this date in Padres history, the franchise was changed forever.