Let’s take a look at Steve Garvey and his time with the San Diego Padres.
On a late afternoon on October 6, 1984, Padre fans erupted in Jack Murphy Stadium and in neighborhoods all over San Diego County when first baseman Steve Garvey hit one of the most memorable home runs in the history of the organization.
For the first time since the birth of the Padres in 1969, the team had made it to the playoffs. Cub-Busters t-shirts showed up all over the county. Facing elimination, Garvey’s home run propelled the team on to Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
The series began in Chicago against the Cubs, and the Padres lost the first two games 13-0 and 4-2. So when the Padres returned to San Diego the team faced elimination. With their backs against the wall, the Padres won Game 3 by a decisive 7-1 score beating Dennis Eckersley in front of what reliever Goose Gossage called the loudest crowd he’d ever heard.
In the 9th inning of Game 4, Garvey hit the shot heard around the county off of closer Lee Smith. The Padres had scored first going ahead 2-0, but the Cubs answered with three runs and led the game until the Padres tied the score in the bottom of the fifth and went ahead 5-3 in the seventh. Again the Cubs answered and the seesaw game went into the ninth inning tied 5-5. Alan Wiggins struck out swinging, but Tony Gwynn hit a single. Up came Steve Garvey who belted a ball over the center/right-field wall. Both Gwynn and Garvey touched home plate as fans in the Murph and in front of their televisions went berserk as the Padres won the National League pennant and went on to their first World Series.
Unfortunately, the Padres faced a juggernaut in the Detroit Tigers. The team had a 104-58 record and featured future Hall-of-Famers pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammel. On October 9 at home, the Padres played their first World Series game losing 3-2. But San Diego won Game 2 5-3. The series moved to Tiger Stadium, and the home team ultimately prevailed with scores of 5-2, 4-2, and 8-4.
Of course, the loss to the Tigers hurt. But, for the first time in the history of the organization, the San Diego Padres proved they belonged in the big leagues. The year before, the team had broken even at 81-81, but in 1984 made a considerable leap to win 92 games. Of course, back then, the path to the ultimate prize had fewer obstacles. The Padres had to face only one team, the Chicago Cubs, in the National League Championship Series to make it to the World Series.
No-nonsense Dick Williams managed the team, and Tony Gwynn, in his third year in the big leagues, won the batting title. That season also featured an all-out brawl with the Atlanta Braves in which multiple pitchers threw at or hit batters, dugouts cleared, and mayhem ensued.
In December 1982, general manager Jack McKeon (aka Trader Jack) outbid the Los Angeles Dodgers and offered Steve Garvey a $6.6 million deal he couldn’t refuse. At the time, McKeon emphasized Garvey’s importance as a role model for the younger players on the roster. Ironically, history repeated itself in February 2018, when current GM A.J. Preller signed another first baseman, Eric Hosmer, to be a leader in another young clubhouse. Of course, that $144 million deal makes Garvey’s contract look like chump change.
Drafted by the Dodgers in 1968 in the first round, Garvey made the big league team in September the following year. Although he played sporadically (mostly at third base) his first four years, he found a permanent home at first when Wes Parker retired. Garvey spent 14 seasons in Los Angeles, making multiple All-Star appearances and being named NLCS MVP in 1978.
In 1984, Garvey made history by becoming the only first baseman to commit no errors in a season. He ended his career in 1987 after playing for 19 years. On April 16, the following year, the Padres officially retired his number 6 in a ceremony at Jack Murphy Stadium, the first number to be retired in the franchise’s history at that point.
Whether that number 6 belongs up there with other the retired numbers of Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Randy Jones, and Trevor Hoffman (as well as Jackie Robinson’s 42) has been debated through the years. Longtime San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter Bill Center counts himself as one of those who answer with a resounding no, but he would prefer actually to rip it down.
Yes, that home run helped turn around the division championship series and gave the Padres a shot of actual relevance. However, the preponderance of opinion nixes the decision to retire Garvey’s number for a variety of reasons:
- One home run shouldn’t be the standard for retiring a number.
- Steve Garvey was a Dodger masquerading in a Padre uniform. He helped the Dodgers to a World Series championship in 1981 and played in Los Angeles for 14 years. By the time he came south, his best years were behind him.
- Selecting Garvey’s number to be the first to receive that honor insults players like Randy Jones who came before him.
- Garvey is just one example of the stars, like Fernando Valenzuela and Greg Maddox, who arrived in San Diego in the twilight rather than the prime of their careers.
Hindsight being 20-20, the Padres should have saved the honor of retiring the first number in the history of the franchise to a longtime Padre. However, undoing what has been done, as some critics have suggested, would reflect badly on the franchise.