True Taste of the Big Leagues: Garvey in OKC

Steve Garvey takes time during appearance at the Brick to talk with Bob Hersom

Former big leaguer Steve Garvey tossed a first pitch and signed autographs on the concourse. (Wendy Eagan)

By Bob Hersom / | June 20, 2009 8:41 PM ET

Two years ago, former major league closer Goose Gossage came to Oklahoma City and I asked him why he wasn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Four months later, he was voted into the Cooperstown hall.

Last year, someone figured out that only 14 major leaguers had produced four straight 200-hit, 100-RBI seasons. Of those 14 elite hitters, all but two were either still playing or in the Hall of Fame.

The two exceptions were Jim Rice and Steve Garvey.

Rice will enter the Hall of Fame this year.

Garvey is still waiting.

Saturday, the always-gracious Garvey was in Oklahoma City. He threw out the first pitch before the RedHawks played Nashville at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark.

In the ballpark where I asked Gossage about Cooperstown, I asked Garvey the same question.

Why do you think you're not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

"That's always the first question," Garvey, 60, said. "I don't know why I'm not. I wish I had a clear-cut answer for you."

Garvey's baseball credentials are Hall of Fame-worthy. A 10-time all-star. Four-time Gold Glove winner. National League MVP in 1974, and three-time NLCS MVP. In five World Series. NL-record 1,207 consecutive games played. And terrific in the postseason: .338 average, 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 55 playoff games.

"I was in New York for my book ("My Bat Boy Days") last year and on the Mike and Mike Show," Garvey said. "They were going to have me for 10 minutes and they ended up spending 45 minutes, because when they looked at all the stats they said, 'Hey, wait a minute,' we knew you were a good ballplayer but we didn't realize all the things you did."

But Garvey's 15 years of eligibility for Cooperstown ended after the 2007 vote, when he received 115 of 409 votes - only 28.1 percent, and 13 fewer votes than alleged steroid juicer Mark McGwire.

Through regular channels, players need 75 percent of the vote to earn Hall of Fame induction. Garvey's best finish has been 42.6 percent.

Now, his only chance to get into the Hall of Fame is through the every-other-year voting of the veteran's committee.

"I was on the veteran's committee this year for the first time, and I didn't make the final 10, which I thought was really odd," Garvey said. "I had a lot of confidence in my peers, that even if I wasn't elected this time that I would be close. That was a little confounding there."

Garvey played in 19 major league seasons, 1969-87. In his final dozen full seasons, from 1975-86, he had more hits (2,121) than everyone except Rice (2,145).

Garvey also had 1,076 RBIs during that 12-year span. Only George Foster and Hall of Famers Rice, Mike Schmidt and Dave Winfield drove in more runs during that time.

"I think my career is more a body of work," Garvey said. "Consistency, longevity, durability. I had my best games when the world was watching, so to speak."

So, why hasn't Garvey been voted into the Cooperstown hall?

Maybe it's the damage his Mr. Clean image has taken over the last two decades. One the jokes going around in the '80s was that Steve Garvey was "The Father of Our Country."

Why? Because he fathered two daughters with his first wife, Cyndy; during divorce proceedings it was revealed that he had fathered two children with two other women; and he has had three children with his second wife, Candace.

Which brings up a couple of interesting Garvey tidbits.

His wife, Candace, is a native of Wheaton, Ill., and a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Most Cubs fans are not big Steve Garvey fans simply because of what happened in the 1984 National League Championship Series. After the Cubs took a two games to none lead over San Diego in the best-of-5 NLCS, Garvey led the Padres to three straight wins and the World Series.

"Every day a Cub fan yells to me or comes up to me and says, "How could you hit that home run against us? You seem like a nice guy,'" Garvey said. "But Cub fans are great. They're perennial losers, with the 100 years (since a World Series win) and all that. But if you beat them, they have a lot of respect for you."

One of the Garvey's children, 16-year-old son Ryan, just finished his sophomore year at Palm Desert (Calif.) High School. A first baseman and outfielder, he hit .361 with 21 RBIs in 26 games this year. In one April game he had two home runs and five RBIs in one inning.

"He's got great power," said Garvey, who was a Gold Glove first baseman with powerful forearms. "His hands are this big and he's got size 15 shoes. He's 6-foot and about 185 right now. He's just got great raw power and he loves the game. And he's got his mother's speed."

Saturday marked the third time I had interviewed Garvey - whose birthday is the same as mine - and he's been exceptionally cordial each time, at spring training in Phoenix, before a Dodgers-Giants game, and twice in Oklahoma City.

His first visit to Oklahoma City was in May of 1989, four months after he had married Candace, and also a few months after the two other women claimed he had fathered their children.

"I'm obviously embarrassed by it," Garvey told me then. "It was a whirlwind romance, and it's probably one of the problems, because if I hadn't gotten married, the other women wouldn't be mad."

Good Guy Garvey said a lot more that day about the "Father of Our Country" talk, and about some of his Dodgers teammates claiming he was not genuine. Anything asked, he answered, at length.

So I didn't ask him those tough questions again Saturday. Steve Garvey deserves a break - along with a place in Cooperstown. Here's hoping he follows the road Goose Gossage indirectly took, from The Brick to The Hall.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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