Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Garvey

For roughly ten seasons, Steve Garvey was among the best first basemen in the majors. He made ten All-Star appearances, captured four Gold Gloves and was named NL MVP in 1974. All this while helping the Dodgers to four World Series berths.

In 1973, Garvey received a phone call from the distraught parents of a nine-year old cancer patient named Ricky. The child had been given a slim chance of survival and, moved by the story, Garvey agreed to make a personal appearance. When the marquis infielder arrived at Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital accompanied by his wife, Cyndy, the boy was heavily sedated and not expected to respond. Remarkably, as Garvey held the youngster’s hand and spoke to him softly, Ricky opened his eyes and smiled. Within a year, the boy had recovered sufficiently enough to take the field with Garvey at a Dodger Stadium benefit for sick children. The young cancer victim gave his favorite player a medal embossed with the following inscription: “Thank you for giving me the will to live.”

Comfortable in front of cameras and microphones, Garvey maintained a wholesome public image for several years. With his rakish good looks, he was even considered a viable candidate for public office at one point. But in 1978, the cracks began to show. Garvey had shared an adjoining locker with Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton for several seasons. In '78, Sutton decided to tell a reporter from the Washington Post what he really thought of his teammate. "All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy," he said. "But Reggie Smith is the real MVP. We all know it...He is not a facade. He does not have the Madison Avenue image."

Irritated by the remarks, Garvey confronted Sutton and asked if the quotes were accurate. Sutton assured him they were. The two squared off, pounding and clawing one another. At some point during the altercation, a teammate yelled: "Stop the Fight! They'll kill each other!" Catcher Joe Ferguson shared the opinion of many when he shouted back: "Good!"

Garvey's nice guy image was irreparably tarnished in 1989, when his estranged wife Cyndy wrote a tell-all book entitled, The Secret Life of Cyndy Garvey. In it, she included details of Garvey's numerous extramarital affairs and painted him as apathetic toward his family. At the time of the book's release, there were two paternity suits filed against the retired first baseman. He admitted to fathering children illegitimately with two different women.

In the wake of the scandal, chronic financial problems set in. Interviewed by the LA Times, Garvey blamed his fiscal woes on a combination of tax liabilities, pending child support and legal battles over his tumultuous personal affairs. According to court records at the time, he owed various lawyers more than $300,000. In regard to recovering those funds from Garvey, one attorney quipped: "Once a Dodger, always a dodger."

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