Garvey branded by Iron Age

August 01, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

Steve Garvey knows what it's like. Perhaps more than anyone else, he understands what it has taken for Cal Ripken to stand today on the threshold of his 2,000th consecutive game.

Garvey played 19 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and -- from 1975 to 1983 -- he set the National League record for consecutive games played with a string of 1,207.

Doesn't seem like much now, not with Ripken nearly 800 games beyond, but Garvey knows. He watches from afar and he remembers everything -- the good, the bad and the ugly day that the streak ended on a ligament-rupturing play at home.

"I think it's the ultimate statement of a professional baseball player to the game, his organization and the fans," said Garvey, who at 45 still appears to be in game shape. "I'm proud of him. [The streak] will be remembered as one of the most noted accomplishments in the world of sports."

It was once a distant dream that Garvey would be the first to make the Iron Horse hear footsteps. He tried to model himself after Lou Gehrig, the quiet, dignified superstar who never said a blue word and never took a day off. Now, Ripken is just 132 games from breaking a record that once was considered unapproachable, and Garvey remembers how hard it was just to get halfway to Gehrig.

"Cal says that you try not to think about it," Garvey said.

"You try, but it's there every day. Consciously or subconsciously, it's part of your life."

For better or worse. Ripken has been criticized for clinging to the streak when he was struggling at the plate. Garvey received the same kind of criticism in Los Angeles, even though his batting average was above .300 more years than not during the streak.

Perhaps if he had gotten a few hundred games closer to Gehrig's record, the media in Los Angeles would have joined the parade, but it was still too distant to truly believe in. Garvey was known more as an iceman than an iron man, because he rarely stepped out of a character that seemed too planned and too perfect, but he knew what people were saying.

"I think that was part of my education in the game and the media element," Garvey said. "Why would someone criticize you for playing every inning of every game? That's what it is all about. It was kind of a rude awakening. I tried to look beyond that. We were a winning team and I was contributing. Sure, you have slumps, but it's not just the physical element. Your presence on the team is important, too. Your teammates know they can depend on you day in and day out. There's not a lot said about that."

The fans may have thought he was selfless, but some of his teammates thought he was selfish, striving for personal accomplishments ahead of team goals. There was friction in the clubhouse, which may have helped him make the decision to leave the Dodgers after the 1982 season and sign with the San Diego Padres.

The streak went on.

He had broken Billy Williams' National League record (1,117) in 1982, but it would have taken another six years to make a serious run at Gehrig.

"I think once you get past 1,000, if you're religious, you know it's in God's hands," Garvey said. "You could step out of bed and twist an ankle. You have to take it one game at a time. After all the attention that comes with getting to a certain level, it's just a mind-set. It's a series of 162 games at a time. It's not 2,000 games. It's 162 and a break and another 162 and a break."

Little did anyone know at the time that "The Streak" was just beginning in Baltimore. Ripken wasn't even in Jeff Conine country when fate finally stepped in front of Garvey . . . fate in the form of Atlanta Braves pitcher Pascual Perez, who took an unexpected stand in the path of history.

"It was on a passed ball," Garvey said. "Pascual Perez was pitching and it seemed like everything he did was a little different. I took off and Perez comes up to take the throw, but instead of positioning himself on the pitcher's side of the plate, he straddles it. I don't know why. I had to decide -- do I slide hard and take his legs out from under him, or slide around him?"

Garvey did not make the right choice. He tried to avoid the collision and somehow caught his thumb behind Perez's heel. The dislocation was so severe that it ruptured the surrounding ligaments and made it impossible to stabilize the joint.

"I remember knowing that it was dislocated and trying to push it back into the socket," Garvey said. "It was the first game of a doubleheader and I was thinking, if I can get it back in, maybe I can pinch-hit in the second game and get some real treatment afterward. Then I got up and the thumb just fell down. I knew it was over.

"Dick Dent [the Padres' trainer] looked at it, but he didn't want to say anything. I started up the tunnel to the clubhouse and it was as if everything drained out of me -- both physically and emotionally."

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