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Templeton Finds Himself, His Role : After Stormy Early Years, He’s at Peace as a Leader of Padres

Times Staff Writer

On his 30th birthday last week in Palm Springs, Garry Templeton spent the day with his wife and kids. Wife Glenda was by his side, sons Garry Jr., 7, and Gerome, 4, were playing ball nearby, and baby daughter Genae Nicole sat on his lap.

On the day after his 30th birthday, Garry Templeton spent time with another kid, his new teammate with the San Diego Padres, 22-year-old Bip Roberts.

“Bip, don’t just slap at the ball when you’re batting left-handed,” Templeton was saying. “Drive it!”

At 30, the former Santa Ana Valley High School star no longer drives anybody crazy. Standing around the batting cage last month, he, in jest, pronounced himself the San Diego team captain. He laughed, but teammate Jerry Royster liked the thought.

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“You are!” Royster said.

Bip Roberts agrees. Roberts, a rookie, was short on money before his spring training paychecks started coming in, so Templeton invited Roberts’ family over for dinner. “Come anytime,” he said.

Roberts was star-struck, for when he was growing up playing ball on the streets of Oakland, he always told his friends: “I’m Garry Templeton!”

But back then, Garry Templeton wasn’t even Garry Templeton.

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“A Mays . . . a Mantle . . . a Templeton. Who else? There aren’t too many.” --Lou Brock in 1978

Around his 21st birthday, Garry Templeton, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, was the new star on the horizon.

But he never arrived.

Maybe they expected too much--a Mays or a Mantle. You can get pretty depressed trying to keep up with legends.

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In 1981, it all caught up with him when a San Francisco Giant catcher failed to catch a called third strike. Templeton, the batter, should have run to first base as the ball bounced free, but he did not.

The hometown St. Louis fans booed, and Templeton responded with obscene gestures. His manager, Whitey Herzog, pulled him into the dugout and threw him against a wall.

You can get pretty depressed chasing Mays and Mantle. Templeton apparently had done just that. He got psychiatric help.

He also got traded.

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“The move (to San Diego) did it,” wife Glenda said. “It matured him.”

Everything came so easily for so long.

When Templeton was a youngster in Texas, his dad, Spivey, taught him how to play. He took his first swings in a cow pasture.

Spivey had played in the old Negro Leagues, and once advised his son: “Don’t ever be scared of any man. One thing he’s always got to do is throw it over the plate.”

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Templeton’s family later moved to Southern California, and he went to high school here. He met Glenda here.

“Yeah, he was big man on campus,” Glenda said.

His nickname, given by a cousin, was Jumpsteady. When he danced to a song by Aretha Franklin called “Rocksteady,” he did more jumping than dancing. Thus, the nickname.

The Cardinals jumped on him, signing him in the first round of the 1974 draft. They made him a shortstop, although he had played center field in high school, and a switch hitter. He had never hit from the left side, and at first, he ran forward and slapped at the ball.

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Soon, he was hitting more than .400 in the minor leagues with Arkansas.

Soon, he had 200 hits as a rookie. He said at a baseball dinner: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Soon, he became the first major leaguer to have 100 hits in one season from either side of the plate.

Soon, he hit the most triples in a season since Willie Mays. There was that name again.

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Soon, he was the second, third and fourth coming.

Said Dodger scout Ed Liberatore in April of 1978: “Templeton has a chance to be the greatest shortstop who ever lived. He has all the tools. It’s just a matter of what he does with them.”

Said Cardinal teammate Keith Hernandez in 1979: “I’m telling you, he might be the next guy to get 4,000 hits. If he wants to play until he’s 40, he might make a run at Ty Cobb. I’m serious. I’m deadly serious.”

How could Garry Templeton be Garry Templeton when they were making him out to be a god?

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He didn’t want to be a god.

Watch his self-destruction:

After his batting average dropped from .322 in 1977 to .280 in 1978, the Cardinals wanted to cut his salary by $5,000. Templeton said he’d just as soon quit the game and go back to California to drive a beer truck.

He ended up with a $30,000 raise but said in the spring of 1979 that he would play only at half speed and wouldn’t be fielding grounders in the hole unless he got more money.

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He demanded a trade.

That summer, he made the All-Star team as a reserve, but he thought he should have been a starter and didn’t go.

He tried to be nicer, donating $1,000 worth of tickets to underprivileged children, but when he was dropped to No. 2 in the batting order in 1981, he asked to be traded again.

“They’re tired of me in St. Louis,” he said.

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Some of his teammates certainly were.

“We’re better off without him,” Gene Tenace said in 1981 after Templeton’s incident with Herzog. “He’s a loser. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve lost all respect for him as a human being. If Whitey had not hit him, we’d have had it in here (the clubhouse), and it wouldn’t have been pleasant.”

After Templeton sought help for emotional problems, Tenace said: “Some of us said things now that we regret because we didn’t know what was really wrong.”

There are scars.

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Today, at 30, Garry Templeton still does not trust reporters.

He did not want to comment at length on himself, saying only: “Just say I’m doing fine.”

Once in a while, when he does speak, he says he has matured. But once in a while, he gets the St. Louis blues. Last year, he said bitterly to one teammate: “When I was in the minors, people in St. Louis heard my name, Templeton, and thought I was white. Boy, were they surprised when I ended up being black.”

But the Cardinal sins are over. Garry Templeton drives nobody crazy anymore.

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“He’s a very likable person,” Royster said. “There’s not one guy who doesn’t like him.”

What he wants out of life isn’t necessarily what his bosses want, but that’s life, isn’t it?

One thing he wants is friendship. Consider his befriending Roberts.

“That’s Tempy’s nature,” Roberts said. “It’s the sign of a great person. The first time I met him, that stuck out. He said ‘Come over and hit (at his private batting cage). Bring the family.’

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“I had just met him, and here was this super guy that I always thought he’d be. I’d say he’s my best friend on the team, by far. The other guys are great, but he’s just my best friend. Not all of them would do what he did. Tempy’s special. He’s a special person.”

When Templeton was 21 and breaking in with the Cardinals, someone helped him, too. Jerry Mumphrey, now with the Chicago Cubs, did the same thing for Garry and Glenda.

“I was really young, too, and I appreciated it,” Glenda said of Mumphrey. “It would’ve been hard. . . . So we understood how it was for Bip. Bip’s wife Janina stayed at our house during spring training. It was good company for me. We sat and watched TV and played backgammon half the night. It was great.”

Templeton also wants security, and now he has the house of his dreams. It’s in Poway, north of San Diego, and the land goes on for acres. He has his own batting cage, his own par-3 golf hole. And, Royster said: “He has a music system in there that Prince would love to own.”

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Templeton might like golf more than baseball. Although he has been playing for less than two years, Templeton shoots in the high 70s.

“I helped him with his golf,” Royster said. “And now I’ve really got to play to beat him. He loves that game. And he has so much natural ability, it’s incredible. And he listens so well. I watched him one time and told him a couple things, and the next time, he was seven shots better.”

The kids, though, are No. 1. Garry Jr. plays all sports, but Gerome appears to be the big baseball fan. Wearing red shades, he asked mom to pitch batting practice.

“I’ll bunt,” he promised.

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“You better,” Glenda said. “Last time, you almost broke a window.”

And then there’s the baby girl.

“She’s stuck on him,” Glenda said. “She loves seeing Daddy.”

The people of San Diego love seeing Daddy, too. He does not hit .300 anymore, nor does he have the speed to run a 9.5 100-yard dash anymore. The knees, you know. But he hit .282 last season and was voted the Padres’ most valuable player.

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When he hit .280 in St. Louis, and they wanted to dock his pay.

But that was when he was 22.

Now, he’s 30.


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