Garvey Retires at 39 Without Tears, Laughs

Times Staff Writer

Looking and sounding very much like the political candidate he will likely be, Steve Garvey retired from baseball Wednesday at 39.

“In some ways, this is the toughest day of my life,” he said. “In other ways, it’s quite exciting.”

There were no tears, but no laughter either. It was an orderly, almost orchestrated, departure from sports to business and, down the road, perhaps, politics.


Significantly, Garvey did not announce his retirement in a clubhouse, or even a ballpark. He met reporters in a hotel conference room.

“He had just a storybook career,” said Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president. “From the very beginning, he had very high goals and he accomplished those goals with the very highest of standards. It’s incredible to think of the number of years that have gone by.”

Indeed, 17 major league years have gone by, the first dozen with the Dodgers, the last five with the Padres.

But he retired a man without a team.

Garvey’s fifth season with the Padres ended May 23 because of a torn tendon in his right biceps. He had played in only 27 games and batted .211 with 1 home run.

He was later told he would not be offered a contract for 1988. He talked with the Dodgers about returning to his original team, but the injury remained a specter during those conversations.

“The decision is almost involuntary,” he said. “I feel I can’t physically be ready to play up to the expectations of the fans or whatever organization I might be playing for.”


He had informed both the Dodgers and the Padres of his decision Tuesday.

The Padres had not been talking to Garvey recently. Chub Feeney, the club president, had announced during the season that Garvey could join the team in spring training as a non-roster player.

Padre owner Joan Kroc said: “I told him, ‘You’ve probably made a good decision.’ And I hope he’ll allow us to honor him. I’d like to give him a party (at the stadium) like we did for Ray’s (the late Ray Kroc) 80th birthday.”

Typical of Garvey, the injury was aggravated, to the point of needing surgery, in a game most players of his stature would have ducked. The Padres were playing an exhibition in Las Vegas against their Pacific Coast League farm club when he checked his swing and felt a tear.

“I think wear and tear was part of it,” he said. “I was feeling pain in that area as early as 1986. In the middle of spring training (last year), tendinitis started to flare up. After I checked my swing in Las Vegas, it swelled up like a light bulb.”

He played in his last game two days later.

Garvey holds the National League record of 1,207 consecutive games played. He began it with the Dodgers, then both tied and broke the former record in Dodger Stadium after he had signed with the Padres as a free agent for the 1983 season. The streak ended when he broke his thumb July 29 of that year.

Of the 12 years he spent with the Dodgers, he said the highlight was winning the 1981 World Series. He had been on the losing end in the Series of 1974, 1977 and 1978.


“With the Dodgers, it was a matter of perpetuating the history that the team had established,” he said. “The 1981 World Series was culmination of hard work for a bunch of guys who’d come up together and worked hard together.”

His time in San Diego was different. Unable to come to terms with the Dodgers after the 1982 season, he went to a team with no history of success. His dramatic home run in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series propelled the Padres into their first World Series, which they lost in five games to Detroit.

“Here in ’84 was a first for the Padres, and there’s only a first once,” Garvey said. “I think that team affected the most people in San Diego, Southern California and around the country.”