Accidental Double Play Not Likely to Shut Out Garvey’s Political Future

Times Staff Writer

Steve Garvey--former Padre and Dodger baseball hero, the epitome of conservative wholesomeness, longtime political prospect--found his image untypically on the public firing line Thursday.

In a series of newspaper and television interviews starting with a Channel 39 interview Wednesday night, Garvey acknowledged that he might have fathered two babies out of wedlock during the waning days of his bachelorhood. After a whirlwind romance, he married a third woman in a private, civil ceremony last weekend.

T-Shirt Contest

A radio station conducted a contest among listeners to name its new Steve Garvey T-shirt (with entries like, “I Got to First Base With Steve Garvey”). His former San Diego Padres teammates in Yuma for spring training offered no comments--and smiled. Tommy Lasorda, his former manager at the Los Angeles Dodgers, proclaimed that he still loves The Garv. Priests were shaking their heads and muttering about Garv--who wants to have a Catholic marriage ceremony this summer--letting down his church. And political consultants talked about damage control.


And somehow, the never-flustered Garvey said he hoped the whole matter would evaporate in, oh, a week or so.

“I’m quite sure this will be history soon,” Garvey said. “The evolution of something like this is: It starts with rumors and innuendo, reaches a peak, is exposed, tapers off, and life goes on.”

Rehang the halo. Get out the polishing rag. Steve Garvey, says Steve Garvey, will survive what was undoubtedly the most titillating news to circulate in San Diego in some time.

Others suggested that Garvey’s openness in discussing the controversy was a deft way of defusing it.

“The way he’s handling this, I don’t think it will present a problem to him,” said Fred Karger of the Dolphin Group, a powerhouse Los Angeles-based political consulting group that arranged for Garvey to serve as national chairman of the Committee for the Presidency, which raised funds for President Bush’s campaign last fall.

‘He’ll Weather This’

“I think his record is so impeccable, and the regard people hold him in is so strong, he’ll certainly weather this. He’ll come through this just fine,” Karger said.


Garvey thinks so too.

“My philosophy is, ‘OK, this is the situation, the press is calling, the public wants to know,’ ” he said. “So I’ll address it and go on from here. That’s the right way to do it.”

The issue involves the possibility--which Garvey says he’ll accept, if tests conclude that he got two women pregnant out of wedlock last year.

Garvey, 40, said one woman approached him with the allegation last summer and the other called him last month. “I told them that, if it is true, I will assume the moral and principal responsibility for the two children,” he said. “I’ve always had a strong Christian foundation and believe firmly in the Catholic religion, and there is a right and wrong way to deal with moral situations, and I believe this is the right thing to do . . . to accept the moral and financial responsibility.”

One of the women has been identified as Rebecka Mendenhall, an assignment editor for the Cable News Network in Atlanta. Garvey and Mendenhall were engaged for a time late last year. Mendenhall on Thursday directed calls to her attorney, who could not be reached for comment.

The other woman was identified only as a San Diego woman who dated Garvey and who gave birth to a daughter Feb. 15.

“As a single person for the last six years, I didn’t date that much,” Garvey said. “I probably dated three people in the past two years, and two of them became pregnant.


“In any relationship, however short or long, one assumes the responsibility for birth control. In both circumstances, I was led to presume they were the ones assuming that responsibility. To find out there had been conception by both women . . . I don’t neglect any responsibilities, but I was under the presumption both of them were using birth control.”

Garvey said he told his bride, Candace Thomas, 30, a Palos Verdes interior decorator, of the situation well in advance of their marriage last weekend while vacationing in Deer Valley, Utah.

“And her greatest line to me was, ‘Well, at least I got you off the streets,’ ” Garvey said. He added:

“We’re very open and honest with each other. We discussed, first of all, the foundation of our relationship as two strong Christian people and how we believe in facing any problem immediately, honestly and morally. She’s been a wonderful support at this time in my life.”

What Will Kids Think?

He says he hopes the controversy won’t affect the role model he provides for youngsters, the kids who yell “Steeeeeeeeeeeeve” in search of his autograph.

“You have to look at this two ways,” he said. “No. 1, there hasn’t been a law broken here, a drug abuse, an alcohol abuse. It falls under the category of personal relationships with the opposite sex. As young people grow older and have more relationships, they will be able to relate them to a situation like mine.


“What’s important is, if things like this happen, it’s how it’s addressed and handled. It will happen in the future, to someone at some time. And I think people are more interested in how I will handle this, than that it happened.”

Indeed, somehow Garvey might even turn this controversy into a positive lesson on life and still emerge the hero role model. Consider, for instance, the reaction at Steve Garvey Junior High School in Lindsay, Calif., between Fresno and Bakersfield.

“I don’t think this will affect us very much as far as the image he portrays publicly,” said Principal Wanda Crawford. “We wouldn’t want to get involved with something in his personal life.

“But what is good is that he is accepting responsibility, and that is a lesson for the kids. We teach them about being responsible.” She paused, then added with a chuckle, “We also teach them to say no.”

Garvey said he has received a number of supportive calls in the wake of the news washing over San Diego. The news hadn’t yet reached Vero Beach, Fla., where the Dodgers are in spring training, but Tommy Lasorda was unshakable in his support for his former first baseman.

“All I can say are nice things about Steve Garvey: that he played for me in the rookie league in Utah, in Triple-A in Spokane; he played for me when he was single and when he was married; he played for me in Los Angeles and in the Dominican Republic, and he’s one of the finest young men who ever played for me. I love him very, very much.

“He’s one of the most honest and sincere men I’ve ever met. His character has been of the highest degree. I can’t answer for other people, but I can answer for myself: that I’ll always love the guy.”


But Steve Garvey’s world is not full of Tommy Lasordas.

In San Diego, radio station Q106 Thursday morning didn’t miss a beat, reacting quickly to the news of Garvey’s pressing paternity problems with a “We Need a Name for the New Steve Garvey-T-Shirt” contest.

Over a two-hour span, more than 200 people called in their suggestions, ranging from the tame “Steve Garvey Was Here” to the more daring “Garvey Gave Me Seventh-Inning Stretch Marks.” The winner, Rancho Penasquitos listener Dennis Gulyas, offered: “This Little Runt Came From a Steve Garvey Bunt.” He won $106.

The Tribune, San Diego’s afternoon newspaper, handled the news by asking, in a headline across the top of page one, “Was playing the field an error for Garvey?” and quoting yet another Garvey girlfriend of the past, Judith Ross, saying: “I am not a victim. . . . I just feel sorry for all the people he’s left in his path of destruction. How does he get away with it? He’s a legend, a superstar. He kisses babies.”

Local political consultants say Garvey may still have a career of kissing babies.

“We had a client once who was in a similar situation of having a child out of wedlock, and we wondered what effect that would have on his campaign,” said political consultant Jim Johnston. “But it turned out that, since he took responsibility for raising the child, paying the bills and paying for the braces and all that, it wasn’t negative at all.”

“But that was for just one child out of wedlock,” Johnston added. “If you start multiplying that, I don’t know what would happen. But, if Steve intends to (take responsibility), it may not be as damaging as it sounds.”

Political consultant George Gorton added: “I don’t think this is death to a political candidacy, but it sure won’t do any good. What is death is not meeting it forthrightly and honestly and aboveboard.”


He said Garvey’s apparent openness will probably minimize damage to whatever political aspirations Garvey may hold.

Garvey said he has none for now, despite “constant challenges” being thrown his way to enter politics.

He feels confident, though, that the pregnancy problem will not haunt him, if he ever does throw his hat in the ring.

“If I was married (at the time) and didn’t accept responsibility, they could say, ‘He’s a hypocrite and isn’t what he purports to be.’ But that’s not the case,” he said. “All of us are going to have problems, and the key is how you handle them.”