Column: Is Steve Garvey, or his California campaign, for real?

Former baseball player Steve Garvey speaks
Former baseball player Steve Garvey speaks during a televised debate for candidates in the Senate race to succeed the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday.
(Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Many years ago, I interviewed Steve Garvey’s ex-wife, Cyndy, whose memoir had just been published. She’d spent years as a lonely, resentful baseball wife wrongly blamed by fans for the breakup of her marriage to a man whose squeaky clean image belied his philandering and emotional bankruptcy. Shortly before I sat down with her, news had broken that Steve Garvey had fathered two children with two women, while engaged to a third.

Yep, turns out he was a player in every sense of the word.

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

There were times after the divorce, Cyndy told me, that she’d even contemplated suicide. But the thought of Steve Garvey raising their two girls stopped her cold.


“If I had died,” she said, “my kids would have been left with a right-wing, pro-life, born-again Christian media prostitute for a father.”

Well then. Even all these years later, what a tidy little description of the man who stood on stage at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Monday evening, uttering platitudes and nonsense during a very serious debate among candidates for the California U.S. Senate seat that, until her death, was held by Dianne Feinstein.

IT IS SUNDAY morning in the middle of nowhere--Bloomington, Ill., actually--and Steve Garvey has a little time to kill.

Sept. 24, 1989

He faced a trio of accomplished Democratic representatives — Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, who led the first impeachment against then-President Trump; Barbara Lee of Oakland, who was the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the war in Afghanistan three days after 9/11; and Katie Porter of Irvine, a protege of consumer champion Sen. Elizabeth Warren. As they discussed their solid legislative records, their fears about a second Trump presidency, their ideas for solving the housing crisis in California, their support for universal healthcare and a humane approach to immigration, Garvey, a Republican who voted twice for Trump, nattered on like a Little League first base coach.

“Let’s get back to the economy,” he said. “Let’s get back to the foundations, a free-market economy. … Let’s stop that rising inflation; let’s get to the point where we cut this excessive spending in Washington.”

What’s so damning about Garvey’s bromides is that the man has been talking about running for the Senate for decades. Literally decades. He had a stellar 14-year run with the Dodgers, then retired in 1987 after five years with the San Diego Padres when he was only 38. He is now 75 years old. That means he’s had 37 years — half his life — to bone up on the issues.

California’s three Democratic candidates for Senate worked to highlight their differences in their first statewide televised debate. Republican Steve Garvey struggled in other ways.

Jan. 23, 2024

Honestly, I could not help but imagine that the late “Saturday Night Live” comedian Phil Hartman had wandered into the room and was posing as a blowhard politician with a Jesus complex and good hair.


“When was the last time any of you went to the inner city, actually walked up to the homeless as I have these last three weeks?” Garvey asked the Democrats. “I needed to talk to the people. I needed to talk to the homeless, went up to them and touched them and listened to them. And you know what? They said, ‘You’re the first time anybody’s come up and asked us about our life.’ ”

Lee, who is African American and once became homeless with her kids after escaping an abusive marriage, practically sputtered: “I cannot believe how he described his walk and touching and being there with the homeless,” she said as the audience chuckled heartily at Garvey’s nerve. “Come on, there. Please, please.”

Schiff was politely acerbic: “This will be my one and only baseball analogy for the evening. Mr. Garvey, I am sorry, that was a swing and a miss, that was a total whiff.”

It’s a mark of the desperation that California Republicans, who have faded into powerlessness, would consider a candidate so ill-suited to the job of United States senator. And it is downright pathetic that Garvey may sail to the runoff on the strength of his name and baseball career.

“Policy for me is a position,” said Garvey at one point. “I’ve taken strong positions.”

Please help me understand how the man is different from an artificial intelligence bot programmed to utter the most anodyne phrases he thinks voters want to hear: “I’m common sense. I’m compassionate. I’m consensus building.”

I think California can do better than to replace the legendary Sen. Feinstein with an algorithm trying to simulate a public servant.