The best and most opinionated discussions about the baseball Hall of Fame usually center on players that aren’t even in it. So with that in mind, let’s analyze the career of Los Angeles Dodgers great Steve Garvey. How the heck is this guy not in Cooperstown?
The backbone of the Dodgers infield during the 1970s, Garvey was also the key cog for the team’s playoff success into the early 1980s. In 55 playoff games, Garvey posted a .338 batting average with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs. Of the 11 playoff series’ in which Garvey appeared, he batted better than .300 in eight of them. At the time he retired in 1984, only Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson had more postseason hits than Garvey, and only New York Yankees Hall of Fame greats Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra had more postseason homers. To say that Garvey was a clutch performer would be a tremendous understatement.
Though he wasn’t a prototypical slugging-type first baseman, Garvey was a huge run producer nevertheless. He put together five seasons in which he knocked in more than 100 runs, finishing his career with 1,308 total RBI. Only six first basemen in history (Garvey and Rafael Palmeiro along with Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Murray, Lou Gehrig and Tony Perez) have compiled 2,500 hits and knocked in 1,300 runs. And of those six, only Garvey was able to accomplish the feat with fewer than 300 career homers.
In the seven-year stretch from his MVP season of 1974 through 1980, it could be argued that there wasn’t a better hitter in baseball than Garvey. No one had more hits during that period… not Rose, not Rod Carew, and not George Brett. Only Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame slugger Mike Schmidt had more RBIs (732 to 730), and as far as first basemen are concerned, only Carew (another Hall of Famer) comes close to Garvey’s offensive statistics. But even Carew lags way behind in run production. So how is it that all of these guys have made it to Cooperstown, yet Garvey is still without a plaque?
Defensively, Garvey’s résumé gets even better. He is currently ranked seventh in history in fielding percentage as a first baseman—but at the time he retired, he was ranked first in that category. When Kevin Youkilis (1B) and Placido Polanco (2B) each finished the 2007 season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage, they joined Garvey as the only three infielders in baseball history to achieve the feat while playing over 1,000 innings in the field. Garvey won four Gold Gloves during his career, though he finished in the top three in fielding during 11 of his 14 full seasons in the Majors. He also led the league in putouts six times and his career total of 19,004 ranks him 12th all time.
Garvey was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the full 15 years, but he was never able to eclipse the 50 percent mark in voter support. It’s perplexing. This guy was a postseason beast, the best player at his position for nearly a decade, and possibly even the best position player in baseball for a stretch of six or seven years. It doesn’t make sense. I expect that the Veterans Committee will acknowledge Garvey’s career at some point in the not-so-distant future—perhaps even later this year, when they announce the 2014 veteran inductions.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)