STEVE GARVEY LINES UP HIS COLOGNES BY THE AMOUNT UNUSED. He arranges his Polo shirts by pastel. He'll keep vacuuming a clean carpet just to admire the parallel patterns he makes. His shirts are monogrammed. When he was a batboy, the bats rested trademarks out, knobs up, in the order of the day's starting lineup. He would save his allowance to buy Ban-Lon shirts. (He had 16 in varying colors.) He would sometimes re-iron his mother's ironing, just to get it exactly right. As a player, he would sweep the dugout steps. When he joined the San Diego Padres, he suggested a reorganization of the bat and helmet racks. Much tidier. In his closet in his pink-and-pink house in Del Mar, Calif., all the shirts are on hangers, facing left. There are no blue jeans. On the floor, the shoes are treed and the toes all point outward. Muss his hair, go to jail. You can bounce a quarter off his bed.
So how come his life is such a mess?
For most of his nearly 41 years Garvey lived at the corner of Straight and Narrow. He played football at Michigan State. Graduated with a B average. Signed with his boyhood idols, the Dodgers. Married the prettiest girl in school and had two daughters Norman Rockwell might have painted. Was a 10-time All-Star. Played in five World Series and 1,207 straight games, the National League record for reliability. And when the Dodgers said he was too old, he took his button-down swing and won the Padres a pennant. And when he retired last year, he was crouched and ready for life after baseball. He owned a business. His main office was a $15,000-a-month layout on La Jolla Village Drive. In compulsorily hip Southern California, he was hopelessly square:-jawed,-shouldered,-dealing and-thinking.
Tom Lasorda, who coached and managed Garvey for 10 years on the Dodgers and two in the minors, once said, "If he ever came to date my daughter, I'd lock the door and not let him out." Garvey signed autographs until his smile ached. When he lived in Calabasas, outside L.A., he welcomed the kids who came to his house for autographs, one time with a plate of cookies. He was involved in more charities than any carpool of Dodgers. The Multiple Sclerosis Society, Special Olympics and the Starlight Foundation each gave him awards for distinguished service. Lindsay, Calif., named a junior high school after him, trading in Abraham Lincoln. Once, on Nun's Day at Dodger Stadium, a quadriplegic child asked him to get a hit for her. He got five, and knocked in five runs and scored five times. He was headed for Cooperstown and probably Washington. He was a role model's role model, a dinosaur somebody uncrated from the 1950s and couldn't get back in the box. "I try to walk around as if a little boy or a little girl was following me," he once said.
Well, boys and girls, stick this in your lunchboxes: Garvey currently is on one side or the other of four lawsuits, having settled two others since Oct. 6. He keeps at least five lawyers in suspenders. In the space of eight months, he had affairs with three women at once, impregnated two and married a fourth. A judge jailed his former wife for contempt of court for not letting him see his kids, and a psychiatrist testified that the kids, who say they don't want to see Garvey, are suffering from "parental alienation syndrome." He's up to his chiseled chin in debt, into the scary seven figures. Two former business associates have sued him. Other than that, it has been all apple pie and porch swings.
"Some people have a mid-life crisis," he says. "I had a midlife disaster."
The one thing you didn't want to see when you were 10-year-old Steve Garvey was the porch light on and your mother's car in the driveway. That meant your invalid grandmother had needed help and you hadn't tended to her, and now you were in trouble. A whack would be forthcoming.
He called her Nanny, and she lived with the Garvey family in Tampa. A tire had flown off a truck years before and knocked her down from behind, leaving both her arms paralyzed. Nanny was good-hearted, but she needed help. And since Steve's mother, Millie, worked all day in an insurance office and his dad, Joe, was a bus driver and Steve was an only child, there was nobody around to help her but him. So Steve would get home from school, clean the house, start dinner and even help her go to the bathroom. How was she going to do it? She couldn't lift her skirt very well and, of course, she couldn't wipe, so he did it for her.
Says Garvey, "I remember the first time, kind of looking at her and saying to her. 'Do you want me to help you?' and her saying, 'Would you, please?' You didn't have to say too many words after that. You got over the embarrassment."
When a kid grows up with responsibilities like that, he grows up fast. And his parents kept a strict house, one where you said "yessir" and "no ma'am" and pulled your weight and then some. He had to play near the house, to keep the porch light in view, so he learned how to be alone. He would play make-believe baseball games—tossing up small grapefruits from the trees next door and hitting them—between his beloved Dodgers and the Yankees. And if the Dodgers lost, then they lost. None of this "Wait a minute, ladies and gentlemen, the umpire has changed his mind!" He would make himself run sprints as punishment for the Dodgers' losing.