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Punishment was important. Punishment was necessary. "Mom would slap me, but that's what I needed," he says. She was nothing if not demanding, and you did things her way. One time he gave her a dirty look, and his burly 6'2" father hit him hard across the face. Never, ever, show disrespect to your mother. To your grandmother. To women. And so he strove to please everyone. His room was museum-neat. He went to church more often than his parents did; he even went to week-day masses. He was an elementary school crossing guard.
And so what you had was a 10-year-old going on 28, a short kid with amazingly wide shoulders. "I had more responsibilities than two and three kids," he says. And so he became different. If he broke a window playing baseball, he wouldn't make like Carl Lewis and dash. He would march right up to the house and begin arranging a payment plan.
"I can't remember Steve ever giving us any trouble, ever," says his father. Garvey never wore his hair over his ears. Never rebelled. He was 19 years old in tie-dyed 1968, wearing color-coordinated Hagar slacks and monogrammed sweaters. He hated to dance, because dancing in the late '60s was about losing control. His dormitory room at Michigan State was so neat it made the eyes of a resident adviser mist. He says he was a virgin until college. "I guess I just wasn't the kind of guy that liked to fog up the back windows," he says. "I had important things I wanted to do."
Even Garvey's games were controlled. "Controlled aggression," as he used to put it. His was a most mechanical swing, not fluid like Will Clark's, but purposeful and driving. He stood like a statue, with his head high, chin forward and Pop-eye arms held away from his body. One writer said he ran as though not to wrinkle his shirt. In batting practice he kept track of his line drives. He was knocked down six times in 1980 and six times he got back up and got hits. He kept track.
Such was his dedication that during his remarkable consecutive game streak, he played at various times with a hyperextended elbow, 22 stitches in his chin,, a pulled hamstring, a bruised heel, a migraine, the flu, a 103° fever and a toenail so impacted they had to drill a hole in it to relieve the pressure. Garvey felt a responsibility to be there, every day, for the fans. This is a man who played an entire season at first base without an error. Emotions won't get you to 200 hits.
He would not cut loose. And around professional athletes, that immediately made him a flake. Or suspect. He once caught some of his Dodger teammates giving each other high fives when he got thrown out trying to bunt. One Dodger was quoted as saying, "You know what? Steve Garvey doesn't have a friend on this team." He and Don Sutton once brawled on the clubhouse floor.
But how could Garvey be one of the guys? He couldn't act young, like his teammates. This is a man who calls waitresses by their name tags. He rode on the coaches' bus, not the players'. He wasn't good at leering at women and cutting up with the boys. Wouldn't be responsible. Besides, one hotfoot could mess up a perfectly good pair of shoelaces. "I just never liked to sit in the back of the plane and see who could throw up into a trash can, that's all." he says.
And so went the rest of his life, too. At 22 he married Cynthia Truhan, a prospective medical-school student, who dropped that ambition to be at Steve's side as he pursued his baseball career. The two of them had few friends among his teammates and their wives. Steve was more comfortable around people like Lasorda, his elder by 21 years. Why bother cultivating friendships with his contemporaries? He had mail to answer, business contacts to cement, a moral obligation to be at every Cub Scout banquet and Kiwanis dinner.
He believed in doing the Right Thing. His parents smoked, but he never did. His teammates swore, but he never did. Cyndy says that when he was having trouble throwing in his first years as a Dodger, people would call and scream insults at him. He would listen to everything they had to say and then hang up. Punishment is important. Yet in 1983, when he broke the National League record for consecutive games, he took a $ 15,000 ad in the Los Angeles Times to thank the fans.
But maybe sometimes he has confused responsibility to family with responsibility to fans. Recently he sat outside a Los Angeles courtroom where his visitation rights suit was being heard, happily signing autographs. Cyndy says he once sent his daughter Whitney a birthday card that read, "Happy Birthday, Best Wishes from Steve Garvey." He can be crying and the level of his voice doesn't change. Once he apologized to his daughters with tears in his eyes for having lied about his love life. Later Krisha, the elder of the two, testified in court that "he didn't seem sincere."