Column: Padres (and Dodgers) have a fan in Steve Garvey, eagerly awaiting weekend series


For the Padres to get where they want to go, it would help if they came to resemble Steve Garvey.

Garvey had flaws that kept him out of the Hall of Fame but was both highly durable and comfortable performing under the brightest spotlights, twin traits that would especially benefit this year’s Padres team.

Garvey was a consistent run producer for nearly two decades who sent both a Dodgers and Padres team into the World Series by earning a League Championship Series MVP award. He went 10 years without missing a game, and batted .295 with men in scoring position in his 19-year career.

So when Garvey, 72, recently gave early impressions of the 2021 Padres, it was no surprise to learn Peter Seidler, the team’s chairman and control owner, listened to him.

“I told him how impressed I am with the progress the organization has made,” Garvey said this week. “And, he’s been very smart. He’s watched, he’s learned. I said to him, ‘You’re really close.’ He said, ‘Thank you.’ ”

The upcoming two series against the Dodgers — three this weekend at Petco Park and four next weekend at Dodger Stadium — will provide more answers about this Padres team.

“These games will be great for baseball,” said Garvey, who will attend games in San Diego and Los Angeles. “Seven games in 10 days is going to be really fun.”

Garvey said he enjoys watching the Padres. He lauded Manny Machado’s defense and predicted Machado will produce a lot of runs.

“Wil Myers appears to be in the prime of his career,” he said. “They have a couple of young guys that I think are gamers.”

I have praised Eric Hosmer, a fellow first baseman.

“He’s tall and left-handed, which is everything I dreamed about being,” he quipped. Then, as if he were speaking about himself when Ray Kroc brought him to the Padres on a five-year contract in December 1982, he said: “They acquired him somewhat as a commitment to moving forward and putting the money into a player that’s had success in the middle of his career and can be a leader, along with being a solid everyday player.”

Twice in his positive critique, Garvey paused.

Then he struck a minor but worrisome note.

“The problem is,” he said, “you can’t get too many guys injured. You’ve got to keep these guys healthy.”

Minus frontline pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger in the playoffs last year, the Padres fell to the Dodgers in a three-game sweep.

Adrian Morejon, their No. 5 starting pitcher with Lamet out, was shut down this week with an arm injury. Knee soreness forced Myers from Tuesday’s game and he was not in the starting lineup the last two days. Catcher Austin Nola has yet to appear in a game after breaking a finger in spring training.

Baseball players aren’t asked to be as durable as when Garvey was playing for the Dodgers and the Padres.

“People say to me, ‘Hey Garv — joking — you ever had load management?’ ” he said.

“Oh sure,” he said. “Can you see me walking up to Tommy Lasorda and saying, ‘Tommy I need a day off? I’ve played two weeks in a row.’ You would have heard adjectives you’ve never heard before.”

Even so, the grueling baseball season was something of a day at the beach in comparison to Garvey’s afternoons as a 195-pound cornerback in the collision-happy Big Ten of the 1960s.

His primary job for the football Spartans of Michigan State was to impede blockers such as guards, tackles and fullbacks who charged toward him, and redirect the run play toward the defense’s middle. Often, I gave up 30-60 pounds.

“Here I would be just beaten up by November in the snow and mud,” said Garvey, whose shoulder separation sustained as a freshman limited his throwing for the rest of his athletic career. “The safety would have eight tackles and be a Big Ten player of the week, and I’m the guy who set him up.

“Against Ohio State,” he said with a laugh, “some guy just plowed me toward the sideline and there’s Woody Hayes looking down at me. I guess he liked my determination of hanging on as the guy drug me for about five yards. Baseball was easier. When I was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in ’68, it was an IQ test and I passed.”

From 1975 to 1983, I have played in a National League record 1,207 consecutive games.

By driving in runs, I have maintained his spot in the lineup. Power to all fields served him well, as did the ability to hammer pitches that traced the outside corner, such as the Lee Smith fastball he blasted for the epic home run in Game 4 of the 1984 playoffs at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Like a boxer using the whole ring, he used the whole batter’s box.

“We used to adjust,” he said. “A guy on third and nobody out, I would drop my hands, think right center, right, get under the ball, get the sacrifice fly, hit a groundball, get the run in. Adjust to the pitcher. Make him pitch me away so I can move runners around. Get on top of the plate if I wanted to pull the ball.”

For unpredictable sports zaniness, don’t expect either the Padres or the Dodgers to soon match Garvey’s exploits on the basketball court many decades ago, when he was a junior at Tampa’s Chamberlain High School.

His football season had ended three days earlier when Garvey was thrust into a varsity basketball game.

Dribbling near half-court, he saw the clock showed just three seconds before halftime.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get going,” he said.

Harried by a defender, he spun around and sank a shot from half-court before the buzzer sounded.

“I’m jumping up afterward,” he said, “and I look — our side is just sitting there, their side’s going crazy. I made a basket for the other team.”

The introduction to the halftime speech that followed, by his team’s head coach, is one Garvey can still recite, complete with a syrupy Southern dialect.

“Garvey, son, I think you’re gonna have to start to concentrate on baseball.”