Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Steve Garvey

Posted: 6th July 2010 by Graham Womack in Steve Garvey

Claim to fame: Garvey had 2,599 hits, six seasons with at least 200 hits, and a .294 lifetime batting average in a 19-year career from 1969 to 1987. He shined most early on, making eight consecutive All Star appearances from 1974 through 1981, winning four straight Gold Gloves and the 1974 National League Most Valuable Player award in that stretch.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Garvey exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 2007 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Months ago, a reader of my list of the 10 best players not in Cooperstown asked my opinion on Garvey, who didn’t make the list. I responded that if Garvey hadn’t declined after 1980, I think he would have been a Hall of Famer.

I stand by my opinion, though I was motivated to write more about Garvey after my piece on Maury Wills last week led to a forum discussion at Baseball Think Factory. One member noted how Wills’ Cooperstown votes fell, commenting:

Maury Wills had one of the steepest dropoffs in HoF support in history. Guys at 40% don’t fall to 20%. They just don’t – except for Wills and Steve Garvey.

It goes deeper than that. Dating back to the first Hall of Fame ballot in 1936, just seven players who received at least 30 percent of the vote in their first year of eligibility have not since been voted in by the writers. The seven players are as follows, with their first year of eligibility and vote totals in parentheses:

  • Roberto Alomar (73.7 percent, 2010)
  • Steve Garvey (41.6 percent, 1993)
  • Barry Larkin (51.6 percent, 2010)
  • Edgar Martinez (36.2 percent, 2010)
  • Lee Smith (42.3 percent, 2003)
  • Luis Tiant (30.9 percent, 1988)
  • Maury Wills (30.3 percent, 1978)

For our purposes, we can disregard Alomar and Larkin who will almost certainly be inducted by the writers sometime soon. No other player who has cracked 50 percent of the vote in their first year has failed to be enshrined. We can also set aside Martinez, who has another fourteen tries with the writers and may need several years to determine whether his Cooperstown stock will rise or fall.

That leaves Garvey, Smith, Tiant, and Wills. Smith has mostly hovered in the 40th percentile in eight years on the ballot. The other three men got their highest level of support in their early years and exhausted their eligibility with much fewer votes. Usually it’s the other way around, with players receiving modest vote totals initially and building momentum for enshrinement. Incidentally, Garvey, Tiant and Wills all got a higher percentage of the vote their first years on the ballot than Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Jim Rice and Billy Williams, as well as every player enshrined by the Veterans Committee except for Jim Bunning, Pee Wee Reese and Enos Slaughter.

I suppose Garvey, Wills, and Tiant got many early votes because some writers figured that’s how everyone would be voting. Perhaps when these writers realized this wasn’t the case, they changed course. There are other factors to consider, of course. Wills lost votes after a drug bust, while Tiant’s first appearance on the Cooperstown ballot came in a weak year for it, 1988.

It’s harder to say what sunk Garvey. He had well-publicized extramarital affairs, but that was old news by the time he became Hall of Fame-eligible. It’s worth noting that Garvey had his first big drop in votes just months after a fellow first baseman, Mark McGwire set the single-season home run record with 70. Garvey hit more than 30 home runs just one season and had 272 lifetime. With the anti-steroid backlash now in effect against McGwire and others, it could make Garvey a prime candidate for the Veterans Committee when it reconvenes in less than six months. I wouldn’t vote for him if I could, but others might.

Garvey might get in regardless of McGwire. As I noted in a recent piece on Don Mattingly, the Veterans Committee historically has a better than 50 percent hit rate on enshrining players who peak between even 20 and 30 percent of the writers vote. Given that Garvey, Smith, Tiant, and Wills all fared better, two of them may eventually have plaques. Try to guess who.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

  1. vinnie says:

    There’s enough to justify his election at some distant vote, although it wouldn’t be an insult if he was passed over.
    The guy was certainly better than many others already inshrined and in any case, his inclusion wouldn’t diminish the hall.

  2. He sounds like a Veterans Committee pick waiting to happen. I wouldn’t vote for Garvey, but he seems like the kind of candidate the committee is built for.

  3. Joe Guzzardi says:

    Graham Womack’s “Does He Belong?” weekly series is great fodder for the never ending debate about who should get into the Hall of Fame. My unshakeable position is that to be in the Hall of Fame, a player must have a clear-cut, unarguable baseball resume. Using that standard, Mariano Rivera and Albert Pujols are in. Marginals like Garvey or Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome or any of the other dozens of similar one or two-skill players whose names are routinely thrown around as Hall of Fame material should be automatically disqualified. If inducted, Garvey would fall into the lower bracket of the first basemen already in the Hall of Fame. So why add him?

    Fewer players in the Hall of Fame makes membership worthier. Adding marginal candidates waters down the value of Hall of Fame inclusion.

  4. Rodak says:

    Thumbs down.

  5. @Joe I’m starting to think baseball should have a second Hall of Fame for lesser candidates. If Elton John can have two Greatest Hits albums, baseball can have a home for its Philadelphia Freedom-caliber players.

    @Rodak Thumbs down, eh? If this were Ancient Rome, Garvey would not like what that means.

  6. Bill Deane says:

    I could never understand why so many people thought (or think) Steve Garvey belongs in the Hall of Fame, but nobody thinks Cecil Cooper does. The two are almost clones, yet when they went onto the Hall of Fame ballot together in 1993, Garvey got 177 votes, Cooper zero. I think Cooper deserves to be in the Hall as much as Garvey — which is to say, not at all.

  7. Hi Bill,

    I never understood why Cooper got frozen out on the Hall of Fame ballot either. He seems like one of the better hitters of the 1970s and ’80s, in the same range as Don Baylor or Dave Parker.

    Cooper is in a dubious but small club of great players who got zero votes. Mike Cuellar is another. Cuellar’s death in April prompted me to look at one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates.

    Anyhow, thanks for commenting.

  8. Mark says:

    What about Keith Hernandez? If Garvey goes in, Hernandez should too.

  9. Tom Zocco says:

    The standards for getting into the Hall of Fame seems to have diminished. See Andre Dawson. As a Life long Dodgers fan, to me, Steve Garvey is not a Hall of Famer. Garvey was a good player but is not of Hall of Fame caliber. He has nothing over players such as Rocky Colavito or Reggie Smith.

  10. j sharkey says:

    The HOF ought not to be about statistics alone. Great stats get you considered, but getting thru the door should depend on your impact on the game. I agree w/ Joe Guzzardi, it ought to be really, really hard to get into the Hall. Membership ought to be for the truly great, not merely the very good.

  11. @Mark– A reader mentioned Hernandez when I devoted this space to Don Mattingly a few weeks ago. There’s actually quite a few solid first basemen who aren’t in Cooperstown: Hernandez, Mattingly, Garvey, Will Clark, Gil Hodges. Seems like it’s almost as hard to get in as a first baseman as it is as a catcher, relief pitcher or stolen base specialist.

    @Tom– I also wrote about Albert Belle a few weeks ago. He’s a Hall of Famer in my book.

  12. Everett "Ev" Cope says:

    Steve’s listing in the record books with six 200-hit seasons should probably have the infamous asterisk since possibly 5 of those six 200-hit seasons were aided by the 162-game schedule. The big thing he showed in his career was consistency at bat and in the field as well as five World Series appearances. Along with Bill Freehan (11)and Mark McGwire (12), Garvey (10) is the only other player with ten or more All-Star Game appearances not in the Hall of Fame.

  13. I noticed Freehan on a list of the best position players, according to WAR data, not in the Hall of Fame. He’s one of many great catchers not enshrined — I didn’t realize he was the Gold Glove-winning backstop for Denny McLain and his 30 wins in 1968. That being said, I’d probably put Ted Simmons or Hank Gowdy in before Freehan.

  14. Joe says:

    @Graham regarding comment number 7. The best baseball players to get 0 HOL votes might be an interesting piece.

  15. bob sawyer says:

    The problem with enshrining Garvey at Cooperstown is that he was not all that valuable or talented a player. He was famous enough and durable and hit wonderfully in the League Championship Series, And yet by objective measures he was not all that big a star. This is why his Hall of Fame case is no better that for Cooper or Hernandez or Mattingly. Despite his weak arm, Garvey was active enough to become a gold glove defender, however he may owe several of his all-star game selections to the size of the southern California media market.

  16. Phil says:

    Steve Garvey was the only major league player with enough perspective to attend the funerals of both Curt Flood and teammate Alan Wiggins. For that alone he serves respect, if not an invitation to Cooperstown.

  17. @Bob- You may be right. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Wins Above Replacement data, but Garvey’s is atrocious for the last seven years of his career. The way WAR works is that an MVP will account for eight wins above an average replacement player, an All Star will account for five extra wins and a starter will account for two. Garvey’s WAR data was below two the final seven years of his career.

    @Phil- That’s interesting Garvey would go to Flood’s funeral (and also that no other player would.) I can understand Garvey paying his respects to Wiggins, since they played together in San Diego, but I’m curious what motivated him to come out for Flood.

  18. Joe Guzzardi says:

    Reader Mark posted this: “What about Keith Hernandez? If Garvey goes in, Hernandez should too.” That’s the problem with inducting obviously marginal candidates. There will always be the “if this guy got in to the HOF, why doesn’t that guy get in?” argument. Look at Mike Mussina, someone who because of the Yankee public relations efforts, will probably get in. Yes, Mussina won 270 games but over 18 seasons (average 15 per year) Only one 20 game season and with a career ERA of 3.78. So if Mussina gets in, the logic then may become that we have to put in Pettite, Schilling and so forth—more watering down of the HOF. Let’s stick only to those who obviously qualify: Randy Johnson, for example. And while we’re at it, let’s cap the total number of members and when the maximum is reached, we’ll throw out the marginal players when we add new, worthy members. Example, Johnson goes in; Early Wynn comes out.

  19. I still say kicking players out of Cooperstown for nothing they did seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Can you imagine the news stories that would generate?

    What’s wrong with, over time, having a big Hall of Fame? To me, it’s a sign that baseball has a long and gloried history. I would be proud of a gargantuan Hall of Fame, not embarrassed by it.

  20. Bob Clobes says:

    A name passed over in all the previous comments: Ted
    Simmons. Tough, durable, catcher – better defensively than given credit for. – 2456 games, 2472 hits, 248 HRs., 1389 RBIs. 8 times picked as an All Star. Career BA .285. Most of his career numbers are better than most of the catchers in HOF.
    Very intelligent receiver, great “coach” of pitchers.

  21. I know Bill James has Simmons rated highly, but that was he somehow a one-and-done with Cooperstown, meaning he got less than 5 percent of the vote his only year on the ballot. I’ll probably devote a future one of these columns to him.

  22. Bill Kross says:

    Look, Garvey’s BA was 294, but his on-base pct was just 329. His slugging was 446 for a OPS of 775. On the other hand, Keith Hernandez BA was 296, but his on-base pct was 384 with a 436 slugging for a 821 OPS. Both were excellent fielders, but both were 1st basemen — the far right of the defensive spectrum. I’m not sure either one belongs, but if you select Garvey, you cannot possibly ignore Hernandez. How about Ron Santo, who had a 362 on-base pct, a 464 slugging, and a 826 OPS? He was the best fielding third baseman in the NL for years — more difficult defensively than 1st base.

  23. I put Santo eighth on the list of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame linked to in the post above.

  24. Tom T says:

    Simmons, Freehan, Garvey, Parker, Dwight Evans, Santo – no doubt belong in the Hall of Fame along with a handful of others that are getting left out for no good reason. Let’s celebrate the players who excelled in their time – open the doors and celebrate!

  25. John Murray says:

    Not sure why we’d compare Garvey to Cecil Cooper, but they’re hardly clones. Garvey was the dominant first baseman of the NL of his era, and likely the best defender at his position during this time. And after leading the Dodgers to four pennants and a world championship, he goes to San Diego, helps them win a division and leads them into the WS by winning his second NLCS MVP. Garvey’s power wasn’t as big as most first basemen, which pushes him towards Mark Grace country…but anyone who was around in the seventies and disliked the Dodgers was most nervous when Garvey came to bat…because he was the centerpiece of their team. He richly deserves the HOF.

  26. JRW says:

    Garvey deserves to be in the HOF. His numbers are one thing, and they are arguably HOF caliber numbers. But he left his mark on MLB and its fans in one of the greatest era’s of the game. It seems like most writers don’t like Garvey for the things he did outside the game or because they deem him a “fake” of some sort. Many HOF players have done tons worse outside the lines, and many can’t compare to what Garvey did between them, and he did it when it counted. Just take a look at his Post Season numbers, or his National League consecutive games played record. This guy was no fake when he suited up. He treated MLB and its fans with respect. He came to play every day, and deserves his due respect.

  27. Joe Garrison says:

    If you look at his record, including the post season, and you consider where he played and when he played (a power suppressed era) then he meets all the criteria you would want to see in a HOF career. The reason he is out is two-fold: he did not draw many walks and the steroid era happened right when his name came up for a vote. I reply that it was not his job to draw walks. His job was to swing the bat, earn bases, and drive in runs. He was the Total Base leader in both leagues during his extended peak. And what sense does it make to downgrade his twenty something home run seasons when they were compared to the steroid fueled generation. His record was studied by HOF voters from 1993-2008. Anyone know what first basemen were hitting at that time? Yeah, it made Garvey’s record look lame. But if you look at when he played, his record was good enough to put him in how many All-Star games? Exactly.