Sept. 29, 2010
One of the most successful Spartans to ever play Major League Baseball, Steve Garvey was a 10-time All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and appeared in five World Series.
But before becoming one of the elite first baseman in the majors, Garvey made the most out of his two years in East Lansing - on the football field and on the baseball diamond.
A heralded prep football and baseball prospect out of Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Fla., Garvey was heavily recruited by numerous colleges across the country; however, most schools wanted him to choose between football and baseball. Garvey was looking to play both.
It just so happened that one of Garvey's coaches at Chamberlain played baseball at Florida State under Danny Litwhiler, who had accepted the head coaching position at Michigan State following the 1963 season. Garvey knew about Litwhiler because of Florida State's success, which included several NCAA Tournament appearances and a trip to the College World Series in 1957.
"A lot of kids from Florida played for Danny, and they were out there in the coaching ranks and would call him if they saw somebody that had some talent," said Garvey. "To get a kid from the South to go up to the North was pretty rare back then, but my coach asked if I would be interested in MSU, and I said sure. I had just watched Michigan State play in the Rose Bowl the year before (1966 game vs. UCLA). I got a call and an invitation to go up."
The trip on the way to Michigan proved to be a little challenging. But just two days later, Garvey was a Spartan.
"Well, there was a plane strike, so my mom and I took the bus up to East Lansing," Garvey said. "It took 20-something hours. My dad worked for Greyhound, so he arranged everything."
On his tour of the campus with Coach Litwhiler, Garvey visited Spartan Stadium, Kobs Field, and finally, Jenison Field House.
"I saw the trophy cases in Jenison, and it's always impressive, wherever you go," recalled Garvey. "We started to go down the aisle and who turns the corner but Duffy Daugherty. We always thought years later it had to be a setup. Of course, Duffy was such a charmer. He said, `Well son, we know about your baseball, but we could also use young men like you on the football field too. I think Coach (Litwhiler) and I could share you. And we have about 20,000 coeds - you're bound to get a date on Friday night.'"
The "chance" encounter with Duffy had sealed it for Garvey.
"By the time the two days were over, I had pretty much made up my mind," he said. "People in Tampa couldn't quite believe that I would leave Florida, or even the South, to go up North, but I just loved it. I also got tired of the heat in the fall playing football, it would be 88 degrees in September. Up there, that wasn't the case. I adapted to it. I made several good friends that I have to this day that are still in Michigan. I always say, I made the right choice. It's a choice that's been with me for a lifetime."
Garvey's athleticism on the gridiron and his high school experience at quarterback proved to be valuable for Coach Daugherty in preparation for the epic 1966 "Game of the Century" between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State. Not eligible to play as a freshman, Garvey played the part of Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty all week in practice. It came with a price.
"I got hit all week long," said Garvey of going against one of the most famous defenses in college football history, which included Hall of Famers Bubba Smith and George Webster. "After the last scrimmage on Thursday, the last thing I said to the defense was, `You guys better win. I can't even stand up, I'm so tired and beat up.' They laughed and Bubba Smith even patted me on the head. I was on the sidelines for the game, but of course it ended up being a tie."
Garvey had to wait his turn to play varsity baseball as well, but made an immediate impact in his first at-bat as a freshman.
"My first game as a freshman, the opposing pitcher walked the first three guys in the bottom of the first," he said. "When I got up there, I was thinking he's gotta get this ball over the plate, so I looked for a fastball - and I hit it over the right-field fence for a grand slam. I mean, where do you go from there?"
Eventually, all the way to the major leagues.
But first, Garvey had business to take care of at Michigan State. He earned a letter as a defensive back and recorded 30 tackles in the fall of 1967, and in the spring of'68, he garnered All-America and All-Big Ten honors playing baseball after hitting .376 with nine homers and 38 RBIs.
Garvey credits much of his success at Michigan State to the two head coaches he played for in East Lansing.
"I'm extremely honored and humbled," said Garvey on being named to the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame. "That period of my life was very important, on and off the field. It's where I matured as a person, as a student, and as an athlete. I always give credit to Michigan State for laying a great foundation for me."
"Duffy was one of the great coaches, and was also a great coach developer," said Garvey. "He reminded me a lot of Tommy Lasorda; both of them were very smart in how they handled their teams and how they handled the individuals. They were great preparers of the game and for life. Duffy especially understood the term student-athlete. He had a clear understanding of why we were at Michigan State and what our priorities were. He taught us to make good choices and decisions, not only on the field, but off as well.
"Danny was definitely in that same vein. He was known as kind of a pro coach. He could develop players because of his understanding of what it took to play professional baseball. I was privileged to play with some great coaches and managers over the years."
Garvey left Michigan State after getting selected in the first round (No. 13 overall) of the 1968 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, and made his major league debut in 1969, beginning his illustrious 19-year career. He appeared in five World Series, including twice being named the NLCS MVP (1978, 1984). In 1974, Garvey was named the National League MVP and also the MVP of the All-Star Game.
Garvey ended up playing in 1,207 consecutive games from 1975-83, which is still the fourth-longest streak in MLB history. One of the top defensive first baseman in the history of the game, Garvey won four Gold Gloves and his career fielding percentage of .996 currently ranks among the top 10 all-time. He also received the Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarian service in 1981 and the Lou Gehrig Award in 1984.
But even after all of his accolades in Major League Baseball, Garvey still carries a piece of MSU with him wherever he goes.
"I have a great relationship with Michigan State, and it's ongoing," said Garvey. "It's something that I truly cherish and being now inducted into the Hall of Fame, it's the icing on the cake. I'm extremely honored and humbled. That period of my life was very important, on and off the field. It's where I matured as a person, as a student, and as an athlete. I always give credit to Michigan State for laying a great foundation for me."