Monday, November 16, 2009

Steve Garvey Named NL MVP, 11/12/74

The 1974 baseball season served as a coming out party for Tampa native Steve Garvey. Following his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969 as a 20-year-old, Garvey showed steady improvement each season until he finally emerged as an elite player in the majors.

On Nov. 12, 1974, Garvey earned one of the game's highest honors, beating out Lou Brock by 37 points to earn National League Most Valuable Player honors.

The future MVP, born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa on Dec. 22, 1948, grew up playing in the long-gone Drew Park Little League on the corner of Lois and Alva. His father, Joe, drove buses for a living, including the Dodgers' team bus every year during Spring Training. Steve, exposed to the world of professional baseball at an early age, became hooked.

He enjoyed a stellar prep career at Chamberlain High School -- where he earned the nickname "Little General" -- starring on the baseball and football teams.

The Minnesota Twins selected Garvey in the 3rd round of the 1966 amateur draft, but he chose not to sign and instead attended Michigan State, where he played on a baseball scholarship. Although baseball was his true calling, Garvey got the itch to resume his football career and started at defensive back for the Spartans in his sophomore and junior years.

He left school in 1968, when the Dodgers chose him as the 13th overall pick in the draft. He began his rise to the majors in Ogden, Utah, in the Pioneer League, and would make his Dodger debut as a September call-up at the end of the 1969 season.

For all his talents, it wasn't immediately apparent that Garvey would turn out to be such a crucial piece of the Dodger franchise. From 1970-72, Garvey showed flashes of potential but struggled to break into the starting lineup at third base. Strangely enough, his prowess as a pinch hitter during the early stages of the 1973 season earned him duties as the everyday first baseman.

He would become a fixture at first for the Dodgers over the next nine seasons.

In 1974, Garvey took the majors by storm. He became one of only two players ever voted to start in the All-Star Game as a write-in. Not only that, he captured the game's Most Valuable Player Award by going 4-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored in the National League's 7-2 victory.

His regular-season numbers at the plate -- a .312 batting average, 21 HR, 111 RBI and 200 hits -- as well as smooth fielding that earned him a Gold Glove Award, helped propel the Dodgers to the National League pennant. Unfortunately for Garvey and the Dodgers, in the World Series they ran right into the Oakland Athletics dynasty. Garvey shined with eight hits and a .381 average in the Series, but the A's needed only five games to dispatch L.A. on their way to a third consecutive world championship.

Despite the disappointing ending to the season, 1974 signaled a return to prominence for the Dodgers and the emergence of Garvey. The MVP vote reflected as much, as he earned 13 first-place votes to eight for Lou Brock, who himself a monster season with 118 stolen bases.

Later in the month, Tampa got to show love for its native son with a Steve Garvey Appreciation Night dinner, an event in the works even before he was named MVP. More than 400 guests turned out at the International Inn, including Mayor Bill Poe, who had declared Nov. 25 Garvey Family Day in Tampa.

His superlative 1974 season, however, proved to be just the beginning of a storied career. Although he's not in the Hall of Fame, his career credentials are worth of Hall consideration.

Just for starters, Garvey was a 10-time All Star, a winner of four consecutive Gold Glove Awards, a two-time All-Star Game MVP, a two-time NLCS MVP, a league MVP, winner of a World Series in 1981, owner of 2,599 career hits and the holder of the National League record for consecutive games played at 1,207.

He may not have earned enshrinement in Cooperstown, but all in all, not too shabby for a kid from Drew Park.

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