*It is an extremely slow offseason, so we bring you this updated piece originally written in February of 2017.
October 6, 1984 is a date in San Diego sports history that will forever be cherished.
It was game four of the National League Championship Series at Jack Murphy Stadium. The Chicago Cubs were leading the San Diego Padres two games to one, in a best of five series. For the Padres, it was do or die. If they lost the game it would shatter their chances of making it to the World Series for the first time.
The game was tied at five in the bottom of the ninth and there was one out. Tony “Mr. Padre” Gwynn had just singled against the Cubs’ dominant right-handed closer Lee Smith to set the stage for the hot bat of Steve Garvey.
Garvey had already driven in three runs on the night, but was hitless in eight career at-bats against Smith. Lee Smith got ahead in the count 0-1 before offering up a fastball that Garvey got a hold of, sending a line drive shot over the 370-foot sign in right center for a huge, emotional, walk-off victory. The Padres went on to win game five of the NLCS the next day, sending them to the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
The San Diego Union-Tribune recently ranked Garvey’s game four homer as the number one moment in San Diego sports history.
It was, and still is, without question, one of the city’s finest moments and should forever be celebrated as such. Not long after the 1984 season, the number six (Garvey’s number) was placed on the outer wall at Jack Murphy Stadium to commemorate the home run. On April 16, 1988, the Padres retired the number six for Garvey in his first season of retirement. He was the first player to have his number retired in franchise history. The number six remained in place just above the 370-foot sign in right center until the 1997 season when the stadium was expanded and it suddenly disappeared. It reappeared in 2002, when all the retired numbers were moved and inscribed on the outfield fence. Then in 2004, when Petco Park opened, Garvey’s number was added at the top of the batter’s eye with the other retired numbers.
Now for some controversy. Garvey began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969, where he remained for 14 seasons until he signed with the Padres in the winter of 1982. He was a huge part of the Dodgers teams in the 1970s and early 80s. He was a member of the Dodger’s famous infield, a perennial all-star and, here’s the kicker, he’s a member of the Dodgers’ 1981 World Series championship team. He only played a little over four seasons with the Padres. Some would say that Garvey is no true Padre, but rather a Dodger at heart. The worst accusation is, of course, that “it took a Dodger to get the Padres to the World Series.” Now, I’m not here to advertise this smut, but I want to be honest about the ugliness that’s been thrown around out there. The truth is that Garvey was a big part of the 1984 season, but by no means did he carry the team on his back. Lest we forget Bruce Bochy, Garry Templeton, Rich “Goose” Gossage, and, oh yeah, Tony Gwynn.
Should Garvey’s number six have been a retired as a Padre? The answer is no. He certainly shouldn’t have had his number be the first one retired in franchise history. That was a bad, rash decision; a publicity stunt if you will. When you stack him up against Randy Jones, Dave Winfield, Trevor Hoffman, and Tony Gwynn, Garvey’s not even in the same conversation in regards to embodying the Padre tradition. It seems the only viable reason his number was retired was because of that one home run. His number can’t even be retired by the Dodgers (where it would be more appropriate) because they only allow numbers to be retired by players who have made it to the Hall of Fame. Fernando Valenzuela‘s number hasn’t been retired. Let’s face it; if Garvey had gotten into the Hall, he would have gone in as a Dodger. What does that say about the situation?
So should Garvey’s number be unretired? There’s a possibility. Some would say yes, its high time to finally fix this mistake. The honor of a retired number is a sacred bond between a city and it’s hero. It should be earned after a considerable period of perseverance and loyalty. Usually it only occurs in the city where a player got his start. This is not something that Garvey will ever be remembered for as a Padre. He will always be known as a Dodger first. Even he would tell you that. For fans that lived through the 1970’s and 80’s, they know just how much of a blow it is see the number six up there next to the four true Padre greats and Jackie Robinson. To fans experiencing that frustration, the unretirement of the number six could end up being cathartic in preparation for a new era of Padres baseball.
Some fans may think that after 30 years, the unretiring of Garvey’s number would be a petty move, a move that would be such a “San Diego” thing to do. And they are probably right, but the act of retiring his jersey number itself was really unusual. Maybe the number could be moved back over to right center? The focus would be more about the NLCS home run, and less about Garvey himself. It could also serve as a memorial to the Murph, which may soon be lost. Still, San Diego fans are tired of always being so diplomatic. We’ve been burned too many times. Maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind and simply tear number six down and give it to one of the many prospects on the rise through the system. Garvey can have a video of the home run play on repeat in the Padres’ Hall of Fame instead. There are plenty of other ways to honor his contribution without continuing to allow him to share in the glory reserved for only our most deserving.
It would be a shame to forget altogether what Steve Garvey did for the city of San Diego on that special night in 1984. It is a part of Padres’ history, but the fans deserve to be a part of the conversation on how to recognize it. They were not included in 1988. Maybe they should be now. The debate on how to make right the disproportionate honor given to Garvey will continue on. What do you say? How should the Padres address this delicate situation? Or is there even a situation to be discussed?