Should Steve Garvey’s Number be Unretired by Padres?

Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

*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.

Credit: AP Photo

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.

Credit: AP Photo

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?

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Benjamin Salom
Baseball is the second most beautiful art form in my opinion. The first is what God does with our San Diego sunsets. Football's pretty exquisite too. I'm Sarah's husband and a Cal alum. I have been a Padres fan since childhood. My first experiences were at the Q watching Tony and the crew in the 90's. I love sports and I love San Diego. I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

This article has 19 Comments

  1. Must admit as an outsider coming across this article through Twitter I was surprised to find out his number had been retired by the Padres – while I remember Garvey finishing up his career in San Diego it always seemed odd seeing him in the Padres uniform (again though – outsider here and back then there wasn’t the extensive coverage that exist now so have no idea how well he became one with the team and fans there).

    I do wonder if the writer attempted to reach Garvey about the topic. I believe as most of us age we gain better perspective on our past and perhaps even Garvey would admit that while he was certainly honored at the time and continues to be regarding the Padres retiring his number that he can also see the argument that it should be unretired – maybe instead of sheepishly bringing back the number the moment could be embraced – have a Steve Garvey day and have a player who’s come up through the Padres system take on the number (maybe it’s a project for a couple years down the road where the groundwork is laid and Garvey even plays a role in identifying the prospect that he believes best represents they way he played the game).

  2. Should never have been retired in the first place. Similarly, no effort should have been made to bribe Dave Winfield into going into the Hall of Fame as a Padre. These were petty efforts at credibility . It should have been clear even then that Tony Gwynn would ultimately be deserving of being the first in both of these situations, and he should have been the first Padre to have his number retired, and to wear a Padre cap in the Hall. That said, let’s just put it behind us. It was a major league error, but unretiring the number would just compound the mistake.

  3. I DO remember the embarrassment he brought to the team around the end of his career. One of the best lines ever: “Steve Garvey is not my Padre.” [at a time when people were more concerned about that sort of thing]

  4. Yes, THE homer run was great. But if Gene Richards or Johnny Grubb hit it, would we retire their number? No. Then it is NOT about the home run!!! (Yes, I know they were not on the 84 team)

  5. You must have not been around in ’84 to have experienced the biggest homerun in Padres history,. And to have seen what electricity Garv’s homer brought to our city. I guess these are the things millennials think about. Sad and weak.

    1. Well I was around. In fact. I was there. But that home run, and the magnitude of it has nothing to do with the premise behind this piece. The only thing sad and weak is that people cannot have an open mind when discussing this topic. Appreciate your comments.

      1. That has everything to do with the premise of that piece. Read it again and then talk to me kid. Appreciate your comments as well.

  6. Why is this even an issue?

    If the Padres were a team like the Yankees and running out of numbers to offer players I would understand this conversation. For a team like the Padres, it’s a waste of time as they’ve had so few special moments in their almost 50 years in existence.

    For what it’s worth, every team has questionable numbers retired and that includes the Dodgers as Jim Gilliam isn’t a Hall of Famer.

  7. even when garvey was a padre, he was considered an ex-dodger. afterwards, he was simply a dodger. his number does not deserve retirement. but taking it down could be hurtful to him. he’s not a bad guy, i don’t think. perhaps we can wait for the next gigantic downpour, right around the corner this winter no doubt, and all of a sudden his number isn’t there anymore. it washed away in the deluge. we know nothing, says the ground crew. ditto the front office. the problem might be the press. but do they even really cover the padres? and do they even really remember the dodger who hit the long ball for us in 1984? i think not. at the risk of still more deep potholes in our streets, pray for rain.

  8. U want to take down one of the best things that ever happened to this city in all sd sports.??? Shame on anyone for even thinking this. If u take away this number then u must erase that the home run ever happened. Can u live with that? I grew up following and meeting the man many times. The dodgers didn’t want him anymore and in good faith garvey came to SD to make it a better team. Prolly the best in padres history. I stopped being a dodger fan and became a garvey fan. Didn’t matter where he played I loved him fir what he was.. there will never be anyone like him again. And u just want to erase this? Shame on u!

    1. The best player in Padres’ history? That statement alone speaks volumes towards how one-sided you are about the topic. Ever heard of a guy named Tony Gwynn? The number should have never been retired. It was a publicity stunt and the reality is the number was never “Officially” retired by the team, in a ceremony, like the other numbers. Yes, his home run was a huge moment in SD Sports history, but one home run does not dictate retiring a players’ number, especially when they are a Dodger first. This topic is a very hot topic of debate around town. I agree with you the number should not be unretired, but that is because doing that would be dumber than the actual act itself. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Thank you for your comments.

      1. Dumber that the act itself lol too funny. I’m not a fan of his number being retired. I’m a San Diegan and all about my Padres. I wasn’t born until ’86 so I never experienced that specific moment from Garvey. How I see it is Garvey is a Dodger. That’s like Hoffmans number being retired with the Brewers because he broke the record with them. Doesn’t make sense at all.

      2. In fairness, I think (I hope!) he meant that the ’84 team was the best Padres team ever, not that Garvey was the best Padre ever.

  9. Leave the number 6 up there but re- christen it in Tim Flannery’s honor. While not an all-star, Flan was a true Padre who could play anywhere and coach third too and did for years. Hell, he even gave up his number 6 when the Pads picked up that stinkin’ Dodger!

  10. PS Why is Randy Jones’ number retired? 2 good seasons and some mediocre barbecue? Peavy and Benes were easily more deserving.

  11. I know you are looking at this differently, but “6” is a bad number and no one is going to ever want to have it any way. Instead of unretiring #6, the Padres should be thinking of retiring #21, because without Caminiti, the Padres may have left San Diego before the Chargers did. Although he had his demons, Petco Park most likely would not have been built if not for what he brought to those ’90s teams.

  12. Totally see your point of view Pat. I found myself giving serious thought to the implications of unretirement of the number. Doing so would not be without its issues.

  13. It’s a sad, sad thing to see number six commemorated in this fashion. It never should have happened! However, although I subscribed to the unretire the number line of thinking for many years, I’ve come around to the two wrongs don’t make a right line of thinking. I still hate Garvey, and I was at that game cheering him. I hate the dodgers, but to pull his number down would do more to dishonor the Padres than to rectify the initial mistake. The Padres have been a train wreck of a franchise for nearly their entire existence. They don’t need to continue on that path by making a classless move like this. Instead they need to focus on putting a quality team on the field, and building a quality organization in order to continue to, and consistently, put a quality team on the field.

  14. I think Garvey should have to take his own number down. And Mexico should pay for it.

    Seriously though, new franchises run into this problem a lot. Different sport, but the Ravens have Ernest Byner in their ring of honor. Good guy, good player but he’s a Cleveland Brown.

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