Ex-Dodgers surprised Steve Garvey took so long to enter politics

Jerry Reuss isn’t at all surprised that his former Dodgers teammate Steve Garvey is running for the U.S. Senate.

The shocking part for Reuss is that it took Garvey so long to launch his political career.

“He’s a 75 years old rookie,” Reuss recently told The Times in an email.

Reuss was a left-handed pitcher who played for eight teams over 22 Major League Baseball seasons. Garvey was an infielder and one of the most popular Dodgers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Their baseball careers intersected in Los Angeles from 1979-82.

Reuss told The Times that Garvey had thoughts of becoming an elected official back then, while Ronald Reagan was serving his first term as U.S. president.

“Steve always had the thought of entering the political arena,” Reuss said in the email. “He once told me that if a former actor could be President, why can’t a former baseball player?”

Some four decades later, Garvey has made quite an entrance into that arena. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times found that the Republican newcomer and Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the veteran Democratic congressman from Burbank, are in effect tied for the lead in the primary days before Tuesday’s election.

The poll shows Garvey is favored by 27% of likely voters, followed by Schiff with 25%, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) with 19% and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) with 8%, while 12% of likely voters pick a different candidate and 9% are undecided. The top two finishers advance to a November runoff. There, Schiff would hold a 53% to 38% advantage, with 9% undecided, over Garvey, according to the survey.

Garvey was drafted by the Dodgers out of Michigan State in 1968 and remained with the organization until signing with the San Diego Padres as a free agent before the 1983 season. He played five seasons with the Padres before retiring.

Starting in June 1973 and running through the Dodgers’ World Series victory in 1981, Garvey played first base in one of MLB’s most celebrated and durable infields. For 8 1/2 seasons, that lineup almost always also included Davey Lopes at second base, Ron Cey at third and Bill Russell at shortstop.

Cey declined to comment for this article. The Times was unable to reach Lopes and Russell.

Two members of the Dodgers 1981 championship team recently came out in support of one of Garvey’s opponents for the Senate seat. In an announcement issued by Lee’s office Wednesday, Dusty Baker and Dave Stewart were listed among the endorsers for the Oakland congresswoman. Baker and Stewart have ties to Northern California and spent parts of their MLB careers with the Athletics.

Tom Niedenfuer was a rookie pitcher for the Dodgers during the 1981 season. As a Florida resident, Niedenfuer has been watching Garvey’s young political career from afar and isn’t surprised by his former teammate’s success in that area.

“I could definitely see him going into something like this,” Niedenfuer told The Times in a recent phone interview. “He was always well spoken, great with the media, and definitely had his points of views, so it’s not surprising at all. And he’s always been a great businessman, so I’m really not surprised and he’ll be very successful with this.”

Asked if he could think of any weaknesses Garvey might have as a politician, Niedenfuer could think of only one.

“The only thing I could possibly think of is he’s not aggressive enough to fire back at people with bad stuff, because he’s such a good guy,” Niedenfuer said. “He’s not the kind to attack other people and other opponents. He’s always been great to everybody. If there was any weakness, I would say he’s too nice.”

San Diego Padres player Steve Garvey, formerly of the Dodgers, greets some of his loyal fans at Dodger Stadium on April 16, 1983.

(Lennox McLendon / Associated Press)

Reuss, who lives in Nevada, said he hasn’t followed Garvey’s campaign enough to have an opinion on his former teammate’s politics. But, Reuss added of Garvey, “He’s as sincere now as the day I met him.”

Like Reuss, former longtime Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is surprised Garvey waited so long to enter politics.

“Steve would be a good senator and a better choice than his opponents, especially the obnoxious Adam Schiff,” Porter told The Times in an email, adding that he and his wife have donated to Garvey’s campaign.

Asked by The Times if he had any stories that demonstrated the qualities he thought would suit Garvey well as a senator, Porter replied with this anecdote:

“On a Sunday afternoon, August 28, 1977, Garvey went into a game against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium, mired in the worst batting slump he experienced in his 19-year major league career. In his previous 84 plate appearances, he had hit a miserable .139.

“Before the game that day, two nuns introduced a young girl who was disabled, to her favorite Dodger player — Steve Garvey. During their conversation, the girl said, ‘Would you hit a home run for me today?’

“Garvey said he would try.

“That day, Garvey had the best offensive game he ever had. He collected 5 hits in 5 at-bats, drove in 5 runs, slugged two home runs, one a grand slam, and the Dodgers won, 11 to 0.

“Steve told me years later, he still maintained a correspondence with the girl.”

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