Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Dodger Brawl in 1978



It was 33 years ago this month that two of the franchises best players tussled on the clubhouse floor in the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium.  Steve Garvey and Don Sutton, two Dodger players instrumental in the teams success in the 70s lived only three houses from each other on the same street in Calabasas.  Their lockers were next to each other for years, but they where thousands of miles apart on the way they saw things.

At the time of the fight, feuding successful baseball clubs were in vogue.  The Oakland A’s fought their way to three consecutive World Series wins and the New York Yankees were battling amongst themselves with Thurman, Reggie and Billy constantly at odds.  Sutton and Garvey had just put the Dodgers up to the next tier.
Sutton- A Straight Shooter
Don Sutton didn’t buy into the schtick.  He has always been a straight shooter and an intelligent man.  If someone asked him a question, he wouldn’t give the patented politically correct answer.  He’d tell it as he saw it.  Little D was an Alston guy and the Lasorda grandstanding didn’t sit well with him.  He respected Walter Alston and appreciated his calm demeanor and patience.  Sutton said the following about his former manager in a 1982 Sports Illustrated interview:
“He was the most secure man that I’ve ever met.  I never saw him shirk responsibility.  He always took the heat off of the players, even when all the geniuses who watch baseball were looking for someone to blame.  Walter let me go into his office and vent my frustrations behind closed doors.  He’d listen, tell me what should be done.  He never held grudges.  One of the most rewarding things of my life was the inscription he wrote in a copy of his autobiography: ‘When it’s on the line, I want you to have the ball.’  If you can’t get fired up by something like that, you have no pulse.”


For Sutton, the media friendly, attention monger Lasorda wasn’t something that he admired.  When asked who he would like to see suceed Alston in the Managerial spot, Sutton didn’t hesitate saying that he’d like to see former teammate Jeff Torborg get the job.  At the time he was questioned, it was a forgone conclusion that Lasorda was going to be named the new manager.  Sutton’s comments didn’t go over well with Tommy either.  It was  a bad start to their relationship.  “I’m sure Tommy didn’t see eye-to-eye with some of the hanging curveballs I served up too,” said Sutton when questioned about their differences.
So it was for Sutton.  Taking on the popular establishment wasn’t a big deal to him.  To Don, and several of his teammates, Garvey was a phony.  The only difference was that Sutton had no qualms with saying it when asked by Tom Boswell of the Washington Post stating,  “All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy, well the best player on this team for the last two years-and we all know it- is Reggie Smith.  Reggie doesn’t go out and publicize himself.  He doesn’t smile at the right people or say the right things...Reggie’s not a facade or a Madison Avenue image.  He’s a real person.”

Dodger slugger Reggie Smith
Garvey-A Man That Took His Public Image Seriously
For Steve Garvey, the accusation that he never saw a camera he didn’t like probably was true.  He was the one Dodger getting tons of endorsement deals.  He had the Barbie doll wife that co-hosted a popular Los Angeles coffee table talk show with Regis Philbin.  The Garv had charm, charisma, good looks and the clean cut image of an Eagle Scout, Prom King, Altar Boy, All American.  Add that to the fact that Garvey’s dad drove the Dodger team bus when he was a kid and Garv was a bat boy for the team he grew up to play for, it was almost a storybook tale.
Additionally Garvey was consistently hitting .300 and getting 200 hits.  The stats that we know of today weren’t even getting a second look in 1978.  The important numbers to fans back then were homers, RBI, and Batting average.  For the most part, Garvey excelled in all of these statistical categories.  It wasn’t until after he retired that I ever noticed that he rarely took a walk.
What hasn’t been discussed is that Garvey was a loner on those Dodger teams.  He didn’t socialize with his teammates.  He wore a three-piece suit to the ball park and after he’d shower, he’d put on that formal gear, get in his car and leave.  He endorsed Aqua Velva and Old Spice.  He was a shoe in to be the starting first baseman in every All Star game.  He was by far, the most popular Dodger.  He let the world know that he aspired to enter politics after he retired.
Garvey was seen as the poster child for good looks, clean living and as a role model.  He was also a Lasorda guy, having played for Tommy at nearly every level in the minors, and on to the major league roster.  
The fact that Sutton said publicly what everyone on the team thought was a surprise to many.  Mainly because Lasorda was in his hey day preaching about the Dodger family, and the Big Dodger in the Sky.  Sutton said that he always “considered the Big Dodger in the Sky concept as sacreligious.”
So it was with this background that the Sutton-Garvey feud occured.  Garv, the ultimate team guy, knew he would approach Sutton and confront him about his comments, but he wasn’t about to do it until after Sutton had completed his turn in the rotation.  On August 19th, Sutton defeated the Mets in an 8-4 victory.  Garv knew that the next day would be the ideal time to confront his teammate about the quotes.  He asked Sutton if he had been misquoted and Sutton said that he was not.
What started out was simply a civil conversation between to ego centered athletes.  It was a mature discussion and an attempt by Garvey to iron our differences.  But Garvey wasn’t happy.  The story by Boswell made him look bad.  His reputation was tarnished and if there was anything that Garvey took seriously, it certainly was the public’s perception of him.  Sutton said the conversation was productive but that Garv had an irritating habit of pointing his finger at a person when emphasizing a point. And that was annoying to Sutton.
It was during one of Garvey emphatic gestures that Sutton took umbrage and grabbed Garvey’s finger as he was pointing it in Sutton’s chest.  Insults flew, one of which turned out to be Sutton saying something inappropriate about Garvey’s wife Cyndy and the fight was on.
No real punches were landed, there was no room for that.  They wrestled on the clubhouse floor of the Shea Stadium visitors locker room, a dump of a place that has been described as one of the worst in the majors.  There’s not a lot of room in there for a decent brawl to take place.  And with the attention the scrape was getting, the players were separated quickly, though Joe Ferguson is said to have said, “let them kill each other.”  In reference to the general non-popularity of both players on the club.
No real injuries surfaced, the Garv with a scratched face and red eye and Sutton with a bruised cheek.  The Dodgers actually played better after the scuffle and took the pennant for the second consecutive year.
Eventually Sutton offered a public apology while Garvey refused to accept any blame.  Garvey also refused to accept Sutton’s apology stating that he had never personally apologized to him.
Years later when asked about the incident Sutton joked about what caused the scuffle saying “I couldn’t convince Garvey that the Southeastern Conference is as good as the Big Ten.”
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Tonight's victory at Arizona makes the Dodgers victors in 8 of their last 12 games.  The club has been playing well and particularly on the road and against the division.  After speaking with a fellow Dodger fan at work today, we both came to the same conclusion, that is that anything close to a .500 record has to be considered a good finish for the current club.
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Trayvon Robinson robs Torii Hunter of a homer in his debut against Anaheim for Seattle.  Not a shocker there.

2 comments:

  1. I had read Garvey's account of the scuffle in his autobiography, and I had read Jay Johnstone's after-the-fact comments about the tension on the team, but this is the first time that I had read Sutton's side of the story. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Excellent post Evan! I've always heard bit and pieces of this story. I was only 4 going on 5 years old during the 78 season. I love Ferguson's quote

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