SBJ/March 3 - 9, 2003/This Weeks Issue
Steve Garvey’s public exile
Published March 3, 2003
To say that Steve Garvey is hiding out is an overstatement. He can be heard pontificating on ESPN or talk radio or spotted at Dodger Stadium at least once each homestand, and he's available if you want him to speak at your convention, sales meeting or bar mitzvah.
But to find his office, you have to spot the unmarked driveway off a highway that winds through a sparsely populated stretch of Utah hinterland near Park City. That's where he lives with his wife, Candace, and three of his five children — or seven, or nine, depending on how you count them. It's a far different world from Southern California, where he lived and worked since he arrived as the starting third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970.
From a loft above his living room, he runs the Garvey Media Group, quietly using his connections to put the two sides of sports deals together. He works his Rolodex for a fee, a retainer, a percentage or occasionally some stock.
"It's an interesting little niche," he says. "I can pick up the phone and talk to the president of sports at a major network or the CEO of a major entertainment company. If the Dodger sales network calls and says, 'We're having a problem in this category,' I can put them in touch with another player in that category. The great thing about being 54 and having been in the sports business since I was basically 19 [is that] I have a lot of contacts. I may not use them on a daily or weekly or monthly basis, but they're there."
If he's in exile, it's a comfortable one. His house is a majestic, 15,000-square-foot mansion set on 120 acres, overlooking a Utah mountainscape. He has member's privileges at the tony Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, and his Lexus SUV barely hums as it climbs up the mountain.
What's missing are the stature we expected from Garvey when he retired from baseball after 19 seasons in 1988. There's no political office, no high-profile endorsements, not even a position as visible as publisher of Sport, which he held briefly in the mid-1990s before the magazine folded, or as a radio talk show host, a role he played for a time in San Diego.
Life after baseball took a surprising — and litigious — turn for the man who said of his coming political career in a 1981 Playboy magazine interview, "I start at the U.S. Senate." In 1989, he acknowledged his culpability in two paternity cases. Now, Garvey is being pursued by the Federal Trade Commission, which claims he knowingly made fraudulent claims on behalf of a weight-reduction dietary supplement.
Garvey also has battled the Major League Baseball Players Association in court, and after attending a certain dance recital with his daughter, even found himself a featured player in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, at which his wife testified. It's a long way from the clean squeak of the greaseless Vitalis he once hawked.
What happened to Garvey was the undermining of a brand equal to Perrier's benzene crisis or the Tylenol tampering scare. And, make no mistake, Steve Garvey was a brand as carefully tended as any corporate equity. Garvey packaged his lifestyle and morals into a commercially salable personality, beginning with his first Vitalis commercial while a Dodger rookie.
He stresses that he was simply living life the way he believes it ought to be lived, but it created a popular image that transcended his baseball success — and created a point of difference with his peers, many of whom rolled their eyes at such publicly pristine behavior. In clubhouses around baseball, he was scornfully referred to as "The Senator" or "Mr. Perfect."
"You're doing commercials for Vitalis and Adidas and Nestlé ... and now you start to hear the snipes here and there, the accusations of being a Madison Avenue guy," he says. "You start to wonder, 'Why are people saying these things?' You're just being yourself, talking about things you really believe in, like giving back to the community, and how blessed you are, and God — things that you think are normal. And you realize that they must not be normal because you're being criticized."
Such a singular positioning — a perennial all-star who didn't drink, do drugs or even swear, and remained devoted to his family and a moral lifestyle — constituted a chance to sell himself in many different ways. During the last 10 days of the presidential campaign in 1980 and again in 1984, Garvey, a staunch Republican, introduced Ronald Reagan during campaign stops.
Garvey had started making three speeches a week for the Dodgers' community relations department in the early 1970s but soon moved into more lucrative engagements. He understood that his baseball skills would only carry him into his mid-30s, so he laid the groundwork for the rest of his life. He played in 1,207 consecutive games, the National League record, which only helped underscore his reputation for reliability. He wasn't flashy, but he'd never let you down.
"True friends and associates who know me give unwavering support."
Even more than when he was playing, Garvey the potential candidate and spokesman had no room for mistakes. But he made them. Following his divorce from his first wife, Cyndy, with whom he has two daughters, Garvey became involved in relationships with two women, each of whom became pregnant.
"Could I have been more careful? Yes," he says now. "Are [the children] my responsibility? Yes. They were two personal choices, and if I had them to do over again, obviously I would do them differently. I made two poor choices, but it happened. I didn't commit a felony, and I stood there and answered every question. I took responsibility. But what I did was out of character."
So many superstars have fathered children out of wedlock that's it's almost easier to think of those who have than those who haven't. After an initial public splash, their transgressions seem to have hardly dented their public personas. Garvey committed no crime, and he wasn't even married at the time. Immediately following these revelations, he wed Candace and, as a devoted family man, started to raise her two daughters from a previous marriage.
Yet because sex outside marriage was so contrary to his character, his brand equity was eroded and his political career derailed. Despite statistics that could warrant inclusion, he hasn't been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At least one voter cites character as the reason.
A decade after his retirement, in February 2000, the Federal Trade Commission filed civil contempt charges against Enforma Natural Products for its Fat Trapper and Exercise in a Bottle products, both advertised in infomercials hosted by Garvey. "With Enforma," Garvey claimed on one infomercial, "you can eat what you want and never, ever, ever have to diet again." From 1998 to 2000, nearly 1.5 million people ordered it, at $79 a bottle.
Candace Garvey, who owned the Garvey Management Group at the time, earned some $980,000 in royalties from the sale of the products, which grossed $120 million for their manufacturer. Steve Garvey received a $7,500 fee for each of the two infomercials. Asking for $1.1 million in penalties from Garvey, the FTC claimed that he knew the products didn't actually work but lent his credibility to them anyway.
Garvey said he did as much due diligence as possible, to the point of making certain each ingredient was sold over-the-counter in some form, and frequently using the product himself. "I still do, from time to time," he says. "Candace lost 20 pounds with it. ... It's almost as if they were saying, 'He shouldn't be doing this, he's only doing this to make money.'"
To that charge, Garvey pleads guilty. With nine children to support — his older two, Candace's two, the three they have together, and the two from the paternity cases — Garvey claims he'll be able to retire only around 2022, the 120 acres notwithstanding. "I have five weddings to pay for," he says. "And I didn't make $14 million a year when I was playing. So you develop these skills."
In December 2002, a U.S. district judge ruled in Garvey's favor. The FTC announced it would appeal the decision, thereby keeping the case alive and in the public eye for months to come. True or not, the accusations directly question his honesty, integrity and credibility, just as the paternity suits publicly undermined his moral lifestyle.
"True friends and associates who know me give unwavering support," he says, while admitting that "those who might have had an interest in going forward [in a business deal] backed off."
Politics and commercial sponsorships depend on making yourself attractive and believable to the millions out there who aren't your intimates. If George Bush only persuaded voters he'd met personally, if Ronco's Ron Popeil only made sales door-to-door, they'd both be out of work.
Perrier rallied from its benzene problem and Tylenol's caplets soothed the fears of tampering. Even Gary Hart is out of exile and on the hustings again. Garvey doesn't consider himself primed for a comeback because he believes he never left public life. "I do 75 to 100 interviews a year," he says. Still, he's ruminating about three high-profile possibilities that will move him back squarely into the limelight.
One is buying the Dodgers. He'd be part of a larger group, get 5 or 10 percent equity, and run the team. He believes that, because of the market size and the Dodgers tradition, the franchise is one of the few in baseball with a huge upside. "Raising the money is no problem," he says. "But can you get the numbers to work without a television network?"
Another possibility is a family-oriented network or cable television show, hosted by the Garveys and shown weekly, or even daily. At least one Las Vegas casino has already offered its amphitheater as a studio, and while Garvey was talking about the idea at lunch in Deer Valley recently, a Fox executive stepped up proffering a business card. The show would be to the serious side of Regis Philbin, but tackling issues in the home, not world affairs.
The third option is the U.S. Senate. At 54, Garvey says he's ready to dedicate his life to making an impact, and politics is the most direct route. He believes he'd win even in liberal California, and he'd seem to have an easier path in staunchly conservative Utah, though the state has two Republican senators he'd be loathe to challenge. He figures his post-baseball troubles wouldn't hinder him, and by now they might even constitute an asset.
"I'd have no skeletons in the closet, that's for sure," he says. "They're all right there, out on the table."
Bruce Schoenfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior correspondent for SportsBusiness Journal.