June 23, 1973: Garvey forms final piece of ‘The Infield’
The date June 23, 1973 is famous in Dodger history because of a subtle experiment during a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. In the second game, manager Walter Alston shuffled his lineup and started Steve Garvey at first base.
It marked the first time the infield of Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell and third baseman Ron Cey started a game together. The unit became Southern California’s version of Mt. Rushmore, playing an MLB-record 8 ½ seasons together through the 1981 World Series.
Garvey, the former Brooklyn Dodger Spring Training batboy drafted by Los Angeles out of Michigan State University in 1968, had been an enigma after joining the Dodgers in September 1969. He was a scatter-armed third baseman who made a combined 42 errors in 1971 and 1972. The Dodgers tried Garvey at other positions — second base, shortstop and the outfield — with no luck. When it was time for the Dodgers to replace the retiring Wes Parker after the 1972 season, L.A. offered Garvey to the Phillies for Willie Montanez. According to Tommy Lasorda, Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens turned down the deal.
Garvey began the 1973 season as a successful pinch-hitter, but he yearned for more playing time while watching other young prospects transition into starting jobs after the departures of Parker, second baseman Jim Lefebvre and shortstop Maury Wills.
The first baseman of the future was supposed to be Bill Buckner, who could play both first base and the outfield. Buckner looked like a natural at first base in 1973, making only two errors in 93 games and batting a solid .271. When Buckner agreed to play left field, a position previously shared in 1973 by prospects Von Joshua and Tom Paciorek and veteran Manny Mota, it opened the door for Garvey, who never looked back. Garvey would become a 10-time All-Star first baseman who in 1974 won National League MVP honors as the Dodgers won their first pennant since 1966.
A salary dispute prompted the Dodgers to trade Buckner to the Chicago Cubs after the 1976 season in a deal involving outfielder Rick Monday, although Dodger GM Al Campanis always hoped he could re-acquire Buckner in a future trade.
Both Buckner and Garvey enjoyed long careers with their respective teams, though they never again were teammates after their Dodger days. Buckner spent 22 years in the Majors and compiled a lifetime .289 batting average in 2,517 games with the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Royals and Angels. Garvey played 19 seasons and hit .294 in 2,332 games with the Dodgers and Padres.