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Iconic championship-winning MVP first baseman returning to his old home? Sounds familiar

The similarities between Freddie Freeman and Steve Garvey

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Dodgers are playing the Braves this weekend for the second time this season, but it’s the first time for Freddie Freeman returns to Atlanta since signing with Los Angeles.

Freeman is an icon in Atlanta, where he was drafted, won a World Series, won an MVP, and was in the organization for 15 seasons before a stunning and unceremonious divorce in free agency. Sound familiar?

Flash back 39 years, and the Dodgers were on the other end of the same situation, only with Steve Garvey.

Garvey, a wildly popular player in Los Angeles, a 200-hit machine and perennial All-Star, could not reach agreement on a contract with the Dodgers after the 1982 season, so he left in free agency.

He signed a five-year contract with the Padres, and his return trip to Dodger Stadium came very early in 1983, in San Diego’s tenth game of the season.

Garvey played parts of 14 seasons in Los Angeles, won an MVP, went to four World Series, won a championship, and was an All-Star eight times. Seeing him in a different uniform on April 15, 1983 at Dodger Stadium had to have been weird.

“He would look good in a potato sack,” Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said of Garvey, per UPI. “We spent a lot of years together in both the minors and the majors and I love him like a son.”

Naturally there was a lot of bitterness in how Garvey’s tenure with the Dodgers ended. They opted for a youth movement, trading Davey Lopes after the 1981 World Series, then trading Ron Cey after the 1982 season. Garvey leaving as a free agent meant three-quarters of the longest-running infield in major league history was no more.

Looking at how Garvey framed his Dodger Stadium exit and reunion to Ken Peters of the Associated Press in April 1983, it’s no wonder why Garvey was often mentioned as having political aspirations once he was done playing.

From Peters:

Garvey had said that he’d been hold by friends that “something’s missing” at Dodger Stadium this season, where the club’s attendance has been off more than 6,000 per game this season.

“People tell me it’s not the same as in previous years,” he said. “There’s a new focus. I’m gone. (Ron) Cey’s gone (Cey was traded to the Chicago Cubs last winter) and (Terry) Forster’s in Atlanta. What chemistry we had over the 12 years is no longer there.

“The Dodgers have chosen a new direction with new people and new personalities. Whether it will develop as strongly as ours, who knows?”

Ah yes, the immortal Dodgers trio of Garvey, Cey, and [checks notes] Forster?

For what it’s worth, the Dodgers played all of six home games before hosting the Padres for a weekend series from April 15-17, 1983. Those games against the Expos and Astros averaged 36,419 fans. During the entire 1982 season, they averaged 44,554 fans, but by the end of 1983 were up to 43,879 fans per game. Both figures led the majors.

Greg Brock was the highly-touted prospect who had the misfortune of following Garvey at first base for the Dodgers. In Garvey’s first at-bat back in Los Angeles, after a long ovation, he popped out to Brock at first base. Eerie.

Famous first basemen

Stat Garvey Freeman
Stat Garvey Freeman
Years in org 15 15
Age* 33 32
Titles 1 1
MVP awards 1 1
MVP top-10s 5 6
All-Star Games 8 5
Hits 1,968 1,704
Total bases 3,004 2,934
Runs 852 969
RBI 992 941
bWAR 36.6 43.1
Stats with original MLB team *age is first year with new team

The big news that weekend, which was a bit of perfect timing, was Garvey setting the National League record for most consecutive games played. Friday’s series opener was his 1,117th game in a row, tying former Cubs outfielder Billy Williams’ NL record. On Saturday, Garvey broke it.

“In a word, it’s wonderful to be here,” Garvey said, per the Associated Press after the game. “Poetic justice is a good term for my returning to set the record here. I’ll never forget what I had with the Dodgers for the last 15 years.”

At this point, the only major league streaks longer than Garvey were Lou Gehrig (2,130 consecutive games) and Everett Scott (1,307). That same Saturday night, young Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. played a doubleheader against Cleveland, running his streak to 126 straight games.

Garvey’s started the first 100 games that year for San Diego, but suffered a dislocated thumb that July 29. His streak ended at 1,207 consecutive games.

Freeman isn’t quite the ironman Garvey was, but in the modern game he might be one of the closest we have. Since the start of the 2018 season, Freeman has missed only seven games, leading the National League in games played during that span, trailing only the Royals Whit Merrifield in the majors.

Freeman has started all 68 games for the Dodgers this season, along with shortstop Trea Turner the longest string of consecutive starts to open a Dodgers season since Shawn Green started the first 79 games in 2000.

In April, when the Braves and Dodgers played in Los Angeles, Freeman homered in two of the three games and was 4-for-11 (.364) with a pair of walks against his old team.

Garvey was hitless in the 1983 series opener in his Dodger Stadium return, but collected two hits in each of the final two games of the series. His 1,038 career hits at Dodger Stadium remain the ballpark record to this day.

The home fans in Los Angeles got the best of both worlds in that they got to see Garvey excel again, and also saw the Dodgers win two out of three.