Last week, Sycuan Casino hosted an All-Star Legends Series at their Live & Up Close Theater. The three-night event was hosted by Steve Garvey and consisted of MLB legends sitting on a couch and telling stories from their illustrious baseball careers.
I was invited to attend the event and made it to two out of the three nights. Opening Night was like a reunion of the 1984 NL Champion Padres. Along with host Steve Garvey, it featured former Padres relief pitcher, Rich “Goose” Gossage, and included an appearance from Kurt Bevacqua. The three former teammates reminisced about that magical ‘84 season as well as other moments from throughout their childhood and their baseball careers. Joe did a full write-up on that evening, and there isn’t really anything I’d add to it, but here is a video I took of Garvey making Gossage re-enact a moment from before the two became Padres teammates.
I couldn’t make it out to night two of the series, which featured Garvey’s fellow Padres number retiree, Dave Winfield. But I returned to Sycuan for the finale of the three-night event. On this evening Garvey’s guest was Reggie Jackson, who never played for San Diego but nonetheless drew the biggest crowd of the series.
The night opened up with clips from Garvey’s and Jackson’s careers, which elicited applause and cheers from the crowd. Once again, Garvey talked a bit about the event, the idea for which he came up with two years ago. He repeatedly referred to it as the “The Way We Were Tour” which was apt considering the amount of time each guest spent talking about the things they missed about baseball back when they were players.
Garvey noted the “great energy” he felt from the crowd that night. And I agreed, the audience was not only larger but also seemed noticeably livelier than the first night of the event. I had been told that this particular night had received the most interest, at least in terms of pre-sale, of the three nights, which I thought was a bit disappointing only because he was the only non-Padre of the group.
Jackson started out talking about his childhood a bit. He grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where his father ran a dry-cleaning and tailoring shop. His father was the one who really pushed him in his childhood and throughout his career, and he was his biggest fan. When Reggie made it big, his father printed out business cards for his shop that read, “Marty the Tailor, Father of Famous Reggie Jackson.” Garvey added that he knew he had really made it when his mother started becoming known as “Steve Garvey’s mother.”
Garvey and Jackson said that they were blessed both with good parents and good coaches, who taught them important lessons not only on the field, but in life. They agreed that coaching, at any level, was about on- and off-field lessons - things like integrity and perseverance and hard-work.
At one point, the topic of prospects and the international draft came up. Jackson talked about how “not everyone is a prospect” and that only a few players could really be considered prospects. Meanwhile the rest of the players are really just there to fill the rosters so that the prospects could get a chance to play and develop. He brought up the recent international draft, in which the Padres spent a lot of money. He said he was “interested to see if ONE [player] gets to the big leagues,” but that it was “interesting to see the investment” that is being made on these minor league players.
During several parts of the night, they talked about differences between baseball back when they played and baseball today. For instance, at one point they spent a few minutes talking about bat weight and how bats these days are too light. Both Jackson and Garvey recounted stories about playing in Legends games in previous years and having trouble finding bats that they were comfortable with. Garvey specifically recalled a moment when he told Matt Kemp that all the bats in the dugout were too light for him, at which Kemp laughed replied, “That’s funny, Mr. Garvey.” They both agreed that if only players these days would use the same kinds of bats they used during their careers, they would be able to build up their arm strength and hit the balls harder.
One of Jackson’s favorite moments in his career was during the 1971 All-Star Game. He didn’t make the starting lineup, but came in to pinch-hit for Vita Blue in the 3rd inning. As a player who was striking out a lot at the time, he thought to himself, “they’re trying to get rid of me early.” Lo and behold, Jackson’s pitch count after only two pitches was 0-2. He hoped to avoid striking out at all costs, so he choked up on the bat, and on the next pitch he hit a home run. He said in that moment he “felt like King Kong.”
There was a point in the night, while recounting memories from their playing careers, when Garvey brought up an interaction between himself and Jackson during the 1977 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees. He tried to get Jackson to admit that the play was wrongly called in his favor, but Jackson would not give in. Like he did with Goose Gossage before, Garvey asked Jackson to get up and re-enact the moment, which they did. At the end of it all, Jackson did admit that the Dodgers should have won that series and Garvey should have been named the MVP, adding, “But you didn’t!” to which the crowd laughed and cheered.
Towards the end of the night, Garvey invited some questions from the crowd. Someone asked Jackson about his thoughts on former manager Billy Martin. Gossage had been asked the same question two nights prior and he referenced a lesson his mother taught him: if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. Jackson took the same advice. However, when asked about Dick Williams, Jackson did have some nice things to say. “Dick was strong, tough... he knew the game.”
One man in the audience stood up and told the story about how he was actually a former player, but his playing days ended when he was hit in his lower back with a fastball. He then proceeded to ask Jackson if he would sign a baseball for him, which made the audience a bit annoyed and Jackson and Garvey noticeably uncomfortable since they had announced at the beginning of the night that there was to be no autograph-signing at the event. Jackson turned to Garvey and asked, “What do I do here?” to which Garvey replied that they would “take care of it.” At the end of the night, both players ended up staying and signing autographs for people in the audience, which was nice though I don’t think that was at all part of the plan.
After the event concluded, I met and caught up with some Padres fans that I knew from social media. We all talked about what a cool night it was and how awesome it was to hear some of the stories these guys told. We were amazed at how they were able to name-drop so many baseball legends. It really was incredible to be in such an intimate setting with these guys and to hear them just speak candidly about their careers. All-in-all it was a great lead-in to the All-Star festivities in San Diego, and a big thanks goes out to the folks at Sycuan for hosting this special series.