Ringolsby: A Great Eight
Dave Garcia knew pretty much everybody in baseball. Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper can prove it. “I remember one day—when he was managing the Indians and I was playing for him—I knew I had him,” Kuiper said. “I told him there was somebody in the ballpark who he wouldn’t know.” Garcia smiled.
As Garcia and Kuiper walked out of the Cleveland dugout onto the field, Garcia did a double take, shouted out to Pat Daugherty—who at the time was working for the Expos—and asked Kuiper, “Do you know Pat? He’s a good kid.”
Know Pat? Sure Kuiper did. Daugherty had been his head coach at Indian Hills JC, a small Iowa school removed from the American mainstream. He was that “somebody” he figured Garcia wouldn’t know.
“I gave up after that,” Kuiper said.
That was Garcia, one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors of goodwill.
He died on May 22 at the age of 97 following a lengthy illness. He lost his vision several years ago, but his mind was always sharp, and he never lost his love for the game that he was a part of for 70 years. He shared the distinction with Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda and Don Zimmer in the four-man fraternity of men who spent parts of eight decades in pro ball as a player, coach or broadcaster.
“Mr. Garcia was a special person,” Dusty Baker said. “When I was a young player in the minor leagues, dealing with the challenges (of integration in the South), Dave was managing in the Giants’ system and he would always reach out. He was always there to provide counsel.”
Garcia’s heritage lives on with his son David Jr., the Yankees’ first-round pick in the secondary phase of the January draft in 1978; and grandsons Drew, a White Sox 21st-round pick in 2008; and Greg, a Cardinals 2010 seventh-rounder who on April 28, 2014, became the first member of the family to play in the major leagues.
The elder Garcia would sit behind home plate at Petco Park in his later years during batting practice, his vision having betrayed him, and would occasionally offer an opinion.
“That kid can hit,” he would say. “Nice swing.”
The listener would laugh and remind Garcia he said he couldn’t really see home plate.
“But I can hear,” he would explain. “Did you hear the sound of the contact he made? That’s a hitter’s contact.”
Growing up in East St. Louis, Garcia would proudly talk about his days in the knothole gang, and praise Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion, who he felt was the best defensive shortstop he ever saw play the game.
His playing career started in 1939 in the Class D Evangeline League and ended in 1957 in the Class B Carolina League. He spent the final 10 seasons as a player/manager. In all, Garcia spent 30 years in the minor leagues as a player, manager, coach and scout.
“When Bucky Harris was hired to manage the Senators in 1950 he offered me a coaching job,” Garcia said, “but (Giants farm director) Jack Schwartz told me I’d have my job (as a player/manager) longer than Bucky would have his.
“Bucky was fired at the end of the 1954 season, and I was with the Giants until 1969.”
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Once Garcia got to the big leagues, he stuck. His first job was third-base coach for the Padres in 1970. He later coached for the Indians and Angels, receiving managing stints with both. He served as manager of the Angels from 1977-78 and then, after initially returning to the Indians as a coach, he took over as manager when Frank Robinson was fired in July 1979.
“I wasn’t going to take (the job),” Garcia said. “Frank brought me there. I wasn’t going to take his job, but Frank said, ‘David, someone is going to be hired. I’d rather you had the job than anybody else.’ ”
Garcia would manage the Indians through the 1982 season. He then coached the Brewers in 1983-84 before becoming a special assistant with the Brewers, Royals, Rockies and Mariners.
He became a fixture at Petco Field in his later years, hired as a special assistant to Seattle general manager Billy Bavasi. Bavasi’s father, Buzzie, was the GM of the Padres who hired Garcia for his first big league job in 1970, and he was the GM of the Angels who promoted Garcia to manager in 1977.
“I have been blessed,” Garcia said in a recent conversation. “I never had to work. I spent my whole life in baseball. I was fortunate.”
Not as fortunate as baseball was to have had Garcia a part of its fraternity for more than seven decades.