8/28/2014 2:36 P.M. ET
Garvey provides precedent for Alvarez's move to first
Legendary Dodgers first baseman can relate to throwing issues at the hot corner
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Between games of a doubleheader against the Reds at Dodger Stadium on June 23, 1973, iconic Dodgers manager Walter Alston approached Steve Garvey in the clubhouse.
"Have you ever played first base?" Alston asked his onetime third baseman.
Los Angeles' No. 1 pick in the 1968 First-Year Player Draft, Garvey broke into the Dodgers' infield two years later. He was quick and could pick it with the best of them, but after he got the ball, there was no knowing where it would wind up next.
"I airmailed a few throws," Garvey, chuckling, told MLB.com from his Arizona home on Wednesday.
Garvey's arm was still feeling the effects of a partial shoulder separation in high school freshman football, so he couldn't control his throws.
Garvey had started 155 games at third base for the Dodgers and made 47 errors, mostly on throws. In those starts, 28 of his errors came in only 73 starts in 1972. Garvey would never again play third base, and he had done nothing but pinch-hit in the first 11 weeks of the 1973 season.
"Oh, sure," Garvey lied to Alston that day, knowing "that might be my chance to start again."
"OK, you're in there tonight," Alston said, before he walked away.
"The rest," Garvey said Wednesday, "is history."
It is a glorious history of 10 All-Star selections, five World Series, a National League MVP Award in 1974 -- and four Gold Gloves at first base.
So, obviously, Pirates erstwhile third baseman Pedro Alvarez isn't breaking new ground by getting chased across the diamond by a thrower's block -- 23 throwing errors of a total of 25 miscues in 95 hot-corner starts. He is following in the footsteps of numerous others -- but the ironman Garvey, who holds the NL record of 1,207 consecutive games played and is recalled by most as only a first baseman, offers the best precedent.
"Alvarez should be able to adapt well," said Garvey, who was fully aware of Alvarez's situation. "Things fell quickly in place for me, and there are a lot of similarities between us. The biggest wrinkle for a right-handed first baseman is learning how to throw more sidearm. You do have to have a quick, accurate arm.
"It was a good fit for me, because the one thing that came naturally, I was able to dig the ball out of the dirt," added Garvey, who obviously called the nightcap of that twin bill on June 23, 1973 "the turning point of my career."
The change may not be as profound for Alvarez. The Bucs can't let go of the fact he was an All-Star third baseman last year, and they recognize that he still burns with a desire to excel there. So Alvarez's switch could be ephemeral, only for the rest of this season, merely a temporary way to get his bat in the lineup.
When trying to make that call, there definitely are two sides to the coin: Josh Harrison may have become immovable at third; then, No. 3 prospect Josh Bell is in the early stages of switching to first base, and the club's 2015 plans for Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez are up in the air.
"It's been a good fit so far," manager Clint Hurdle said of Alvarez's apprenticeship. "With his dedication, he wants to be the best he can be. With his athleticism, either corner is a good spot for him. I'm happy that the hard work he's doing [at first] is paying off."
Oddly, although it's a new position with different challenges, Alvarez may feel less defensive burden than he did at third, where the throwing issues weighed on him, and that may have contributed to his offensive surge. Prior to going on day-to-day status with a sprained left foot, he had homered three times in 10 at-bats -- after not having gone deep since July 11.
"Yeah, that was one of the reasons we asked him to move," Hurdle said. "To lighten his load, mentally. We'll see how it continues to play out."
Garvey knowingly addressed the quandary arising from Alvarez's switch: How do you juggle three first basemen?
"As a manager, you've got to go with the hot hand," Garvey said. "Next spring might be a little crowded. There could be a little competition there."
Hurdle is familiar with Garvey's personal history, and he attributed his flawless transition from third to first to "perseverance, dedication and hard work."
"Through the rest of the 1973 season and then in the following Spring Training," Garvey said, "I worked my behind off every day. Now, Alvarez is probably adequate; some things, you have to pick up with experience.
"He'll come to realize, and appreciate, that you can save games at first base. I got as much pride from digging balls out of the dirt to save runs as I did from driving them in."
Coming from a guy who drove in an average of 104 runs from 1974-80, that's a testament worth keeping in mind.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.