Not long after the Dodgers acquired Phil Garner from the Houston Astros in June, the talk around the Astro clubhouse was that the Dodgers had more in mind for Garner than just being a utility infielder.
The rumor was that Garner would observe the inner workings of the Dodgers for the remainder of this season, then replace Tom Lasorda as manager in 1988.
OK, so it was slightly outlandish. But then, it might be as plausible as a few of the other rumors floating around about the Dodger front-office situation.
"I was flattered," Garner said, raising his eyebrows for dramatic effect. "You never know what might happen. But I don't see myself as a manager yet."
Many are convinced that some day--though not in Los Angeles--Garner would make a good major league manager. But the 38-year-old infielder, who started at third base Tuesday night in the Dodgers' 3-2 victory over the Astros before 16,415 at Dodger Stadium, said he is not quite ready to end his playing days.
"I want to play one more year," Garner said. "I've made that decision already. Then, we'll see what happens."
On the Dodgers' list of postseason personnel decisions, Garner falls somewhere between the Lasorda/Fred Claire front-office dilemma and the replacement for retiring organist Helen Dell.
Garner, in the final season of a contract paying him $450,000, knows that his play since coming to the Dodgers for minor league pitcher Jeff Edwards has not been impressive. He has hit only .202 with the Dodgers.
Always candid and opinionated, Garner hinted that it might be better for all involved if he wasn't re-signed by the Dodgers.
He flatly said that the Dodgers should swallow hard during the off-season and try to develop their young players instead of going for the quick fix.
"Once the Dodgers find out who's in charge--maybe they already have and aren't saying--then they've got to decide which way to go," Garner said. "My opinion is that they should make an announcement to the fans that they are going to go with their young folks.
"They ought to appeal to the fans and say, 'Be patient, we're going to build our franchise with kids.' Believe me, I'm not kissing management's (backside), because I probably won't be around anyway. I never have thought that you can rebuild a club through free agency. Plus, I think the owners have pulled the plug on that, anyway.
"You can't say, 'We are going to be immediately better.' The fans won't believe that. You don't know if those kids are going to make it. But you've got to keep them out there for more than one or two starts. Go with them the whole year and suffer with them. . . .
"It always happens that dynasties end. I put the Dodgers in with the (Baltimore) Orioles and Cincinnati. They are teams that have a set lineup for a long time and then they have to replace them all at once."
It is not surprising that Garner's real yearning is to become a general manager. He laughs when it is suggested that he already is talking like one. Garner, who has played for four teams in 14 major league seasons, makes no excuses for his poor play this season. He made only 2 errors in 43 games with the Astros, but has 11 in 57 with the Dodgers.
Like many other Dodgers, Garner has been frustrated by the club's 61-83 record. In addition to his sickly statistics, Garner and teammate Mike Marshall had a fistfight two weeks ago.
In an interview with a Houston writer later Tuesday, Garner talked about the difference in attitude between the Dodgers and Astros.
"This is la-la land," Garner told the Houston writer. "It's 'let's make excuses' and not face reality out here. We had guys over there (in the Astro dugout) who would be busting their tails trying to play when they are hurt."
Asked by a Los Angeles writer about his relationship with Marshall after the incident, Garner said it has been cordial.
"I sit by him in the dugout," Garner said. "I talk to him about what pitches he saw, stuff like that. I've never had a personal problem with Mike. It's a professional matter. If it was personal, we wouldn't be able to play together."
Garner doesn't know how much longer he will around the Dodger clubhouse.
"I haven't talked to Fred Claire, but I know if I keep playing this poorly, nobody's going to want me."