On a June day in 2003, Paige Bilbrey was on the phone frantically trying to reach her boss, former Los Angeles Dodger great Steve Garvey, at Le Parc Hotel in Paris, where he was attending the French Open tennis tournament.
The matter couldn't wait: Standing in the lobby of Garvey's hilltop mansion outside Park City, Utah, was an employee of the local power company. Pay the overdue bill, the man said, or he'd turn off the lights.
The incident wasn't the result of an embarrassing oversight. It was typical of the financial chaos that has reigned in Garvey's life. For years, Garvey and his wife, Candace, have neglected bills large and small, leaving dozens of people who either worked for them or sold them merchandise wondering if they were ever going to get paid.
The Garveys drove luxury cars, shopped in upscale boutiques and traveled extensively even as they were pursued by creditors. Garvey's gardener took him to small claims court to recover $1,773. A mirror installer did the same over $809. A caterer received a court order to seize valuable artwork from the Garveys until they paid her $14,000 bill.
Garvey owes attorneys more than $300,000, according to court records.
Many a former athlete has fallen on hard times, but Garvey -- known during his Dodger days as "Mr. Clean" -- is different. As his own financial troubles deepened, he continued to cast himself as a principled and accomplished businessman, charging up to $10,000 to give motivational speeches.
"To only focus on Steve Garvey's baseball accomplishments would leave out a lifetime of achievements as a businessman, philanthropist, volunteer and most importantly a devoted family man," reads the website www.stevegarvey.com, billed as his official site. "Garvey understands that in the ever-changing world we live in there is a great necessity of being a man of honor, integrity and quality."
But records show that the Garveys have made a habit of dodging payments on almost every type of expense. Phone, gas and electric bills have been delinquent. Checks to the local supermarket have bounced.
Fed up with not getting paid, the Garveys' pediatrician wrote a letter in March 2003 stating that any future medical services provided to their children would be on a "cash-only" basis.
Even the Garveys' church had to wait nearly a year to receive the $2,700 it was owed for items the couple had agreed to buy at a charity auction, according to documents and interviews.
And, in violation of a court ruling, Garvey unilaterally decided to cut in half the amount of child support he was ordered to pay for a son he had out of wedlock. Just last year a judge threatened to jail Garvey if he failed to make payments in the future.
Until two years ago, Garvey and his wife lived in a $5-million mansion overlooking Utah's world-renowned ski resorts. Yet despite the appearance of wealth, Garvey -- under penalty of perjury -- has repeatedly said in court declarations that he is deeply in debt.
In a two-hour interview with The Times, Garvey acknowledged having chronic financial problems but declined to publicly address specific information contained in this article. Speaking generally, he blamed his debt on a combination of tax liabilities, financial support for most of his nine children and stepchildren and costly legal battles over business and personal affairs.
"Do I expect to pay every debt? Do I want to? Absolutely," said Garvey, now living in Southern California. "The day I'm able to be debt-free is the day I'm going to be the happiest guy around."
Later, in a prepared statement, Garvey added that he was saddened by "the misuse of the L.A. Times by outside sources who clearly are intent on defaming myself and my family. I could positively address each issue but that would only validate this vicious abuse of a private family."
People owed money by Garvey see themselves, not Garvey, as the victims. Attorneys who have sued him, for instance, believe he has more money than he is letting on and allege that he has hidden assets.
Quipped one attorney trying to collect on a $235,000 debt owed by Garvey:
"Once a Dodger, always a dodger."
More than 20 years after his last at-bat as a Dodger, Garvey's legacy in Los Angeles endures. The Dodgers keep Garvey on the payroll to make public appearances on the club's behalf. He was at Dodger Stadium for opening day last week, and fans who attend the team's July 28 game against the Washington Nationals will receive a Steve Garvey bobble-head doll.
Garvey was a 10-time All-Star and four-time winner of a Gold Glove, given for defensive skill. He was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1974 and playoff MVP in 1974, 1977 and 1984. He appeared in five World Series.
After 14 years with the Dodgers, Garvey signed with the San Diego Padres for the 1983 season. He retired five years later. At the time, his image as a strait-laced family man was tarnished by revelations that he had fathered two children out of wedlock. But the scandal was short-lived.