Next year, some say, Steve Garvey will wear New York Yankee pin stripes. If not pin stripes, some say he will wear the uniform of another owner willing to pay the price for Popeye forearms and bull's-eye consistency.
These are the key numbers for Garvey, a Los Angeles Dodger his entire major league career: 33 years old, 1,107 consecutive games played by this season's end and a career batting average just over .300.
But free agency now makes its approach. Garvey, the Dodgers' first baseman, is in the final weeks of a six-year, $2 million contract. He does not have a contract for next year. He says he has five productive years left and that he seeks that Rozellian term: parity.
"Parity, for me, is the top 5 percent of the pay bracket," Garvey said, as he gently cracked together two Louisville Sluggers while sitting in the visitors' locker room at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium recently.
Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, who undoubtedly will meet Fernando Valenzuela in arbitration this winter, made an offer to Garvey July 29. Garvey's agent, Jerry Kapstein, made a counteroffer in mid-August.
Since then, the contract talks have gone nowhere.
O'Malley is a man whose words are both few and powerful. He says only that the Garvey contract talks continue and, "We will consider many things."
Many people don't think the Dodgers will agree with Garvey's definition of parity. O'Malley is both sensible and austere. Dusty Baker is the Dodgers' highest-paid player and he is in the third year of a five-year, $800,000-per-year contract.
The Garvey situation thereby remains as tense as the pennant race.
Meanwhile, Mike Marshall and Greg Brock have had glowing adjectives affixed to their futures. The most significant reads, "Dodgers first baseman, 1983."
Marshall, 22, is a natural first baseman who has batted .250 with five home runs in 90 at bats this year. When he has played, it has been mostly in the outfield.
"This is like the Steve Sax-Dave Lopes situation at second base last year. I think it would be a waste for me not to start next year at some position," Marshall said.
Brock, 25, was promoted Sept. 1 from a 44-homer, 139-RBI season at Triple-A Albuquerque. He said, "I just hope I'm here next year."
Garvey said, "They are two good, young players. But my career stands on its own. I guess if Pete Rose is allowed to leave Cincinnati, then anything is possible now."
He added, "We are entertainers, but we are more of a business. You have to take advantage of your success. I've been with the Dodgers 27 years, since I was a 7-year-old bat boy. I'd take less money to stay with the Dodgers. My main objective is to finish my career as a Dodger."
This has been a strange season for Garvey. He did not hit a home run in April, lost his cleanup spot and watched his batting average freeze in the .240s. "Sometimes, a guy can try too hard," said Manager Tom Lasorda. "Because this is his option year, I think he wanted it to be his best year."
Now, Garvey seems to be returning to the form that made him an all-star seven times and a 200-hits-per-year man six times. In these days when September winds make pennant flags stiffen, his statistics are again starting to have that Popeye bulge.
His average is .278, he has boosted his RBI total since July 25 from 38 to 82. He has 16 home runs and he still rescues the slingshot throws in the dirt by shortstop Bill Russell.
Asked if this was a contract drive, Garvey said, "That is not relevant . . . I have no excuses for the way I was playing before."
Coach Danny Ozark amended this, saying, "His consistency has never been day-to-day or month-to-month. It has always been year-to-year."
Garvey has not missed a game since September 1975. At season's end, he would be 10 games short of Billy Williams' National League record of 1,117 straight games. "That record is in God's hands," said Garvey, aware that he might not only be with another team next year, but also in another league.
Some players and coaches felt that a day off would have been the proper elixir for Garvey earlier this year. He made token appearances (one at-bat or none) seven times during a two-week span because of a pulled hamstring. Lasorda said he played Garvey in these games only to keep the streak going.
"There were times he should not have played," said Ozark, a former Philadelphia manager.
Garvey disagreed, saying, "Look at my career since the streak started and I think I've been as consistent as anyone. It is physically much more draining not to play and to have to watch."
So this situation remains tense. Brock, Marshall or Steve Garvey?
"We have an election for president every four years, don't we?" asked Ozark. "Steve is getting older. It's inevitable someone will take his place sooner or later."
There also is the sentimental view of the Garvey whose clubhouse fight with former Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton several years ago and whose filing for divorce last year have kept his name on the front pages as much as on the sports pages in southern California.
"If people come to Dodger Stadium next year and don't see Steve Garvey," said Sax, the Dodgers' rookie second baseman, "it will be like going to the beach and not seeing any sand."