Garret Anderson’s retirement has inspired some moving, perceptive tributes from folks on this site, and that is very nice to see.
Too often, it seemed the public paid not nearly enough attention to what this remarkable yet undervalued athlete was doing.
When I came to cover the Angels for MLB.com in 2007, one of the items at the top of my priority list was to get to know the superb left fielder who’d spent most of his career in the shadows, for reasons that escaped me entirely.
It was the first road trip of the season, and we were rerouted to Milwaukee by a snowstorm that had buried Cleveland. I asked if he could set aside some time before a game there for a talk, and he said, “Sure. Get here a little early tomorrow and we’ll get to know each other.”
I arrived on time, for a change, and settled into an unoccupied locker next to his. He sat down, leaned back and we talked . . . and talked . . . and talked.
About an hour later, I walked away thinking this was one of the brightest, most intuitive, most interesting athletes I’d met in a long time.
And I had no idea, still, why he’d remained such a mystery man to the public all those years.
As the days and weeks past, I came to develop an appreciation of Anderson and an understanding of his low profile in spite of all his career accomplishments. It was his choice. He had no interest in being a public figure.
What he cared about was being a solid professional and a good dad and husband. Everything else was secondary.
If it wasn’t important to him to have people know him, applaud him, understand him, there was nothing wrong in that. Unfortunately, there was an assumption that he didn’t care enough, because he didn’t play the game like Pete Rose.
This is not uncommon among graceful, smooth, relaxed athletes. It was one of the reasons why Hank Aaron never gained the acclaim of Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Aaron was too cool, too relaxed. He made it look too easy.
A great player in his prime and a very good one the rest of the time, Garret Anderson was like that.
So was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an athlete I’d spent time with years ago.
There was an inner calm and confidence in the Garret Anderson I came to know, and it was that Garret Anderson who gracefully, in his fashion, announced his retirement on Tuesday.
I spent many hours in his company in clubhouses across America over two seasons, killing time, telling stories. Most of our conversations drifted toward the NBA, a shared passion. He was a superb all-around athlete, recruited by Division I schools to play basketball out of Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, but he chose baseball and the Angels. Smart guy, Garret.
He loved to hear tales about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80s, a team I traveled with and wrote about for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He couldn’t hear enough about Magic and Kareem, Big Game James and McAdoo, Coop and Nixon and Byron and the rest.
It occurred to me during our conversations how similar Garret was to Kareem: bright and inquisitive yet introverted. Intimidating to some, because he seemed inaccessible, Anderson never was interested in self-promotion yet always was interested in subjects beyond the scope of his professional life.
He was, and is, a healthy, happy person, a man who laughs easily and often, in private, and loves his family. Now they have him full time, and that’s clearly the way he wants it. – Lyle Spencer
If you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em. Or deal for ’em.
That seems to be the shared philosophies of the Mariners and Rangers, who have been busy importing former Angels as they try to overtake the three-time American League West champions.
Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman have moved to Seattle, giving the Mariners superior defense, quality offense and a whole lot of desire.
Texas, meanwhile, has upgraded its bullpen with Darren Oliver joining Darren O’Day and given the offense another lethal weapon with Vladimir Guerrero bringing his bat to an Arlington playground he has made look very small in his six AL seasons.
All that’s left is for the Mariners, Rangers or A’s to sign free agent Garret Anderson, who’d look especially good in Seattle with best buddies Figgy and Kotchman.
The Mariners and Rangers certainly have improved with these moves. Seattle also added a second ace to its rotation, with Cliff Lee joining Felix Hernandez for what could be the best 1-2 punch in the division. Texas also brought in a potential ace in Rich Harden, but it surrendered one when it sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore. It remains to be seen how beneficial that will be, hinging almost entirely on Harden’s ability to get through a season intact.
The Angels are looking primarily within to replace the departed, having thus far limited their acquisitions to DH/left fielder Hideki Matsui and reliever Fernando Rodney. It says a great deal about the depth of organizational talent that they can do this and remain confident that they’re still the team to beat in the division.
Their deal for Scott Kazmir at the Aug. 28 deadline enabled the Angels to let John Lackey go to Boston for a king’s ransom. They wanted the big Texan back, but not for five years and $82.5 million.
A fifth starter to complement Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana remains a priority, and it’s likely the Angels will get their man – if not now, sometime this spring. There are at least al dozen legitimate candidates out there, a market glut that could bring prices down to a reasonable level.
Of the AL West clubs, Seattle has made the most dramatic moves, obviously. If they’re going to claim the division, they’ll do it in a style reminiscent of the ’60s Dodgers: dominant starting pitching, defense and speed. They don’t have anything close to the power of the Angels or Rangers, but their defense should be the best in the game.
It is remarkable, in a sense, that the Angels’ biggest advantage over the vastly underrated division is their offense.
For years, fans have fired off emails by the hundreds expressing disenchantment with a lack of clout. But this is an offense that should roll up big numbers again with Matsui driving the ball in the middle of the order and Brandon Wood, if he fulfills his potential, bringing another loud bat to the mix at third base.
Their overall balance and depth make the Angels the team to beat again. You’ll hear differently from insiders who want to be able to boast in October that they told you it would be Seattle’s year, or Texas’ year. They conveniently forget those predictions when the Angels prevail.
Recent history shows rather conclusively you’ll save face — and money – if you resist betting against Mike Scioscia and Co.
Before moving on to the Winter Meetings and long days filled with hot air inside the Indiana Convention Center, I’d like to offer a few words with respect to Chone Figgins, who is about to enrich the Seattle Mariners in so many ways.
First and foremost, I’ll miss our daily conversations about the game, especially in a historical context. Chone wanted to hear everything I had to offer about players from earlier eras, such as the acrobatic idol of his youth, Ozzie Smith. As someone who loves an attentive audience, I was always deeply appreciative of Figgins’ company.
Figgins is baseball’s version of a gym rat. Nobody works harder at improving himself. I actually would get on him now and then for pushing himself too hard, for taking too much batting practice. He’d grin and say, “That’s who I am. I love this.”
He keeps finding new ways to get better, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to add subtle new elements to his brilliant game. Watching Figgy and Ichiro together should be a real treat for those who love the inner game. Mariners fans should be pumped; there will not be a more exciting tandem in the game.
Figgins never can absorb enough information about the game. When he’s not working on improving himself, he’s watching the MLB Network or talking about the game with teammates, friends and family members. His mother knows what she’s talking about, and it shows in the bloodlines. Chone’s brother, Demetrius, has served as a respected scout for the Angels.
When Garret Anderson departed via free agency after the 2008 season on the heels of the departure of the third member of their inner circle, Casey Kotchman, I figured Figgins would be in the dumps. I was surprised to see how upbeat he was from the moment he arrived at camp in Arizona last spring. Before long, he’d developed a bond with Bobby Abreu, and the two clicked as if they’d been teammates for years.
This did nothing to diminish Figgins’ appreciation for Anderson, who’d meant so much to him. Chone still talked about GA all the time. But he didn’t let it cloud his impressions of the man who’d essentially arrived to replace his good buddy. Abreu had a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge, and Figgy soaked it in, raising his on-base percentage from a career .356 to .395 with a career year at 31. Through it all, Figgins praised Abreu for his daily influence.
How good a teammate is Figgins? He’d have agreed without complaint to move to the outfield if he’d been asked to do so to accommodate Brandon Wood at third — even though he’d made himself into a Gold Glove-level third baseman.
Wood — Woody in the clubhouse — now gets his shot, finally, to deliver on all that promise. He’ll tackle the challenge with relish – while remembering Figgins fondly.
“Sure, I want to play every day,” Wood said late in the season. “But look who’s ahead of me – Figgy at third and [Erick] Aybar at short? How can I expect to play ahead of those two guys? They’re great players.”
If the season started tomorrow, I’d expect to see Wood at third, with Maicer Izturis in reserve, backing up at all three positions he plays with the skill and poise of an everyday performer. Izturis can be a free agent after the coming season, and he’ll have the opportunity to go get an everyday job somewhere if he chooses that route. Baseball people know how good he is.
As painful as it is for fans to watch Figgins go, the Angels leave sentiment aside in their judgments. They calculated that they’ll be fine with a new look at third, and there is an undeniable element of excitement for fans in seeing what Wood can do with an everyday job.
He might not erupt as Kendry Morales did in ’09 when he finally got his chance, but Wood is capable of hitting 25-30 homers, driving in 80-100 runs (depending on where he hits in the order) and batting .275. Those who know him best – his Minor League teammates — fully expect him to flourish if he’s allowed to relax and unleash all that natural talent.
Like Anderson, Wood, I think, has been misinterpreted by some people as too cool, owing to his relaxed, easy manner. Believe me, having spent hours with the guy, I can assure you Wood burns to be successful, just as Garret has throughout his career. Hey, people used to think Henry Aaron was a cruiser, because of his laid-back style. He turned out all right.
Day one of the First-Year Player Draft, from a casual fan’s point of view, couldn’t have gone much better for the Angels.
In the first round, they landed a couple of high school kids who can mash. Randal Grichuk, from deep in the heart of Texas, and Mike Trout, a Jersey kid, could be the Tim Salmon (that would be Trout, naturally) and Garret Anderson of the next generation.
In conference calls, these fresh-faced youngsters sounded optimistic and upbeat and thrilled on one of the biggest days of their lives. Ah, to be a teen with a whole world of possibilities.
Nobody knows where their destinies will take them. That’s the thing about the MLB Draft — it takes years to get the final word. But it certainly will be a lot of fun following the paths of these kids.
Trout is a center fielder and an athlete, a basketball and football player. Grichuk — pronounced Gri-chick — is a born hitter. Here’s to good health and long, productive careers for both.
As a proud Santa Monica High School alum, I was thrilled with the Angels’ first compensation pick, southpaw Tyler Skaggs. A fellow Viking, he’s tall and gifted and I will chart his progress closely.
After right-hander Garrett Richards from Oklahoma — he’ll be buddies with Reggie Willits in no time — the Angels went on a run of southpaws, loading up in an area of need. Of course, I have to be a little partial to third-round pick Joshua Spence, an native of the wonderful land of Australia. You never can have too many Spences on the scene.
Eddie Bane, the Angels’ scouting director, is immensely respected in the game for his ability to not only identify talent but to believe in the judgments of his area scouts.
Nobody can look into the future, but something tells me this someday will be remembered as one of the greatest drafts in franchise history. If I’m wrong, you’ll have to look me up in four or five years to find me and tell me how dead wrong I was..
He has spent his entire professional life with the Angels, but Garret Anderson is ready for a change — and Atlanta looks like a very nice fit for the left fielder with the smooth style and textbook stroke.
Anderson provides quiet leadership and a soothing presence, and Casey Kotchman especially will reap benefits if the deal with the Braves goes down, as expected. Kotch and GA are extremely close. Any difficulties Casey might have had last season making the transition to a new league after the trade for Mark Teixeira in late July will be eased by Anderson’s calm manner and words of wisdom.
The Braves are essentially a young club now, with the exception of Chipper Jones. The Braves have another Anderson, center fielder Josh, who also figures to benefit from Garret’s experience. Just as the Angels did with Bobby Abreu, the Braves will be getting a bargain. Anderson will hit anywhere, in any conditions, and he’s still a quality outfielder.
If manager Mike Scioscia needed any ammo to fire up his troops, it was grooved like a Doc Gooden fastball at the belt by stat maven Nate Silver in his PECOTA ratings for Baseball Prospectus.
Silver, it turns out, doesn’t think much of the Halos — specifically, what he sees as an aging offense creating more headaches for Angels pitchers than rival managers. PECOTA has the Angels finishing 16 games off their MLB-best 2008 pace with a mere 84 wins, barely managing to prevail in what it envisions as a weak AL West.
I can understand some anticipated slippage with Mark Teixeira and Garret Anderson departing; those are two high-quality offensive players. But Bobby Abreu has been a fairly consistent 100/100 man (runs. RBIs), and he should fit nicely between Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero in Scioscia’s projected top third. Of course, a big spring by Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis could convince Scioscia to plant Abreu in the No. 3 hole, with Guerrero fourth and Torii Hunter fifth.
The rest of the lineup is deep and potentially much more explosive than PECOTA imagines. Mike Napoli has the tools to go 30/100 with enough at-bats, joining Guerrero on a surgically-repaired knee, and Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera all are capable of exceeding 20 homers with 80 to 100 RBIs. If Hunter bats fourth, behind Vlad, he could surpass his career high of 107 RBIs from 2007.
Call me an incurable optimist, but this shapes up as a pretty fair attack — and it has a nice blend of youth and experience, top to bottom.
It was last year at this time that a lot of snipers were relegating the Angels to second place in the AL West behind Seattle, with its new ace, Erik Bedard. Scioscia, I’m sure, got some clubhouse mileage out of that. I’m sure PECOTA and its views might surface in one of his pre-game chats with the players before too long.
The end, thankfully, is near to a long, sometimes difficult winter. As troubling as it is to so many fans, figuring out how this team can be as good as it’s been, or better, without Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, Jon Garland, Darren O’Day, Chris Bootcheck and, it appears, the great Garret Anderson. I’ve experienced enough springs with enough teams to realize that there are always new stories and new favorites on the horizon.
I somehow befriended Mark Fidrych when “The Bird” took baseball by storm in the Motor City, a story you find only in baseball. I was covering the Dodgers when Fernando Valenzuela came out of nowhere to energize a city and region, right on through an improbable World Series title in 1981. I was a columnist when Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant arrived in L.A. as confident teens, ready to claim their turf and write some history.
Personally, that’s always been the essence and joy of baseball, and sports in general — watching new athletes emerge, form their identities, take teams to unimagined heights. I’ve been incredibly lucky to cover a wide range of champions, from the John Wooden Bruins through Muhammad Ali through those Dodgers teams of the ’70s and early ’80s, the Lakers of the ’80s and early 2000s, and the 1986 Mets, the wildest bunch of them all. One thing they’ve all shared in common is a commitment to make every day count, to prove it all night.
In the words of my muse, Bruce Springsteen, everybody’s got a hungry heart. I am looking forward to seeing what’s in store when the Angels get together in Tempe on Friday and go through the early paces. I’ll be as curious as anybody to see how Kendry Morales responds to his opportunity, how Brian Fuentes fits in, how Dustin Moseley meets the challenge, if Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez and Nick Adenhart can begin to full their tremendous potential.
I know a lot of fans are upset that the club didn’t do more this off-season, but this roster is loaded with talent. I remember how it was last year at this time, critics routinely picking the Mariners to roll to the AL West title behind their new ace, Eric Bedard. I seem to recall the Angels doing OK with what they had, adding the superlative Torii Hunter to the mix. I would have welcomed Jake Peavy or Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn this winter, and I would love to see Anderson in his familiar role as Mr. Consistency. But times inevitably change, and so do rosters.
I really mean it when I try to reassure fans that this team should be good enough to claim a fifth AL West title in six years, that perhaps 25 Major League owners, possibly more, would swap 40-man rosters with Arte Moreno in a heartbeat. I know I’m accused of being a homer when I write that — I do read the thrashings I get from fans — but I’m being honest here.
I realize I’m repeating myself now, a function of age, of course. But I like this team a lot, and I think you will too, if you give it a fair shot.
I look forward to hearing from all of you in this new forum. MLB.Com has moved away from the popular mailbag format to the blogosphere, for better or verse. Let’s have at it, and have some fun. That is, after all, the whole point of these fun and games. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but finding out is always a new experience.