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
Jered Weaver looked at me, and this is what his astonished eyes said: “You’re crazy.”
He was right, of course, but that was beside the point.
It was Saturday afternoon in the Angels’ clubhouse, and a bright, new Kobe Bryant jersey was hanging next to Weaver’s locker. My mind started racing. Weaver loves the Lakers. Like Gary Matthews Jr. and Sean Rodriguez, two other big Lakers fans, Jered actually has listened, with sincere interest, to my tales of the amazing ’80s when I was traveling with Magic, Kareem and Co., the greatest show on Planet Sports.
Strictly spur of the moment, I ran an idea past Weaver, who was pitching what would turn out to be his first career shutout, against the Padres, the next day.
“Jered,” I said, “why don’t you put the jersey on before you go to the mound on Sunday – a show of support for your other team – and have one of the clubbies come running out to take it as you pulled it off and waved it to the crowd? The Lakers are playing after your game, so it would be a nice touch.
“It would make all the highlight shows,” I added, “but more than that, it would be a show of solidarity. I think the fans would love it.”
That’s when he gave me that look that told me I was crazy.
He probably couldn’t have gotten it past manager Mike Scioscia, anyway. Mike is a serious-minded guy who fully adheres to all the principles about respecting the game, and I appreciate that.
But the game also could use some color, some characters in addition to all that character. Some honest emotion, from deepest left field if necessary, wouldn’t hurt from time to time.
I told Weaver, as he stood there in amused disbelief over my suggestion, that it was my idea to have Detroit Tigers sensation Mark Fidrych speak to baseballs and manicure pitching mounds in the mid-1970s.
It was a complete lie, and he called me on it immediately. But I did know “The Bird” and spent one memorable night out with him in Detroit after he’d shut out the Angels.
That was the same night I sat beside Fidrych in the home dugout at old Tiger Stadium and watched about 50,000 people stay in their seats for 15 minutes after the game while “Bird” did a radio interview, a headset wrapped around his curly head of wild hair.
“What’s going on here?” I asked him, pointing to all the people who’d remained in the house after the game, just sitting there.
“Watch,” he said, grinning.
When the radio interview was over, he pulled off the headset jumped up on the dugout steps and waved to the crowd, which rose and cheered for at least a full minute before finally dispersing.
It remains to this day one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed, a stunning show of unbridled love for an athlete who clearly moved to his own beat and did pretty much what he felt like at all times, without regard for how critics would react.
I long for those old days, but they’re gone, gone, gone. So is Fidrych, who died in an accident not long after Nick Adenhart, another pitcher with uncommon talent, left us in this most distressing of baseball seasons.
Bird, I’m sure, would have put on that Kobe jersey, happily, without hesitation.
In fact, it would have been his idea.
It was a less structured, less controlled, less serious world back then.
I miss it terribly.