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
MINNEAPOLIS – Angels fans are bailing left and right. I hear it every day in emails. They can’t take it anymore. They can’t watch. They can’t even listen to the games. It’s too frustrating, too distressing.
This is what happens when a team goes from really good to so-so virtually overnight. You want to know, you demand to know, if this is a temporary blip or a preview of dark times ahead, a return to the dead-ball era in Anaheim.
I’m no prophet, but I’ll take the blip route until I see or feel something that leads me to believe the organization is in the freefall imagined by so many doomsayers.
What makes this season so difficult – no, impossible – to accurate gauge is the loss of Kendry Morales. This man was the centerpiece of the offense, fifth in the American League MVP balloting last season. His loss has had an impact on the entire lineup, to say nothing of the attitude in the clubhouse.
The Angels had three players they couldn’t afford to lose – Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Morales – and they lost one of them. They simply haven’t been the same with seven different bodies trying to fill the Morales void at first.
Would Morales’ presence – he had developed into a quality defender at first — have been enough to make up the difference between the Rangers and the Angels? Hard to say. But I think it’s fair to say they’d be much closer than they are to Texas – maybe three, four games off the lead. And well within striking distance.
The Angels players and staff know this, but they can’t talk about it. It would sound defeatist, and that’s the last thing you want with so much season left on the schedule. But it’s the truth, and sometimes the truth needs to be expressed.
As for the future, if I’m an Angels fan – my job description doesn’t allow for that – I’d be excited. Peter Bourjos is on his way to being one of the game’s most exciting players, and Mike Trout is coming right behind Bourjos: incredibly swift, developing power with the confident bearing of a young Pete Rose at age 19.
Bourjos has pretty much owned Target Field today with speed, power, arm, instincts. On his first Major League homer, a laser into the left-field seats against Kevin Slowey, Bourjos was at first base when the line drive hit the seats. That was amazing to see. On his triple to right center? Simply flying.
All those fans — you know who you are — who were ready to quit on Bourjos after 20 at-bats, as they did Brandon Wood, don’t understand that nobody conquers this game instantly. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, arguably the two greatest athletes to play the game, wanted to go home after failing in their first months in the bigs.
Bourjos and Trout in the outfield someday with Torii Hunter as the veteran anchor is a vision thrilling to ponder.
Eddie Bane and his scouting staff have had two consecutive intriguing drafts. If the kids from the 2010 Draft group – headed by position players Kaleb Cowart, Chevez Clarke, Taylor Lindsey and Ryan Bolden and pitcher Cam Bedrosian – show as well as the ’09 crop, the Angels are in the process of restocking their system with premium talent.
It’s easy to get depressed and negative, turn off the lights. But if you leave them on and give it a chance, you just might have some fun at the party. – Lyle Spencer
LOS ANGELES – It’s always like coming home when I cover a game at Dodger Stadium. I worked here for years, for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and Los Angeles Herald Examiner, newspapers no longer with us, and the memories are rich.
Stepping into the visitors’ clubhouse on Friday, I told a group of Angels about the time I tried to ask Cardinals legend Bob Gibson – in a corner of the clubhouse occupied at the moment by Joe Saunders – about his hometown of Omaha, Neb., which happened to be my own. I was doing something about a connection with Gale Sayers, who also called Omaha home, how two of the premier athletes ever hailed from the same place.
Gibson, not in a mood to chat, told me in no uncertain terms to take a hike. He wasn’t interested in discussing Omaha with me, now or ever. I also interviewed the late, great Roberto Clemente in this room, in the company of the late, great Jim Murray, who asked most of the questions. I remember Clemente talking about how terrible he felt, how his back was killing him and he didn’t know if he could even play that night.
He lashed three line drives, as I recall, and made one of his magnificent throws from right field. Clemente was the second most exciting player I’ve ever seen behind the one and only Willie Mays.
Near the press box, manned for years by a wonderful fellow named James Mims, I ran into an old buddy, Bobby Castillo. A right-hander pitcher for the Dodgers from East L.A., Castillo is the guy who taught Fernando Valenzuela the screwball.
Castillo, eyes alive as always, and I had a few laughs before Fernando, an announcer now with the princely Jaime Jarrin, showed up as if on cue. He was the same impish, smiling guy I met in 1980 and tried, without much success, to teach English in Dodgertown the following spring. Little did we know he was about to emerge as a national sensation.
My boyhood hero, the great Tommy Davis, walked by wearing No. 12, on his way to meet a group of fans. I shared a few words with Tommy D., who I covered briefly in his later years as a DH. Before breaking his ankle in a horrific slide – I was in the stands that night, high up in the left-field corner – Tommy D. was a Hall of Fame talent, I firmly believe. He was a great hitter and player, and he remains a gentleman of the highest order. He misses his old buddy Willie Davis, a dazzling presence who passed away much too soon.
Another familiar form arrived in Kenny Landreaux, another center fielder of superior quality for the Dodgers and other clubs. We reminisced, K.T. catching me up with some of the guys from those teams he enriched with his bat, glove and humor. Steve Brener, the Dodgers’ PR man from those days, surfaced, and in his company, of course, was Tommy Lasorda, the inimitable leader of teams I covered in the ’70s and early ’80s.
On Saturday night, Lou Johnson Al Downing — distinguished Dodgers of the ’60s and ’70s, respectively – strolled through the dining room, where Vin Scully was engaged in conversation.
There is no place like Dodger Stadium — the history it has preserved, its unsurpassed setting, the perfection of it all. I was here when it opened. I saw Sandy Koufax face Mays when giants ruled the game. I saw championships won and lost. Ownerships, managers and players come and go, but some things never change. This magnificent ballpark, thankfully, is one of those things. – Lyle Spencer
Before tonight’s game at Safeco Field, Torii Hunter and I were talking about Ken Griffey Jr., his greatness and unique style.
“When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything he did,” Hunter said. “I loved his swing so much I even tried to copy it — left-handed. He’s got to be one of the greatest players ever, and one of the most exciting.”
I started watching the game before Torii was born. I told him I had Junior in my all-time top five for pure entertainment value.
Here they go:
1. Willie Mays
2. Roberto Clemente
3. Mickey Mantle
4. Nolan Ryan
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
Four outfielders and the fastest gun in history.
It’s hard to leave out Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis . . . and on and on. But those are my fab five.
Junior had it all, and he loved every minute he was on the field. A player for the ages, and the best of his time. Barry Bonds might have been a better hitter, but he wasn’t the total player Griffey was in their primes. — Lyle Spencer