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