The Most Unappreciated Angel Of Them All
Garret Anderson wasn’t the greatest Angel of all time.
Only the least appreciated.
On any list of the greatest Angels in franchise history — and you’ll see plenty of lists this year on their 50th anniversary — Anderson has to rank either fourth or fifth, depending on how his longevity and consistency rate with Vlad Guerrero’s shorter, more spectacular burst of productivity.
The sad part is, the fans, and much of the media, never fully embraced Garret, who officially retired Tuesday after a distinguished big-league career. People would complain he didn’t hustle all the time and writers would grouch about what a tough interview he could be.
But when you look back at his numbers, they were much better than most realize. More than a few are even eyepopping. Take his 2002 season, for example. He hit .306 with 29 home runs, 123 RBIs and 56 doubles. It is no coincidence that was the year the Angels won their only world championship.
In 2003, he went .315-29-116. In 2001, he was .289-28-123. In 2000, the numbers were .286-35-117. Overall, he holds the club records for hits, runs, total bases, extra base hits and RBIs. So you get the idea. This was a special player.
So why wasn’t he more popular? Well, it was all about style and appearance. Anderson didn’t run as much as he loped. He was more laconic and aloof than animated and chatty. While teammates such as Darin Erstad would have crashed through walls to make catches, Anderson was always more conservative and maybe a little cautious at times in the outfield. His idea was that he wanted to be in the lineup every day, and one play was never enough to risk injury that could put him on the DL.
Same in the batter’s box. The swing was as sweet as any in the American League. But it was smooth and silky, not frantic and overly enthusiastic. In clutch situations, though, there was no one on the team more apt to deliver.
Yet people didn’t buy it. Fans were always e-mailing me to complain about him. When I would try to argue otherwise, they didn’t want to hear it. The classic scenario came in the ’02 World Series. Everyone remembers Scott Spiezio’s dramatic home run that led to the big comeback in Game 6. But most forget it was Anderson’s bases-clearing double that was the game-winning, series-deciding blow in Game 7.
I was around Anderson as much as any writer in the area, and I always felt I had a good rapport with him. He was basically introverted and didn’t enjoy talking to the media. He had this little trick of bending down to tie or untie his shoes when you walked over, making him difficult to hear. But if you were patient, he eventually would answer your questions.
Was he my favorite guy in the clubhouse? No. But since when is that a criteria when it comes to writing about ballplayers? It never was with me.
The funny thing is, underneath that understated persona was someone who cared deeply. He cared about the team and, yes, he cared about his image.
I can remember in all the media hype about Barry Bonds heading into that World Series, Anderson kind of stood back and smiled. I approached him to write a column about “the other gifted left fielder in the series,” and he shook his head and said it wasn’t about comparisons.
“The guy is a great player and deserves the attention,” Garret said. “You’ve seen me play since I came up, I don’t think I have to go out of my way to tell people what kind of player I am. I think my performance speaks for me.”
He was right. It did speak for him. It spoke volumes.
He didn’t get enough recognition then, and he won’t now. And that’s too bad.
But understand this about him: Garret Anderson is one of the five greatest players in Angels history.
If you listen to sports talk radio or spend any time in a sports bar in the next few days, there will be plenty of people who will try to tell you otherwise.
Don’t believe them. If the arguing persists, just quietly mention the only thing you need to say. That the numbers are right there in the record book.
And they never lie.
— STEVE BISHEFF