Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By Adam Dodge - Angelswin.com Senior Writer

* This article was originally written in 2009 after Garret Anderson and the Angels could not come to terms, ending GA's long and successful career with the Angels. Today, it is still relevant as Garret Anderson who even played a season with the Dodgers as a bench player, never had the type of success elsewhere that he did while with the Angels.

They say that all great things must come to an end. Fortunately, those great things must also have a beginning; and sometimes we’re lucky enough to enjoy them from start to finish.

In 1990, the California Angels used their fourth round draft pick to select a slender 17-year-old outfielder out of Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. Now, 19 years later, the Los Angeles Angels bid farewell to their all-time franchise leader in games played, plate appearances, hits, runs, total bases, extra base hits and runs batted in.

For all intents and purposes, Garret Anderson’s Angels career ended on Oct. 28, 2008, when the organization announced it would not pick up his $14 million option for 2009.

But what a career it was.

It began on July 27, 1994. The Angels played host to the Oakland A’s. The game would prove to be a microcosm of the first half of Anderson’s career, as he laced two base hits into right field while the team, particularly the pitching staff, put on a dismal performance in an 11-3 loss.

Despite the Angels playing great baseball for the majority of 1995, Anderson’s first full season and one which saw him finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to the Twins’ Marty Cordova, the team would suffer one of the worst collapses in the history of the game, finally succumbing to the Seattle Mariners in a one-game playoff for the American League Western Division. While the pain of that season left a permanent scar on the Angels fan base, it also gave it its first look at the smooth and stoic outfielder, who in the next decade and a half would not disappoint on that first impression.

For the next six seasons, from 1996 through 2001, the Angels managed to flirt with success, but would compile a pedestrian 466-505 record. In those six seasons, Anderson achieved something the team could not: consistency. He never once dipped below 600 plate appearances in a season during that span, averaging 185 hits, 20 home runs, 94 RBI and a .293 batting average.

Overshadowed by the likes of Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad, whose talents and remarkable accomplishments of their own grabbed the attention of the media and loyalty of the fans, Anderson would fly under the radar as one of the game’s most under-appreciated players.

But Anderson would eventually find himself on the national stage. In 2002, he played in his first All-Star game before leading the Angels to their first playoff berth in sixteen years and ultimately the franchise’s first World Series. In the deciding game seven, it was Anderson, the team MVP, who would get the big hit, clearing the bases with a ringing double down the right field line in the bottom of the third inning, giving the Angels a 4-1 lead; one they would not relinquish.

In 2003, Anderson finally took center stage as the world of baseball looked on. In his second consecutive All-Star appearance, he would make history. He won the Home Run Derby on a Monday night in Chicago. The very next night, Anderson went 3-for-4 with a double and two-run home run, earning him the All-Star Game MVP award.

After the 2003 season, his fourth consecutive with 28 or more home runs and 116 or more RBI, the Angels rewarded their MVP with a well deserved $48 million extension. It appeared as though the never-injured and ultra-consistent Anderson had firmly cemented his place on the national scene.

Shortly after signing the extension, however, Anderson was diagnosed with arthritis of the upper back, shoulders and neck. The man who had played in at least 150 games in each of the previous nine seasons was limited to just 112 games in 2004. And though he still batted over .300, his power numbers dropped considerably.

Despite a poor ending to the regular season, the man that drove in the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series two years prior, came up huge again for the Angels, driving in the winning run against the A’s on the second to last day of the season, clinching the Angels’ first Western Division Title in 18 years.

The first half of 2005 brought relief to Angel fans, as Anderson appeared to be completely recovered. He made his third All-Star team in four years and was on pace for another 25 home run, 100 RBI season before the injury bug bit again in early August. He only missed 20 games in 2005, but hampered by a bad back and knee, Anderson struggled in the final month of the season and finished with just 17 home runs.

From 2006-2008, Anderson remained a productive bat for the Angels, particularly in the second halves of ’07 and ’08, which saw him put up big numbers and make even more history. On Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007, Anderson took what was remarkably his first curtain call at Angel Stadium after hitting a grand slam in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees, giving him a team record 10 RBI in one game.

Three weeks later, on Sept. 8, Anderson drove in a run for the 12th consecutive game, adding to the team record he had broken the day before.

However, the injury bug, which had eluded him for the first 10 years of his career, refused to disappear. His body would not allow him to live up to the big contract he had undeniably earned.

With the younger, better and more prolific fan favorite Vladimir Guerrero leading the Angels in the seasons following 2003, Anderson’s reign as the marquee Angel really only lasted a season, as prior to 2003 fellow all-time Angels greats Salmon and Erstad garnered much of the fans’ attention.

I doubt Anderson cared. And if he did, he’d not let anyone know it.

It’s 2009 and Spring Training is underway. It’s the first in more than 15 years that Anderson won’t be in Arizona. Instead, he’s spending his first spring in Florida as a member of the Atlanta Braves, who signed the left fielder to a $2.5 million contract earlier this week.

The initial reaction of Braves fans to the signing of Anderson appears to be as indifferent as the reaction of many Angel fans to his departure.

While the great players are celebrated in their time, regardless of how long that greatness lasts, the very good players must often wait to be acknowledged. For most, that acknowledgment comes long after their playing days, when their typically uneventful exits are far removed. So might be the case for Garret Anderson, who in his own way polarized a fan base with his seemingly effortless play and indifferent demeanor.

We’re reminded of the fictional athlete — silver screen football player Rod Tidwell, whose agent Jerry Maguire pleaded with him to “dance.” When Tidwell finally did dance, he was rewarded both financially and with the adulation of the fans.

That Anderson never “danced” illustrates humility and respect that will be sorely missed by one portion of Angels fans, and sadly forgotten by another.

At 632 hits shy of 3000, Anderson holds out hope that he can put together four solid, injury-free seasons and just maybe thrust himself back onto the national stage with quiet whispers of Cooperstown.

The odds, of course, don’t favor him. Instead, it’s likely Anderson will finish short of history, exiting the game in much the same quiet manner in which he played it. Perhaps nothing would be more fitting for a reluctant star.

Enjoy some pictures of Garret Anderson over the years with the Angels.

Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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