Baseball Eternity

It could be argued that baseball is no longer our nation’s pastime. It could be argued that our nation has become so fractured, that it no longer has a pastime to call its own. Football may have become the nation’s sport of preference, but the gridiron has never come close to capturing the spirit of Americana in the manner of baseball. The sport is, as all of our major sports are, a sport for the young. But in baseball, youth is preserved. In baseball, where the glorious diversity of the sport is uncovered by helmets and body armor, our favorite players earn a kind of immortality.

It is through that lens that I read the bittersweet news of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ release of Garret Anderson. Anderson, you see, is one month older than I. He is a Los Angeles native; I grew up 240 miles up the road in Las Vegas. I have watched his career since we were both, in the parlance of baseball, kids.He came up to the show in 1994 with the California Angels when they were owned by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. He remained with the franchise when they were called the Anaheim Angels and owned by the Walt Disney Company. His career with the team continued long enough to carry him to the Los Angeles Angels and the first Hispanic owner in baseball, Arte Moreno. Many players play for three different teams in 15 years, the classy Anderson managed the feet without moving off of the left field grass on Katella Avenue in Anaheim.

As a Dodger fan, the Angels are something of an annoyance to me. But their late success contained some measure of satisfaction. Dodger fans will always appreciate a team that denies the hated Giants a title, Dodger fans will always claim favorite son Mike Sciosia, and many like myself harbored a desire, for years, to get Garret Anderson onto the real L.A. baseball team. Anderson’s great success in leading the Angels to a World Series title was not unnoticed by fans wearing Dodger Blue. A complete player, Anderson had the grace and professionalism that the squad from Chavez Ravine sorely needed. His left-handed bat would have been nice as well. For so many winters I imagined scenarios that would bring Anderson north on I-5, for so many springs I was disappointed.

But not this spring. After 15 years with the Angels, Anderson was finally forced to continue his career in another city. Last year, the classy outfielder plied his trade for the classy Atlanta Braves; his numbers were pedestrian, but he could still play. This year, the opportunities were limited. After so many years of waiting, Garret Anderson finally became a Dodger when the team picked him up to add a left-handed bat off the bench. This was a typical signing for Dodger’s GM Ned Colletti. He tends to sign veterans with a reputation for professionalism and a playoff pedigree. This was not a typical move for a player with borderline Hall of Fame statistics. For Anderson, the signing meant a part time role, a very different scenario for a man with nearly 300 home runs and a nearly .300 batting average.

But Garret Anderson did not disappoint. Oh his bat wasn’t very potent; at 38 the adjustment to the very difficult job of pinch-hitting proved to be too much. But Anderson was everything that Dodger fans appreciate. We get a bad wrap for showing up late to games, but we appreciate quiet professionalism, showing up every day, and when good things happen,  acting like you have been there before. Anderson had some big hits for us, and he took them in stride, just as he did the bad at-bats. Only one time in this most frustrating of seasons did Dodger fans see a sign of temper, and that was after some particularly shoddy work and bad behavior by an umpire whose name does not deserve mention.

On Saturday August 7, the Dodgers made the decision to let Anderson go. They would bring up former big leaguer Jay Gibbons and give him a chance to fill Garret’s role. Jay knows he can’t fill Garret’s shoes. When Joe Torre delivered the news Sunday morning, Anderson’s reaction was typical Anderson:

“We just kept putting it off, putting it off, putting it off and we decided it was time to try it,” Torre said. “I got here like 8:30 this morning, because I wanted to beat everybody here, get my workout in. I saw Garret in there, he was eating breakfast. I didn’t want to bother him at that point, I just found a spot in the lunch room where he was the only one in there and I just went in and sat with him. It didn’t take very long. Just came right out and told him that we were going to do something different and he’s going to be designated. He said ‘OK, thank you.'”

And so, maybe, ends a career. It has been said many times by the false prophets of the sports world that great athletes ruin their “legacies” because they never know when to quit. Much has been talked about the halting ends to the careers of Willie Mays and others; but I think those stories are typically overheated hyperbole, designed by 24 hour sports networks to sell bad programming. When good players retire, they pass into baseball eternity. They are forever remembered by the fans for a collection of moments enshrined in memory, not a collection of bad at-bats at the end of a career. Many who are better writers have described this phenomenon, but suffice it to say that baseball players, in their eternity, are always the best versions of themselves.

For all those years that I hoped my Dodgers would get their hands on Garret Anderson, I envisioned him patrolling left field on an every day basis. I thought about .300 seasons and the steady run production of a guy who has always looked like he has been around awhile. I thought about that sweet left-handed stroke, the kind of swing that makes everyone who sees want to swing left-handed. I thought that maybe, just maybe, both of us would still be kids. Alas for those of us who did not play and so, grow old. We didn’t get Anderson in time for him to be a starter. He didn’t have the success I know he wanted and worked for as a pinch hitter. But this is baseball, this is eternity, and in the end, we got the best version of Garret Anderson. Thanks Garret!

Garret Anderson’s career line: 2,228 games 8,640 at-bats 2,529 hits 287 home runs 1,365 RBIs .295 batting average

The Rational Middle is listening…