There are those professional athletes that wear a championship ring wherever they go, long after their careers have ended. And then there is Garret Anderson, who thought he ought to wear his championship ring for his induction into the Angels’ hall of fame but had to find it first.
“I had to actually knock the dust off it,” Anderson said. “It’s been sitting in a drawer.”
The Angels staged a lovely ceremony for Anderson on Saturday. They mowed “GA” into the grass in left field, invited an impressive collection of former teammates and franchise heroes, and played an Anderson highlight reel that ended with the only World Series-winning hit in club history.
In the video, the fans went crazy, banging the thunder sticks that were the soundtrack to the 2002 World Series. In person, the video elicited surprisingly little response from the sellout crowd, perhaps because the reminders of a glorious past are a stark contrast to the painful present.
On Saturday, the Angels played the New York Yankees, the giants they slayed in the first round of the 2002 playoffs. These are different times and different teams, with the fourth-place Yankees and the fifth-place Angels entering play Saturday a combined 28 games out of first place. The Yankees, who traded away their two best pitchers last month, started a kid wearing No. 85 on his back.
Albert Pujols hit the 583rd home run of his career, tying Mark McGwire for 10th on the all-time list. That was the lone highlight for the Angels in a 5-1 loss.
So, really, it was a perfect night to look back, and to appreciate that Anderson finally let his guard down. He was a metronome of excellence – hit after hit, rarely diving in the outfield so as not to risk an injury that would remove him from the lineup for weeks, well aware that his value was at bat, well-spoken but not particularly interested in explaining himself to fans or media.
“I wouldn’t have changed the style of play that I had,” he said in a press conference. “It wouldn’t have been true to who I am. What I learned over the last two or three years is to be a little more accessible.”
He said he was an introvert, trained by veterans that young players should be seen and not heard.
“I took that probably way over to the other end, but I didn’t err on the other side of saying a lot of stupid things, either,” he said.
Public speaking does not come easily to Anderson. He is taking classes at Irvine Valley College – he said he hopes to get a business degree from Chapman or Concordia – and asked a writing instructor to look over the remarks he prepared for Saturday’s ceremony.
He was terrific. He talked about “emotions that men do not like to admit that we have.” He spoke about being raised as an only child, born to a 17-year-old father and 15-year-old mother who did not stay together.
“I was a statistic waiting to happen,” he said.
He saluted his wife, Teresa, for keeping a household with three children running smoothly during his 17-year career, and he admitted he did not realize how demanding that task was until he retired and saw so up close every day.
“I found out it’s easier to face Pedro Martinez,” he said.
Anderson credited Manager Mike Scioscia for instilling a championship culture into the Angels organization, and a belief that winning was an expectation, not just a hope. Even though fans sometimes despise Scioscia’s “contact play” – run from third base on a ground ball, even if you get thrown out at home – he said Cal Ripken once told him it was “the most exciting play in baseball.”
Finally, he told the fans, he understood what being part of the team was all about.
“I realize I didn’t really grow up all alone, like I thought,” Anderson said. “I take you all into the Angel hall of fame.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin