Today, Garret Anderson announced his retirement, ending a long 17-year career, the verdict of which depends on which L.A. team you root for. Anderson hit .293/.324/.461 for his career with 287 home runs and 1365 RBIs. His peak years came in and around the Angels’ 2002 World Series run, averaging 3.2 WAR seasons between 1999 and 2003 and placing fourth in AL MVP voting during the Halos’ championship year. He ends his career as the Angels’ franchise leader in total games played, hits, doubles, total bases, runs, extra-base hits, and RBIs.
Drafted out of the 4th round in 1990 and spurning Division-I basketball offers, he batted .321/.352/.505 with 2.8 WAR in his 1995 rookie season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. For 13 seasons after that, Anderson was a fixture in the lineup, always hitting and always healthy. One highlight during his career was winning both the 2003 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game MVP honors by almost hitting for the cycle, the first All-Star at the time to win both awards in the same year since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1991.
One of Anderson’s biggest weaknesses was his lack of walking ability and his low on-base numbers, which was apparent throughout his entire career. He never drew more than 38 walks in a season and walked on only 4.7% of his plate appearances in his career. That’s 9177 total plate appearances with only 429 walks. Of the 147 players in history with over 9000 plate appearances, Anderson had, get this, the fourth lowest walk rate (with Tommy Corcoran, Willie Davis, and Bill Buckner ahead of him) while he posted the second lowest walk-strikeout ratio at 0.35 BB/K, losing to Ivan Rodriguez by a few decimal points. As a result of his inability to take walks, Anderson did not post a higher OBP than his rookie season’s .352 OBP, mostly hovering around the .300-.330 range.
As such, Dodgers and Angels fans will undoubtedly remember Anderson differently. When the Dodgers made a baffled minor league signing of Anderson, who was 37-years-old at the time, most Dodgers fans didn’t think much of it — an Angels’ favorite from across town who was now washed up, what harm could he possibly do? When he made the 25-man roster as a reserve outfielder, Dodgers fans must have thought — hey, that’s sort of weird, but we’ll chalk that up to the organization’s perceived need for a veteran presence to tame those young ones who always seems to run amuck. But when manager Joe Torre continued his unabashed love for veterans by giving Anderson starts in left field and right field, the Dodgers’ blogosphere erupted at management’s unfounded affection, and rightfully so. 163 plate appearances later, 53 of those as a pinch hitter, all Anderson could come up with was .181/.204/.271, the worst of his career (read that batting line again). 2010 also saw the worst walk rate and strikeout rate of his career — 5 walks and 34 strikeouts. All this came at the expense of the development of Xavier Paul, who moved up and down from Triple-A while Anderson mostly stayed put with the big league club.
It’s amazing what 155 at-bats of a .090 ISO can do reverse an entire crosstown rival team fanbase’s perception of a player who has no shot at the Hall of Fame but was a good, solid player. In some ways, the knee-jerk reaction to Anderson’s retirement by Dodgers’ fans is unfair and unwarranted, as Anderson probably should have retired at least a year or two ago. But the guy loved the game, was a positive presence in the clubhouse, and was the overall good guy to Southern Californian baseball fans during his peak years. 163 recent plate appearances shouldn’t overshadow his career, who will be remembered by Angels fans as a very solid hitter and a good defensive left fielder. He and his longtime teammate Tim Salmon helped bring the Angels a World Series championship, and as a baseball fan first and baseball analyst second, I will remember Anderson fondly for his dedication to the game and his quiet production overshadowed by an era of offensive superstars.