Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Maybe it was the inevitability of the thing, or maybe I've just consumed a few thousand gallons of alcohol since it happened, but I don't recall the level of reaction in the Halosphere, such as it was, to Tim Salmon's retirement as there has been to Garret Anderson's retirement. Maybe it's because there's been a lot of coverage at the OC Register's excellent blog. That's not a criticism, it's just an observation.

Anyway, the day has finally arrived for GA to hang 'em up, and that makes this as good a time as any to look back at the career of the man who a) scored the winning run in the most important inning in Angels history, and b) drove in the winnning runs in the most important game in Angels history.

He burst onto the scene in 1995, posting what would be the third best OPS+ of his career in 106 games, and was one of the three young outfielders that pushed the '95 Angels out to the huge lead that they would piss away in August and September, a collapse that probably cost him the rookie of the year. After a few less than mediocre years, he put up huge counting stats in 2000, a year in which four Angels hit more than 35 home runs (Anderson had 35 and 107 RBIs). He put up arguably his best all around year in 2002 with 29 homers and a monstrous 56 doubles. He'd put up his best OPS+ in 2003, but the career slide started the next year, with a bit of a blip in 2007.

As an Angels fan, there are a few GA moments I'll never forget:
  • Game two of the 2002 ALDS against the Yankees. Needing a win after dropping game one, the Angels went into the 8th inning trailing 5-4. With GA leading off the inning, Orlando Hernandez hung one, and I can still see him going into his windup and hearing Joe Buck say "The Angels trail by one.....the Angels have tied this game". Troy Glaus would follow with the second of back to back homers, the Angels would go on to win the game and series.
  • Game three of the 2002 ALCS against the Twins. The Angels split in Minnesota and came home hoping to take control of the series. Again, leading off, GA's second inning home run stood as the Angels' only marker until Troy Glaus' game winner in the 8th.
  • Game six of the 2002 World Series. Following Darin Erstad's home run and Tim Salmon's grossly underrated single, GA's bloop down the left field line eluded Barry Bonds. Heads up base running by Chone Figgins and GA put the winning run on second base, shortly before Troy Glaus' double cashed them in, setting up game seven's heroics.
  • Game seven of the 2002 World Series. Anderson's bases loaded double broke a 1-1 tie, cashing in all three baserunners, and provided the margin for the greatest win in Angels history.
  • The 2003 All-Star Game. This was a special couple of days for me as an Angels fan living in Chicago. It's the only ASG I've ever attended. GA won the home run derby, and was the very model of efficiency. Albert Pujols wowed the crowed with his monster shots, but GA got the job done by depositing pitch after pitch in the first row, second row, just enough to clear the wall in right center field. He followed up that performance with an ASG MVP, finishing the game, the first one that "counted", with a homer and a double.
He holds just about every offensive record in team history. He's a Southern California native who played all of the productive parts of his career in front of his home fans. Objectively, he should be the franchise's top icon. But he'll always lack the gravitas of Tim Salmon, Nolan Ryan, Brian Downing, etc. Why? I think the easiest player to compare him to is Salmon, since their careers mostly overlapped, they played similar positions, and were similar hitters in that they there were middle of the order hitters expected to produce runs.

But when you really compare their careers, a couple things jump out at me. Salmon's career OPS+ is 128 to GA's 102, primarily a function of the fact in 2,000 fewer plate appearances, Salmon drew over twice as many walks. Despite a career batting average that was 10 points lower, Salmon finished with an OBP 60 points higher, and he slugged almost 40 points higher. He also never put up the sub-mediocre years that Anderson did. Salmon had one full season with an OPS+ below 100, and that was his "cliff" year in 2001, when his OPS+ slid to 98. Anderson had five Angels seasons lower than 98, another at 99, and another four below 110, which adjusted for position is pretty average. Put simply, despite the counting stats (again, GA had nearly 2,000 more plate appearances as an Angel) Salmon was simply the better hitter.

But I should point out that in those prime years, Anderson spent a lot of his time hitting fifth and sixth behind Glaus, Salmon, and Mo Vaughn. I'm not going to argue that GA could have been a great OBP guy if the situation called for it. The guy was a swinger, and he put the ball in play ALL THE TIME. If you were hitting sixth for the Angels in the early part of the aughts, you were hitting behind relatively high OBP guys like Salmon, Glaus, Vaughn, Fullmer... Who exactly are you trying to get on base for? Orlando Palmeiro? The Ben(j)gies? Anyway.

In addition to the numbers, Tim Salmon remains the Angels only rookie of the year, and he did so by "winning from the front" so to speak. He was the odds on favorite to win the ROY before the 1993 season started, and won the award with relative ease. He was the savior that actually delivered the franchise to the promised land (with a heck of a lot of help), and like Anderson, Salmon made HUGE contributions in the 2002 playoff run. One would not have to create an logical loop to make the case that Tim Salmon is an Angel legend, while Anderson is merely an Angel hall-of-famer.

Maybe more importantly, regardless of whether the perception equals reality (I believe it does NOT), Anderson was perceived as less of a competitor. Tim Salmon was perceived as the "run through walls" competitor, while GA was content with good enough. I think this is BS, and I think when things aren't going well, fans need to find a scapegoat. GA was an easy scapegoat.

For me, the enduring GA memory will always be his interview with Steve Lyons on the Angel Stadium field after game seven of the 2002 World Series. For a guy who didn't show a lot of emotion, GA flashed one of the best smiles I've ever seen, the joy of the moment evident in his voice. This was a man who had worked hard toward a goal, who had suffered through that 1995 collapse, who had failed to reach his potential until that season, and he and his teammates had finally reached the mountaintop, thanks in large part to his heroics. GA will never be considered the greatest Angel, regardless of the record books, but he'll always be a cornerstone of my favorite team.