A Conversation With Larry Andersen

I don't think I've ever been so nervous in my life. I waited for Larry Andersen to meet me in the Citizens Bank Park front office. This was a man who pitched on two Phillies World Series teams. He played alongside Steve Carlton, a man I'm more in awe of than anyone that ever played the game. He played with Tug. He is one of my favorite Phillies of all time. I wondered how I was going to talk to someone I respected and adored so much. when I was completely intimidated. Then, he walked in.

"I'm chipper all the day, happy with my lot.
How do I get that way? Look at what I've got."

From "I Got Rhythm" by Ella Fitzgerald

Ever the picture, Larry Andersen walked in sucking on a lollipop. He had no airs about him, no big shot attitude. He couldn't have been friendlier or more laid back. And he still has that twinkle in his eye.

He surprised me by asking me where I wanted to conduct the interview. Of course all I could say was wherever he wanted to go was fine with me. Honestly...what was I going to say? "Is the booth okay?" he asked me. I assumed this meant the broadcasting booth, and casually said that was fine. He led me to the elevator, and turned to me and jokingly said, "I don't know where I'm going."

We finally found an empty booth, and sat down. I could see and hear batting practice below, but didn't want to get distracted. The weather was perfect. He still had that lollipop in his hand. When we sat down, as is my custom I asked about how long he could give me. He asked how long I needed and when I said fifteen minutes, he protested. "Fifteen minutes? What are you gonna ask me?" And the amazing part was...I felt so at ease with him within five minutes that I argued back. So now...I'm arguing with Larry Andersen. "Well, okay ten. Is ten okay? I'm gonna ask you your life story," I joked. "Ten. That's all I ask." He had already relented. "Ask me anything you want."

I quickly learned he had a lot of opinions on the game today. As for pitching, he is keenly aware of what is dramatically different about it. "I think the biggest thing today is with the DH [Designated Hitter], with the money involved and with the umpires, because of the money involved, you can't pitch inside like you used to. You can't knock guys down. That was a big part of baseball."

Andersen reminisced about the days he recalls and misses. "When I was growing up watching the big league games, you had Frank Robinson getting balls thrown at his head...[Don]Drysdale knockin' guys down, and [Bob]Gibson, if you looked at him funny he'd knock a guy down." He pointed out that in today's game, "They'd last one hitter and be thrown out of the game. It's made the hitters more offensive and pitchers can't be as aggressive as they used to."

Larry Andersen, originally from Oregon, was raised in a time before the long ball was the big draw in baseball; pitchers like Gibson were dominating and Sandy Koufax was setting a record for no-hitters, with four in 1965. Andersen watched those guys play and quite early on, knew what he wanted to do.

"I was seven when I started playing. I guess I just had it in my system."

Andersen cites his father, who died tragically when he was just a teenager, as a huge influence on his love of baseball. "He never forced or pushed, but if I said let's have a catch he would. And he always took me to practice when he wasn't working."

Andersen's success as a player in high school and then in American Legion ball, led to him being a seventh round pick in the 1971 amateur draft. His professional debut came in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians. He would go on to play for the Indians from 1977 to 1979, then Seattle for two years, before landing in Philadelphia for his first stint with the Phillies in 1983. That year, in 26 innings of relief work he finished the season with a 2.39 ERA, his career best at that point. Playing alongside the likes of Steve Carlton and Pete Rose, Andersen witnessed some of the greatest baseball in Phillies history. And while he says "I could never be accused of overdoing it physically," when he was with the Phillies the first time he did do Carlton's training program.

"I worked out, did the conditioning. John Denny, Greg Gross and I went in there...I wasn't at their level, like with the martial arts thing but I went through it all, and I've never been in any kind of shape like I was then," then he deadpans, "I didn't follow through with it either."

He obviously also has his opinions on the heated topic of Phillies great, Pete Rose. "I don't think you can ever take away from what Pete Rose did. I can't ever see anybody coming close to what he did," he said, referring to Rose's 4,256 hits. Andersen had come from playing with the two worst teams in baseball at the time (Seattle and Cleveland) and Pete Rose's "attitude to go out and win," has always left an impression on him.

As I sat in awe, listening to him talk of Rose and Carlton, that lollipop he'd held onto fell on the carpet. And then...I was reminded again of the man who once quipped about the long-lasting beauty of being "immature." He groaned "That was my last one!" then insisted he was going to hold onto it and wash it off...to eat later. "You're not!" I said. "I will, I will," he told me. The charm of talking to him hit me: I was talking to a baseball veteran and a kid at heart, and the dichotomy that is Larry Andersen became even clearer. I thought about something James Dean once said about making "Rebel Without a Cause", in which he described his character as a "grown up boy".

Andersen shifted gears however and went right back to being the veteran, and talking about Pete Rose.

"The attitude that Pete Rose brought was a winning attitude, guys who have the talent but they can't get to that next level...he helped them take it to the next level. You can't dismiss his stats, but you can't dismiss his attitude on the ball club either. He was a winner wherever he went," Andersen pointed out. He also points out that Rose was definitely the leader of the clubhouse. Though he wasn't really vocal, Andersen said, "If he had something to say, he'd say it and you'd listen. He was a master of the game."

Clubhouse leadership he says is "vitally important," and that it has to be "someone that everybody looks up to...an everyday player, not a pitcher or a bench guy, and somebody that has credibility."

Though Andersen experienced success with the Phillies, he was released by the team in 1986. He signed with the Houston Astros, as a free agent in May of 1986 where he would go on to perfect his slider, the pitch he became known for. Though he says he isn't sure why he was so successful with it he says, "I got more successful with it when I left the Phillies in 1986, actually. I went to Houston, and my pitching coach there, Les Moss, we went through some troubles, changing my mechanics. They were putting me in mop up games where I basically got my butt handed to me." But he says then, "I finally got to a delivery I was comfortable with, and my mechanics were good and it gave me more velocity. It made my slider more effective.

He got so comfortable with his best pitch, that he admits, "I actually depended on it so much, I lost the changeup and the fastball, so all I had was the slider. I guess basically I felt I had to perfect it and I think I did."

The Astros would lose the NLCS in 1986 to the New York Mets, but Andersen went on to continue with the team for four more years. In 1990, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Jeff Bagwell. It's a trade that Boston fans say only made their belief in the Curse of the Bambino stronger. For me, it's just about been talked to death...and so moving on.

Andersen spent only a brief period of time with Boston, and then played for the San Diego Padres for two years before signing as a free agent with the Phillies in December of 1992. It would turn out to be one of the most unforgettable seasons in Phillies history...and in his life.

Andersen says that from the start, the 1993 team was simpatico. "We got close right from the get go, in spring training. We sat around after games in spring training, which nobody ever did." It is clear as he talks about that year that it meant the world to him, as much as it meant to the fans. "The players, the camaraderie, the time we spent together, the games...everything. For me personally it wasn't my best year, but as far as what I hoped and dreamed baseball would be, that was by far my career year."

That team came out of the starting gate winning, and players like Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Danny Jackson captured the hearts (and sometimes stomachs) of Phillies fans, who had long been cast out of competitive baseball since their last pennant...when Andersen was last with the team.

When I asked him what was different about the last time he'd gone to the World Series with Philadelphia, he says he wasn't particularly nervous because it'd been his fourth playoffs, but then says, "I was always nervous...even playing against the worst team!"

While that season was the happiest he'd been in his career, he admits "I was forty years old and it took a toll on me, probably more than on them." The Phillies would fight their hearts out (some of them experiencing what would be their career year), and defy all the odds every baseball aficionado said were against them. In the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies would beat what was without a doubt one of the best teams in baseball. The numbers made no sense; the outcome was baffling. In game six of the NLCS, Tommy Greene pitched a gem and the Phillies offense pounded the league's leading pitcher in ERA, Greg Maddux, who was hit in the ankle by a ball off the bat of Mickey Morandini. Maddux was said to have been affected by the pain, and it showed. The Phillies took the Braves down and were going to the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. This was America's team.

Andersen points to the leadership of catcher Darren Daulton as incredibly effective in pushing that team to the success they experienced.

"He wasn't afraid to say what he had to say. And he didn't really want to pull people out, but he did. He did it in St. Louis with Greenie (Tommy Greene) and Schill (Curt...oh come on) and he came right out and just buried them." He says Daulton impressed upon them that "they needed to get their act together. And they listened to him."

The World Series was a memorable, and exciting one, but the Blue Jays were victorious. Game Six was the nightmare no Phillies fan will forget.

For Andersen it was difficult for a few reasons. "I was sick at the time, and that was tough. When Daulton came to the mound he asked me, ‘How do you feel?' and I said ‘My legs feel like Gumby.'" There was also the fact that the three main guys used out of the bullpen were David West, Mitch Williams and himself, and that also had taken its toll. "Between [the three of us], we were spent. For the most part", he explains," that year it was us. If there was a situation it was myself, West and Mitch and we were pitching in every game."

He also wants to make something clear. "I said it then and I'll say it now, people blame Mitch for losing the game, but everybody had a part in it. We had chances, we had six runs, Mul [Terry Mulholland] went five innings." Andersen also feels the finger pointing at manager Jim Fregosi for putting Mitch Williams in is "unwarranted and unfair. Fregosi went with what had worked all year. He went with what was successful."

Andersen also recalls a moment in the game when he was pitching to Tony Fernandez. Fernandez was supposedly hit by a pitch, and began hobbling around. But Andersen insists that should have been the third out. "I've looked at the replays. That ball didn't hit his foot." But he goes onto explain what the major downfall was. "My biggest failure in that game was walking Ed Sprague, to load the bases before I got [Pat] Borders out. And what it did, it turned the lineup around. So...Mitch had to face the top of the lineup."

"There are so many great memories with the Phillies, but it all comes down to 1993. There are so many stories and things that happened." I then tell him I have Game Six of the NLCS on tape, "Do you? Wow...that's my favorite memory of that year. For the first time in my life it was a season of baseball, that I thought baseball was gonna be like and it was 22, 23 years before I found that. It was the pot at the end of the rainbow," he said whimsically, "That was my pot of gold."

Andersen would come back to play for the Phillies one more year, in which he pitched 32 and two-thirds innings and finished the season with a 4.32 ERA. Upon being granted free agency at the end of that year, Andersen retired with an overall career ERA of 3.15 and seventeen years of big league play under his belt.

He would come back into the baseball fold in 1995, to coach at double A Reading for two years and triple A Scranton for one year, with the Phillies organization. "I love the coaching," he says," if I had my druthers, I'd coach in rookie ball. I'd love to work with the kids who don't know anything, and teach ‘em how to do things the right way." Andersen says he also talks to the current Phillies sometimes.

"It's a great situation here, because I talk to Rich Dubee [Phillies pitching coach] a lot and he has no problem with me." When pitcher Gavin Floyd was called up for the Phillies and struggled, Andersen went to him and tried to counsel him a little bit. "I was talking to him about focus and concentration." Andersen said that at that moment, Dubee walked by and Andersen was concerned he had overstepped. But when he went to Dubee, the Phillies pitching coach was completely fine with him sharing some of his wisdom with the players. "I think [Rich] has the same belief as me; you never know it all."

In 1996, Andersen was told he would get an interview for the Phillies pitching coach position, but for whatever reason he was not granted the opportunity as promised. At one point after that, he was offered a spot in the broadcasting booth for Houston but turned it down. He returned to coaching in the Phillies organization, and in 1998 Andersen would find himself in a situation when Richie Ashburn, Phillies legend and the team's color commentator at the time passed away suddenly. He was offered the gig, and took it.

Upon Larry Bowa's hiring as manager of the Phillies, Andersen was asked to be Bowa's pitching coach but declined saying, "Why would I leave the booth to come down on the field and just get fired with you in three years?" I asked him about this comment and he laughed a little, "Prophetic wasn't it?"

Last year when the Bowa tenure ended and major staff changes were being made, Andersen was one of the people being considered to replace Joe Kerrigan as pitching coach for the Phillies. The stock line everyone had heard was that Andersen asked to be taken out of the running, but he says it wasn't quite like that.

"I never really said I don't want to be in the running, but I never said it was the job I covet. Things just played out. I think if I would've really pressed the issue, [General Manager] Ed Wade would have granted me the interview. We have talked about the possibility."

But he points out, "There's a lot more work involved, a lot of time involved. You're also gonna get fired in a few years. It's gonna happen, unless you're Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone [Atlanta Braves Manager and Pitching Coach, respectively]."

Andersen's baseball experience as well as his life experience, have taught him about perseverance and that is something he points to in his advice to young pitchers. "If you're gonna do this, go at it one hundred percent. And that can be within any area of life. The other thing is, and this is most important...don't let anyone tell you you're not good enough. Maybe this day you weren't good enough, or this year or whatever...if you want it bad enough, you go out there and you work at it."

He says that he had times where he struggled mentally, "There was a time every year, it seems, where I was thinking ‘Have I lost it? Am I gonna get anybody out again? Am I good enough to be here?' So at times, in a sense you have to lie to yourself. You have to convince yourself and keep going." He goes on to say emphatically, "When somebody tells you ‘I don't think you can do that,' you have a choice to believe ‘em or not and my advice is don't believe ‘em."

Andersen says he sees himself staying within the Phillies organization, though he does mention he could see himself being a pitching coach with Cleveland, but is clearly happy here. "I love it here. I feel like I have a good rapport with the fans, and I enjoy talking to them. They bring up stuff to me all the time [from the past]. Hopefully, I can stay here for awhile."

When I hit stop on my tape recorder, I told him how much I appreciated him talking to me and thought to myself that if I didn't leave then I might gush a bit. We then left the booth and headed to the elevator. As we walked I was feeling in awe of having just talked to someone I'd watched for so many years, and remembered so fondly from my favorite year of baseball. I didn't feel like I was in my twenties, but like a sixteen year old fan again. But as the elevator doors were closing, I caught a last glimpse of him and that twinkle again. And he was still holding that lollipop.

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