Glanville on Anderson

I’ve enjoyed Doug Glanville’s New York Times’ pieces quite a lot since he began them last season. As one of the rare ballplayers who was an intellectual without being marginalized or considered an eccentric (See, Bouton, Jim and Lee, Bill) he provides a unique view into the game. Unlike so many other retired players, he can tell us how it was and how it is, and we always feel like we’re getting some straight, thoughtful dope.

But even Glanville has a blindspot, it seems, and that’s former teammate Marlon Anderson, whose release from the Mets Glanville laments:

Marlon Anderson has been the quintessential utility man. He started as a second baseman and, within a few years, he’d quietly changed opinions of his defensive style from “unorthodox” to “revolutionary.” While he was my teammate on the Phillies, I watched him play the equivalent of “short right field,” robbing power-hitting lefties from hit after hit because he could rely on the ball getting to him quickly on the Veterans Stadium Astro Turf. Opposing hitters like Chipper Jones looked on in disgust many a day as Marlon jumped up to snare a line drive the right fielder was expecting to catch. What was he doing so far from the natural position of a second baseman?

Marlon’s style was different; he flicked his wrist as he threw the ball, using physics and aerodynamics to emphasize accuracy, not power. He didn’t have a rocket arm, but the ball got there just before the runner did, and that still constitutes an out.

But this style was too offbeat for some: he was sent down in 2000 after a full season in the major leagues, even after a 72-game errorless streak from 1999. Eventually, he got called back up, and all he did was hit and steal hits away from left-handed hitters as the Phillies’ second baseman.

But Marlon is home now, a 35-year-old family man — and still a cold-blooded hitter. But with the arrival of pitcher Livan Hernandez and the Mets’ aggressive desire to get Sheffield, he became expendable. It’s a story that all players will come to know, sooner or later. If you never got released from a team, you didn’t play long enough.

I don’t begrudge Glanville using his NYT space to honor a good friend of his. And to be sure, the piece isn’t some crazed rant about a friend who was done wrong. But Glanville does gild the lily a bit.

There was a reason why Anderson used to play such a deep second base, and that’s that he had some serious range limitations, and by playing deeper he was able to take more forgiving angles on balls. Sure, this led to fewer errors, but it also led to a lot of balls hit to his zone that, while fielded cleanly and thus not error-worthy, were not converted into outs. Moreover, just because Anderson was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter in recent years didn’t make him a “premier pinch hitter,” to use Glanville’s term. Rather, it made him a very limited player off the bench in that he wasn’t trusted to play a lot of defense. Worst of all, that one job he was tasked with doing — pinch hitting — was no longer within his skillset either. After some success in 2006 and 2007, he hit 210/.255/.275 in that role in 2008, which is awful by any measure, and at age 35 you can’t bank on him doing any better going forward. Releasing him was one of the few things the Mets have done right this year.

Again, I don’t mean to come down too hard on Glanville. I generally like his stuff and Lord knows that I’m not going to make a habit of slamming my friends in my writing space. But when you’re an ex-jock whose raison d’être is talking about ex-jock stuff in a putatively realistic fashion, credibility is everything, and talking up Marlon Anderson as a great player is no way to bolster one’s credibility. I would have much rather read a piece that focused more on what it’s like to be released. The mechanics of it. The mindset of the player in the days and weeks after being told that he wasn’t good enough, separate and apart from any discussion of whether or not that judgment was a a valid one.

(Thanks to Ethan Stock for the heads up)

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  1. kendynamo said...

    ugh, seriously?  marlon was putrid last year.  he didnt use physics and areodynamics to do anything but suck at both fielding and hitting.

  2. dlf said...

    The mention of Bill Lee in this post makes me think back to his release from the Expos.  His version is that when management cut Rodney Scott (a similarly limited second sacker) Lee protested voiciferously and was cut adrift.  Even somewhat intellectual players can have strange attachments to teamates.

  3. George said...

    The key line in the article referenced that Anderson is months short of a full pension.  Glanville is just trying to help a friend and fellow member of the ‘club’.

  4. Ray Cornwall said...

    I once saw Marlon beat out a double on a fly ball that never left the infield. He was FAST. Maybe not a great baseball player, but FAST.

  5. Don Butt said...

    I saw Marlon hit an inside-the-parker once.  Replay clearly showed that he was blowing a bubble as he rounded second.  So I don’t want to hear any more #### about how Marlon Anderson was not the best of the best.

  6. Melody said...

    Agree with you on all counts, Craig—I remember that being one of the great parts of reading Ball Four, learning about what it was like for a player to be released or traded, all the crap that goes on behind the scenes and what it really means when you see a one-line mention that a player was demoted or traded. 

    And of course we all have our attachments to various players, regardless of how good they might be by objective measure—easy to forget that all major league players, even the worst, are still one of the very best in the world at their jobs.

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