Hello Larry…and welcome spring
By Craig Muder
It was 31 springs ago, a glorious one for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I was 11, and my family took a trip to Florida that March to watch the Bucs begin defense of their 1979 World Championship. It was my first taste of the magic of Spring Training.
There was no game at Bradenton’s historic McKechnie Field that day, so we wandered over a few streets to Pirate City. With its dorm-like housing and seemingly innumerable practice fields, it was the perfect place to learn baseball.
Of course, future Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Bert Blyleven were a bit past the learning stage and were nowhere to be seen. The prolific Pirates farm system, however, featured future major leaguers like Vance Law and Joel Skinner – both of whom were in camp as non-roster invitees.
But the player I remember most that day was Larry Andersen.
My father and I were standing behind home plate, with just a screen between us and the diamond. Suddenly, I heard the “crack-crack-crack” of cleats on cement. And before I could fully turn around to get a good look, there was Andersen – seemingly a giant at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds – brushing by me while never breaking stride.
I turned back around, getting a glimpse of his number – 52 – and the uncommon spelling of his last name sewn onto his jersey. And then he was gone, off to another day of work on the diamond.
At that moment, I considered myself the biggest Pirates fan on the planet. And the fact that I had no idea who Larry Andersen was left me momentarily dazed. But I decided that he must have been some imposter – a player with no past or future who would never see a big league day in a Pittsburgh uniform.
Of course, I was right: Andersen never played for the Pirates. But I was also wrong – because within a year, Larry Andersen had developed into a excellent big league reliever with the Mariners.
The lesson for me was clear: Don’t blink, because greatness can brush by you like a stranger in a crowd.
Andersen went on to appear in 677 MLB games after that March 1980 day (he appeared in 22 as an Indians prospect between 1975 and 1979 for a big league total of 699), but may be best remembered as the player the Red Sox acquired when they sent Jeff Bagwell to the Astros in 1990.
But for me, Larry Andersen always brings back memories of a warm day in Bradenton.
Welcome, Baseball. Bring your cheer. Only two weeks until pitchers and catchers report.
Our long, cold winter is nearly over.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.