By: Pat Whittle
Fenway Park served as the backdrop for a number of unforgettable baseball moments in the fall of 1975. Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer. Carlton Fisk’s “wave-it-fair” game-winner. Stupid Joe Morgan’s cheap hit. Larry Andersen’s first appearance at Fenway.
That’s right, Larry Andersen. On the afternoon of Sept. 28, 1975, Andersen – then a rookie pitcher for Frank Robinson’s moribund Cleveland Indians – pitched for the first time at the Old Ball Yard. He pitched two scoreless innings, made Bob Montgomery pop up, and had a hand in an 11-3 Tribe win. But it would be 15 more years before Larry “Sweet Rocket Music” Andersen would cement his Fenway legacy.
It was Aug. 30, 1990, and the Red Sox were about to engage in one of the most lopsided trades in sports history – Larry “Big Unit Train” Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. For the measly price of a goateed first baseman with a taking-a-dump batting stance, the Sox solidified their bullpen with one of the all time Base-Dudes, Larry “Doctor K Cy Young Koufax” Andersen.
Andersen, possessor of a career 3.15 ERA and 758 strikeouts, joined a contending Sox club that had used some of the most miserable relievers in the history of baseball. We’re talking about a bullpen group for whom Dennis “I Struck Out My Grandmother Once Because She Spotted Me Two Strikes, And It Was Still A Foul Tip Into The Catchers Mitt Because I Blow At Pitching” Lamp was considered one of the more reliable options. Stud lefty Rob Murphy compiled an ERA of 6.32 in 68 agonizing appearances. Daryl Irvin, a product of the baseball powerhouse that is Ferrum College, only got into 21 games but still managed to lose four of them. Pawtucket lifer John “No, Not Jon Lester” Leister even got into a couple of games. It was ugly.
But Larry “Tom Terrific Ryan Express” Andersen rode into town like a white knight on his steed, and struck out batter after batter on his quest to lead the Red Sox to a pennant. Setting up for Jeff “Remember When I Robbed That Jewelry Store?” Reardon, Andersen posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 pressure-packed appearances. On Sept. 7 at Fenway, Andersen pitched three near-perfect innings in a game the Sox eventually won in 11 innings on a Carlos Quintana single. Our hero helped preserve a Sox win at Baltimore on Sept. 17, striking out sluggers Sam Horn, Mickey Tettleton and David Segui in one inning. The Man picked up a six-out save at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, whiffing Kevin “I Went To A Baseball Card Show In Fairhaven And No One Wanted My Autograph Because I Suck” Maas to end it.
Who knows if the Sox would’ve won the 1990 AL Eastern Division without Andersen, because they took the East by a mere two games. But revisionist historians downplay the contributions of Larry “Halladay Burnett Smoltz Glavine Maddux” Andersen and choose instead of focus on Jeff Bagwell’s later career in Houston.
Let’s not suggest that Larry Andersen never got his due. In 1990, Irish femme fatale Sinead O’Connor scored a major radio hit with “Nothing Compares 2 Larry Andersen.” A year later, Salt-N-Pepa would record a tribute of sorts, “Let’s Talk About Larry Andersen.” John McPhee’s essay “Encounters With the Archdruid, Larry Andersen” continues to be taught in college classrooms to this day, and the 1997 Victor Nunez film “Ulee’s Gold (Was Stolen By Larry Andersen)” drew praise from critics.
But as we approach the 2009 trade deadline, I think back to the 2005 Florida State League Single A All-Star Game, where I watched a tubby, tropical-shirt-wearing Larry Andersen throw out the first pitch. And it makes me weep, just a little.