Garret Anderson, who announced his retirement Tuesday, wasn't just one of the game's most underrated players for nearly two decades; he might have been the least appreciated player in his own backyard.
How do you know whether a player is giving it all he's got? Does it matter, as long as he produces year in and year out?
I was in my first season covering the Angels in 2004, and Anderson was just emerging from a long period of being overshadowed by Tim Salmon to be overshadowed most of that year by Vladimir Guerrero.
He had such a relaxed style, you just couldn't tell whether he cared. In person, he could be short and dismissive of even well-considered questions.
In the heat of a pennant race that year, Anderson looked to me to be lackadaisical going back on a deep fly ball. It dropped on the warning track for a key double. When we asked Mike Scioscia about it after the game, he hinted that Anderson was dealing with a nagging knee injury. Anderson had insisted he was healthy.
I was on deadline, and Anderson, as was typically the case, wasn't immediately available to the media.
I wrote something about how he appeared "either injured or disinterested" on the play. In addition to being poor diction ("disinterested" means neutral. I should have said, "uninterested"), was I being unfair?
For the longest time, I had no idea that Anderson cared about his public image, but I found out. He avoided me for weeks after that before finally confronting me while the team was stretching before a playoff game in Boston. He wanted to know why I would write something like that. He was concerned fans might believe it.
Later, I found out Anderson was among the most well-liked Angels by team employees. They say he treated everyone alike, from fellow players to assistant equipment managers. Looking back, I think he was just a quiet guy who didn't want to talk to reporters all that much.
And it was a good lesson. You just can't tell how much someone cares.