An Interview with Larry Andersen

added 11/28/01 by Ray Kerby

Relief pitcher Larry Andersen was possibly the best middle reliever in franchise history. He made two trips to the World Series with Philadelphia, in 1983 and 1993, but has unfortunately become best known as the "other guy" in the trade that brought Jeff Bagwell to Houston.

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: As a child, did you always want to be a ballplayer? What made you want to be a ballplayer?

Larry Andersen: I always wanted to play ball, probably because I watched it all the time on TV and because my dad loved to play. He was never able to because he had to work through high school, so whenever he was off, we'd play together.

RK: Growing up in Portland, did you have a favorite sports team? Who were some of your idols?

LA: Living in Portland,the Beavers were always my fave. I used to go to games a lot with my aunt who was a diehard fan. The reason I would go with her was that my dad was killed in a plane crash when I was 13. He was an airline pilot and didn't make it through a snow storm in Klamath Falls, Oregon one early morning on the 10th of March in 1967. My idols at the time other than my father were Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle.

RK: You were a three-sport athlete in high school. Why did you choose baseball over football or basketball?

LA: I chose baseball over basketball because I was better in that sport and over football because I was too skinny to get knocked around a bunch. 6'3" and 177 lbs. OUCH!

RK: It was said that you had a three-pitch repertoire: slider, slider, and slider. When did you learn to throw the pitch and why were you so effective with it? What was your best off-pitch?

LA: I learned the slider when I was in high school but never had the velocity to make it what it ended up to be. When Les Moss, the Astros pitching coach, got hold of me in 1986 he changed my mechanics and it gave me about 4-5 mph's more. That's when I became a much better pitcher and when my slider became my pitch. I threw a splitter at times and an occasional curve ball, but only to show the hitter.

RK: After being a starter in the minors, you were immediately moved into a relief role in the majors. Why was that change made? How did you adjust to the switch in roles?

LA: I actually became a reliever in 1977 in AAA Toledo. I don't know why the Indians did that but I'm certainly glad they did. It wasn't much of an adjustment as I rarely had arm troubles so the change wasn't a problem.

RK: When you first made it to the bigs, who were some of your mentors? How did they help you?

LA: Buddy Bell helped me a lot as did Pat Dobson. Also when I got traded to Seattle, Richie Zisk taught me a lot about pitching as far as pitch selection. Most of the others who helped me early on did it in ways to help me feel comfortable as much as anything else.

RK: What are your best memories from your playing days in Cleveland and Seattle?

LA: The best memories in Cleveland and Seattle? Seeing more than 5,000 people in the stands. Probably my first game I pitched in the majors. One inning vs. Detroit. I faced Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Aurelio Rodriguez: foul pop, fly to center and a K. In seattle my best memory was the Mr. Jello Caper that Joe Simpson, Zisk and myself pulled off against Rene Lachemann, our manager.

RK: You joined the Phillies in 1983 and became an important part of a team known as the Wheeze Kids. What was it like playing with future Hall of Famers like Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Tony Perez?

LA: Playing with the Wheeze Kids was like being in baseball heaven. I mostly just walked around in awe of those guys. That really is a highlight of my career, to play on the same team as some of those guys.

RK: Speaking of Hall of Famers you played with that season, what was your opinion on Pete Rose? Do you think he bet on his team and, if so, do you draw a distinction between betting on your team to win or betting on it to lose?

LA: I really liked Pete Rose. He loved the game and ALWAYS played to win. Whether he bet on games is not my place to speculate but I will say this, I don't believe there's any way he would bet against his own team and in that I think there's a big difference. I couldn't see him not wanting to win, period.

RK: As with Philadelphia in 1983, you joined the Astros in 1986 and immediately went to the playoffs. What memories stick out most from the NLCS with the Mets that season?

LA: The 6th game was one of the greatest games of all time, and that probably stands out more than anything. I had so many great memories of my time in Houston it's hard to mention them all. Yogi Berra, Matt Galante and Les Moss were all so influential to me as well as having a terrific bunch of teammates.

RK: Who came up with the idea of wearing coneheads, and what were some of your favorite clubhouse pranks? What other players were your accomplices and who were some of your favorite victims?

LA: The conehead idea actually came from Sparky Lyle when he was with the Rangers in '77 or '79, can't remember which year. He had one he got from Disneyland and I went to his house after a game one year with Ron Pruitt who was a teammate of mine with Cleveland. The next day Pruitt wore it during the anthem and got quite a reprimand from the ballclub. However it was hilarious and I decided I had to have one. So my next trip to the "small world" place I got one for myself. That's how it all started and I carried it with me from that day on, to all the clubs I played with.

My favorite was with the Seattle Mariners when we pulled off the Jello Gate caper. Ritchie Zisk, Joe Simpson and myself went to the store while on a trip to Chicago to play the White Sox when we were with the Mariners. We bought 16 boxes of Cherry jello and got the keys to Rene Lachemann's suite. He was the manager at the time. We got the key from our traveling secretary at the time. Lee Pelekoudos, I believe still in the Mariners organization as a vice president or asst, general manager, or something like that. Well, we proceeded to get buckets of ice and poured eight boxes of jello into each toilet in the suite and mixed it with the ice, hence, jello. We also took every piece of furniture we could carry, including the mattress and box spring and crammed all we could into his bathroom. We took the mouthpiece out of his phone, unscrewed all the lights, unplugged his clock and toilet papered his room. Anything we could think of, we did. He came back from a night out and poof, his room was no longer a room. The next day he threatened the team with FBI, fingerprints, lie detectors, etc. Nothing happened, but soon the whole team was doing things for the next two months to keep it going. Ordering jello to his room upon our arrival, getting the play-by-play announcer Dave Niehaus to tell him he got the culprits on tape talking about it and then telling Lach he accidentally erased the tape, therefore "jello-gate tapes lost, Lach baffled." I had that made into a headline on one of those fake newspapers in New York a few days later. We finally had our team party at the end of the year and we made up grocery bags colored like jello boxes and Joe, Ritchie and myself put them on and we did a "What's my line" type of game. Then we took off the bags and exposed ourselves as the culprits. That was the best ever.

Anyway, he had even blamed Tom Paciorek of the White Sox who was with the Mariners the year before. Well, it got in the papers and Tom's Mom called Lach and told him it wasn't nice, that her Tommy wouldn't do something like that. Well, this year is the 20th anniversary of Mr. Jello and who knows what may happen. I will be in touch with Joe Simpson however. He's with the Braves broadcast team as I'm sure you know already.

RK: In 1990, the Astros traded you to Boston for a young prospect named Jeff Bagwell. Even though you had a great stretch run for Boston and a very fine career as a reliever, how do you feel about "Bagwell for Andersen" becoming a shorthand expression for a lopsided trade? Would you have rather been traded for Scott Cooper?

LA: I'm glad that I was a part of the Bagwell plot to doom the Bosox. At least that's the way most people look at it in retrospect. Most people will say that I helped them win the division, and that I believe is true. What they won't admit is that they would have been in an uproar if they had traded Cooper. He was ahead of Bagwell and maybe a more thought of prospect. Bagwell lead the league in Avg.(AA) but had only four homers. Who knew he was gonna put on 30-40 pounds and become a tremendous run producer?

Nevertheless, I have NO regrets and even have a lot of fun with it. My agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks even made a proposal to the Sox for a two-year deal that they rejected. That was one thing that made the trade so bad also. I was only there for one month and they didnt get anything in return for me as I was declared a "new look" free agent and signed with San Diego. Boston actually came back and made a significantly better offer than the one we proposed to them that was turned down. It was just one of those things that has haunted Boston for decades. Bagwell also seems to have fun with it. In fact he once introduced me to Mike Hampton and said "Hampy,that's the guy I made famous" as he pointed to me. It makes people who don't know any different think I was a better player than I was. Not many people can say they got traded 1-for-1 with somebody as good as he is. Plus, I know I'll be in the news all around the country, ie. articles, newscasts, and ESPN every July. Would I be that famous if I got traded for Scott Cooper? Or is it infamous?

RK: After retiring and spending some time as a minor-league pitching coach for the Philadelphia organization, you made an unexpected jump into the broadcast booth. How did this come about, and is this move merely a springboard for a career as a manager? Should Larry Bowa be looking over his shoulder?

LA: My broadcast career came about for a number of reasons. I was promised an interview for the pitching coach job in Philadelphia after the '96 season, and that interview never came about. That irritated me and shortly thereafter I was contacted by the Astros for their vacancy when Dierker left to manage. I came to Houston, went through the interview and was asked to join their booth.

After giving it serious thought, I told Jamie Hildreth(?) (director of media, broadcasting etc., with the Astros) that I wouldn't be taking the job and would return to be the pitching coach for AAA Scranton. When asked why, I told Jamie I didn't want to have to manage if things didn't work out with Larry. I really felt I was too close to getting a job in the big leagues with the Phils. Well, after a year in AAA Scranton, I had had enough. I even asked for a demotion to AA and was turned down, but with the sudden death of Richie Ashburn in Philadelphia that color job became available and I was offered the job. So I took it. And that is how it happened. Then last year when Larry Bowa was hired, I was asked if I would interview for the pitching coach job. My reply to Bowa was simple "why would I leave the booth to come down on the field and just get fired with you in three years?" We laughed, I thanked him and I turned down the offer. So to answer your question, should Bowa be looking over his shoulder? I think I just did.

RK: What is it like working with Harry Kalas, an Astros announcer from the Sixties?

LA: Working with Harry Kalas isn't easy because I just want to sit there and listen to him. He is a true professional and a very dear friend going back to my playing days. I don't think you could find a bigger fan of the Phillies, either, however he does not play the "homer" game which I think gives him so much credibility, not that he needs it.

RK: How do you feel about the new strike zone? Do you feel that a technological solution might bring some consistency to the way strikes are called?

LA: I HATE THE NEW STRIKE ZONE. If, in fact, there is one. What is needed is to bring back the umpires that were let go, who actually have an idea of ANY strike zone. I think you need the human element to make the game what it is, but there has to be better schooling and a better rating system to weed out the poor umpires. If a player stinks, he gets released. I know, I was one of those. but the umpires have no accountability and that bothers me more than anything.

RK: Do you think that the increase in offense since the Nineties is good for the long-term health of the game? Do you have any opinion on the causes of this increase? Were there any hitters in your day that you think might have been able to hit 70 homers in today's game?

LA: I think the offensive barrage that started in the 90's is good for the average fan as it tends to be more exciting for them, but I believe the true die hard still loves to see a well pitched, low scoring game. Too much change has gone in the hitters' favor and I guess that's what baseball wants. The smaller parks, harder balls and much stronger players have caused this. There's really been an accent on weight training in the past decade including steroids which has played a major role in all sports. It still comes back to making the most money and doing whatever it takes to put yourself in that position.

RK: Do you have any advice for aspiring players?

LA: My advice for aspiring players? Get an education first unless you're going to be a first-round choice. Other than that I would say... do everything in your power to be a lefthanded reliever and able to get a lefthanded hitter out and you'll be in the big leagues in no time.

RK: Thanks for your time!