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June 29, 2022

Joseph Santoliquito: We miss Larry Andersen

Phillies MLB
071216_Larry-Andersen-Phillies Joe Santoliquito/For PhillyVoice

Phillies color analyst Larry Andersen.

We miss him. We miss his candor. We miss his passion. We miss his agitation every time an umpire blows a call. We miss his animated explosions every time the Phillies blow a late-inning lead. Face it, Larry Andersen, for all his lovable, animated crabbiness, is missed. He’s the get-off-my-lawn man you want to hug and sit down and have a beer with.

Andersen and Phillies’ play-by-play radio announcer Scott Franzke have formed a bond the last 15 years that’s comparable to Harry Kalas and Whitey Ashburn.

Only now, Andersen holds a new limited role these days, a decision he made before this 2022 season to work a more scaled-back schedule, with the colorful color analyst calling just 40 of the Phillies’ 81 home games this season.

Andersen, 69, says he’s adjusting to his new situation. With the Phillies enigmatic season, Andersen jokes, he would have been called in by management more than a few times by now after another of his honest assessments that permeate each of his Phillies’ broadcasts. But he does miss being with his guys — mostly Franzke, a dear friend, the support crew, and hanging out with the TV side folks like Tom McCarthy, Greg Murphy, Ruben Amaro Jr., John Kruk, Ben Davis and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.

“It’s a chance to sit down and talk baseball with your best friends, and there is a chemistry with Scott, and I miss not doing that on a more regular basis,” said Andersen, who’s originally from Portland, Oregon, and whose family is based in the Seattle, Washington, area. “I just turned 69, I’m not a young buck anymore. It was good that I slowed things down a little bit. I get to travel more often, and to see my daughters, Angie and Tania, and my son, Chase, who’s in Portland. But I’ve been in baseball since 1971, when I was drafted when I was 18.

“This is the biggest break by far that I’ve had in baseball since I began. So, it’s been 51 years I’ve been in the game. Outside of strikes and lockouts, there’s really been no breaks. I’ve gone from June 12, and I’m back this weekend, July 1. I hear from fans that I’m missed, and it’s a great, great honor that people think that way about me. I want my broadcasts to be honest, but it’s hurtful to me that I’m not doing more. Now, I’m going to say, I want to do all the home games. But a lot of it goes back to being with Scott. I’m a huge fan, Scott is a fan, who’s a lot more professional than me, and it hurts when this team isn’t playing well.

“I want the Phillies to do well for the fans. That’s what I care about.”

It is a particularly tough time for the Phillies right now.

They’re coming off a successful road trip in which they won three out of four in San Diego, but the Phillies also lost their one superstar and face of the franchise, Bryce Harper, for an indefinite period of time to a broken left thumb that will require surgery after Harper was hit by a 97 mph fastball from Blake Snell in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s win in San Diego.

As the Phillies enter July, they also sit in third place, 39-36, eight games behind the National League East-leading New York Mets, and three games behind in the Wild Card race. The team got one manager, Joe Girardi, fired and have blown two 7-1 leads, one in which the Phillies won, 9-7 over the Dodgers on May 13, thanks to Harper, and the infamous 8-7 loss to the New York Mets on May 5, when the Mets scored seven runs in the top of the ninth to beat the Phils.

“See this,” Franzke says laughing, pointing around the Phillies’ radio booth one sun-splashed Sunday morning prior to a Phils game, "None of this would be here if Larry called that game, because his head would have exploded and blew everything up with it. We had the other (7-1 game) in LA, and it’s West Coast baseball. I don’t know if Larry would have stayed up for that one.

“I think that’s part of Larry’s charm with our audience. He reacts like they react. That’s how our fans feel in that moment. They feel that authenticity from Larry feeling the same way that they do. There’s a connection in that. A connection that can’t be manufactured and Larry has it.”

Franzke began working without Andersen on the road in 2018, when Andersen scaled back to call just home games. This season, the understated veteran broadcaster is breaking in Michael Bourn, Chad Durbin, Erik Kratz and Kevin Stocker over 122 games (41 home).

But he still misses his buddy.

“It’s been a fun challenge; they’re all different and great to be around, with different degrees of experience, but it’s been fun,” Franzke said about his new broadcast partners. “But I do miss Larry. I’ll go two weeks sometimes without seeing him. We text each other and we constantly stay in touch. These fans have always appreciated Larry’s honesty and people need to understand just how good Larry is as a broadcaster and an entertainer, because that’s what we’re doing. We have a hand in trying to sell the ball club to our fanbase, but do we sugarcoat things when things aren’t going well, no, we don’t. One of the things that was so apparent about Harry and Whitey is everyone wanted to still listen to them when the team was bad. That’s pretty special and Larry is that. People want to listen to Larry because he’s entertaining.

“It becomes secondary to what the team is doing, and the team might very well be entertaining, and this team certainly is, but maybe on a given night they are, or on a given night they aren’t, Larry always is. He doesn’t miss very often.”

Nor has Andersen’s passion diminished.

Instead of yelling in the booth over an umpire’s dubious strike zone or groan over a botched Phillies’ play, he finds himself cursing at his TV.

Andersen is in the last year of his current contract and he says he has a few more years left in him. Not traveling has been a help. Baseball is a part of him, like an appendage.

It will be tough to walk away.

He looks fantastic. He’s 69 and looks better than most 40-year-olds.

“I’ve been told in the past that I wasn’t too well liked by the front office sometimes, but this fanbase won’t accept anything else but honesty,” Andersen said. “I remember being introduced to a family one time by a Phillies’ executive as ‘This is Kristi and Larry Andersen, one of the most beloved broadcasters in Philadelphia, but not so much by the front office (laughs).’ It’s kind of funny that I’ve been saying it for 15 years, and someone finally saying it. Things have been rectified. If I were to broadcast strictly for the front office, everything would be roses, everything would be great. I would have been in big trouble if I was there the night they lost the 7-1 lead against the Mets.

“It’s why I still have my job because I would have gone nuts that night. I absolutely care about this team. When I’m in the booth, I have to say what I see. I watched that Mets game and went crazy. I’m broadcasting to everyone in the Delaware Valley area and I have to do justice to the fans of this team. You have to speak to your emotions. In Philadelphia, you have to. What people say to me 95 percent of the time is 'Thanks for your honesty.’”

In Clearwater during spring training, Andersen was walking his dog and a family of four walked by. The father kept looking back. And looking back. And looking back. Finally, the man turned and yelled, “Hey, Larry.”

Andersen spent the next 10 minutes talking to them and taking pictures.

We miss him.

He has more time to play golf a lot worse.

New rules are killing baseball

“One more year of rule changes and I’ll probably be done. What they’re doing to baseball is a travesty. Every time they make a new rule, they lessen the game. I don’t care if baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was here in front of me, I would say the same thing: You guys are killing the game. I don’t want to be rude or disrespectful, I’m not that way, but this is a game I love and I have to ask, ‘Why are they killing this game?’ I want to talk to everyone on the rules committee. I know they want to protect the players, but you can’t block the plate or break up double plays anymore. Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, the guys that played the game right, you learned from those guys. That’s the way you played the game. You weren’t buddy-buddy with everyone. You went out to win.”

Bryce Harper is great… and can be greater

Andersen loves Bryce Harper. He loved the way Harper ran everywhere in his first year with the Phillies.

“You hear people say a superstar can carry a team for a month; Bryce Harper can carry a team for a year,” Andersen said. “Very few guys can stay hot for a year. Bryce, and I know he’s playing hurt (before he broke his thumb), and how gutsy he is, is coming into his own now. Bryce is good enough to carry this team for a year when he’s healthy, obviously.

“No one is getting something to eat or going to the bathroom when Bryce is coming to the plate. They want to see him. I want to see him. He’s already a Hall of Famer. But believe it or not, Bryce, when he comes back, can be even better. Our (Phillies) 1993 team was about winning and playing the game the right way. Bryce may have had a problem on the 1993 team. It wasn’t about the numbers you put up. If someone didn’t play the right way, you would get confronted. It didn’t matter who you were.

“I remember coming up to Bryce after the 2018 season and telling him how I respected the way he played and how great he was with the fans and the kids. He was tremendous, absolutely tremendous. He played hard all the time. Now, the last few years, I would see Bryce hit a ball a number of times that he thought was out and it’s not. All of a sudden, he has to start sprinting 10 feet from the batter’s box. When you don’t run hard out of the box, that’s not playing the game right. Before Bryce got hurt, I saw him hit a pop-up to left. The shortstop was coming out, the left fielder was coming in under a hazy sky. There could be a collision. You never know. Bryce didn’t reach first base. That’s not acceptable. The ’93 team wouldn’t have accepted that.

“The frustration comes with knowing Bryce can be so much more. He has tremendous talent. Bryce Harper is a tremendous person. He’s a history buff. He tells the younger guys how they should read about the history of the team. One of my problems is I can’t get Chase Utley out of my head. If he hit a ground ball to second, Chase ran through the base. Bryce is the face of this team. I respect Bryce. I’m not trying to dog Bryce in that he’s not doing anything different than guys before him have done. But Bryce is different. Bryce is better. I just see more in him. Guys dog it. But they’re not Bryce Harper. Everyone looks up to Bryce. If Bryce hits a pop-up and doesn’t reach first base, what does that say to Bryson Stott? Don’t say that you’re playing hard, show them. Guys are watching. I know it’s hard going full out all the time, but don’t give guys that chance to say, ‘Well, Bryce did it.’

“I know Bryce is better than that. Make the manager say to a young player, ‘You’re not playing like Bryce.’ Make that part of your game. Bryce is the leader. This is Bryce’s team. Show them why.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.