Catching Up With Brian Anderson

You can take a boy out of Cleveland, but apparently you can’t take Cleveland out of the boy.

Former Indians pitcher and Geneva, Ohio native Brian Anderson currently works as a broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it doesn’t stop him from carrying a Cleveland Browns briefcase with him to every single game.

“I catch hell for it everywhere I go,” Anderson said, “but I don’t care.”

Loyal through and through to his hometown teams, Anderson was able to live out a lifelong dream in February of 1996. A first round pick by the California Angels in 1993 Draft, Anderson was dealt from sunny Southern California to the shores of Lake Erie where he joined the organization that he grew up rooting for.

“It was awesome. It was great,” Anderson said with a smile. “It was one of those situations where things went a little haywire contract-wise with the Angels and it opened up the potential for being a free-agent. I could almost pick where I wanted to go and Cleveland had been trying to trade for me and actually wanted to draft me a few years before—which didn’t work out. But getting a chance to come back here and being a part of those teams in the mid-90’s was just a juggernaut.”

Anderson was dealt from the Angels in exchange for Jason Grimsley and minor leaguer Pep Harris to an organization that was coming off of its first American League pennant in 41 seasons. The Indians won 100 games in 1995 and were the favorites to win the AL crown again in ’96.

“Even when I was in Buffalo in AAA—that team was loaded,” Anderson said. “Some of the players that we had in Buffalo could have been on a lot of Big League teams…talk about an organization that was stacked. To come back and to be a part of that was fantastic. But coming back home…just getting a chance to come play for the team I grew up rooting for is special. The Big Leagues are special, but that’s another level of special.”

After being bounced back and forth from the minors to the Major Leagues in 1993, ’94 and ’95 with the Angels, Anderson found more of the same his first couple of seasons in Cleveland. He appeared in 10 games and made nine starts for the Central Division Champs in 1996 and then made eight starts in ’97 as the Tribe headed to the postseason for the third consecutive year. Although he was left off of the postseason roster in ’96 and then again for the Division Series against the Yankees in ‘97, Anderson found himself on the team for the ’97 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles. Anderson’s role was initially a mystery to everyone including himself.

“I didn’t know what my role was going to be,” Anderson said. “Was I going to be a long-man, take some bad innings…who knew what I was going to do?”

As it turned out, Tribe Manager Mike Hargrove used Anderson out of the bullpen for the Tribe’s dramatic postseason run and the lefty became a key member out of the ‘pen. The switch was an adjustment that Anderson had to make after coming out of the bullpen just twice since the 1993 season.

“At first it was tough,” Anderson recalled. “My first game of that Baltimore series, Mike Hargrove said to be ready for anything, so I’m pacing from the first inning just trying to get used to that role in that kind of a scenario. I remember sitting down next to Eric Plunk and asking him how in the world someone does this for 162 games? It was just the fourth inning and I was already exhausted.”

Anderson worked two scoreless innings in a Game One loss in Baltimore and then worked another 3.1 impressive frames in a Game Four win, helping the Indians to a 3-1 series advantage. Suddenly, Anderson was a key piece in a Tribe bullpen that was running somewhat on fumes.

“It’s funny how it transitioned from that to me getting meaningful innings a couple of days later,” Anderson said. “I got my routine down and then it just became pitching. It’s not the same as starting, but at the end of the day you get ready, get loose, you go in and you pitch. That’s what it became. To progress to be one of Hargrove’s guys at the end of that series was kind of crazy, but you just go out there on the mound and pitch.”

Anderson’s next inning of work couldn’t have been more meaningful, as the Indians and O’s were in a 10th inning scoreless tie the next time Hargrove called his number. Anderson worked a scoreless inning, striking out two Orioles, and Indians second baseman Tony Fernandez knocked a solo home run in the top of the 11th to give the Tribe the lead. When Jose Mesa notched the save in the bottom half to win the series, Anderson was named the winning pitcher in a pennant-clinching game.

“It was fantastic,” Anderson beamed. “To get the opportunity to come into a tie game in the tenth inning—where if they hit a home run off of me and we lose and go to a Game Seven—and for Mike Hargrove to gain that faith in me over the course of one series was great. Then to get the job done, have us hit a homer in the top of the next inning and get the chance to go out on the field after the game with my father when everybody was celebrating…it was unbelievable.”

Anderson and his father were four games away from their team reaching the mecca of the baseball world and having their city’s long championship drought end. In addition, another four wins would fulfill a childhood prognostication from Anderson that was a long time coming.

“I can remember when I was younger and after the second Browns meltdown—the fumble out in Denver—I remember being so upset,” Anderson remembered. “I remember telling my mom and dad that I am going to be on the first team that wins a championship in Cleveland. I was so young—not even in high school ball yet—but I was hell-bent on that and I told them that that’s what was going to happen. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning before Game Seven, sitting at brunch across from my parents and saying, ‘Remember all those years ago? It’s going to happen tonight…it’s going to happen tonight! It was a surreal moment because I’d thought about it for all those years and there was just no way we were going to get denied…It would have been a whole lot cooler if we had finished it off.”

Unfortunately for the Andersons, the Indians and the city of Cleveland, the Indians came up two outs short of a championship as the Florida Marlins won the 1997 World Series in a thrilling seven games. The Indians took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning and then lost Game Seven in extra frames. The loss still sits hard with the city as well as Anderson.

“To lose in the manner that we did was horrifying. It was bad. It was as bad as it gets,” Anderson said. “It’s terrible. Terrible. This city still doesn’t have a championship. To be that close—and I came in and got the last out in the eighth inning and we had a lead—and to not get it done is brutal. It’s still brutal.”

A bitter ending to a magical run aside, Anderson made quite an impression on the baseball world with his October success in 1997. Anderson was selected second overall that November in the MLB expansion draft and became the first ever player in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had an excellent season in 1998 as a full-time starter and then continued to grow in the organization through the 2002 season. With the stinging memory of 1997 still fresh in his mind, Anderson’s D-Backs won the World Series in another thrilling seven game series in 2001. The success of ‘01 did not diminish the hurt of ’97 in any way, however.

“No…no way. It’s a completely different animal,” Anderson said as he shook his head emphatically. “The Cleveland thing would have been so far and above that. For me, personally, it’s nice that if you’re going to have lost a World Series, to do that first before you win one. To be a part of two crazy series’ where you lose the first one in extra innings on the road in Game Seven and then win one at home in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven—I don’t know if you could experience two further ends of the spectrum. It was great…but I’d trade it in for a win in ’97. I’d do it in a heartbeat—it wouldn’t even take me a second. If someone came to me and said that I’d have to give everything back that happened in ’01 for the last three outs in ’97—it’d be the easiest trade I’d ever make.”

After the 2002 season, Anderson was granted free agency and returned home for a second time when he signed a free agent deal with the rebuilding Indians for the 2003 season. The team struggled as a whole, but Anderson was at his personal best in his second go-around with the club.

“I had had some good seasons before like my first season with Arizona,” Anderson said. “I had a good season then, but we were an expansion team and were just trying not to lose 100 games. My whole deal was to try and get 200+ innings, so there were some seasons before ’03 that I was definitely happy with. But that particular season was shortly after Curt Schilling had taught me how to really watch video and set up game plans. We never had any of the information that these guys get nowadays, so we had to go off of how our stuff worked and how you felt. It was all about learning video…how to break things down. It was really learning how to break things down; knowing what you wanted to do, how you wanted to do it and then going out there to try and make it happen.”

Anderson ran into hard luck despite being on the top of his game, as the young Indians struggled both offensively and defensively behind him. He posted just a 9-10 record with the Tribe that summer, but also had a career best 3.78 ERA. In addition to the added video study, Anderson also credits a specific battery mate with his success.

“It was also the first year that I got to work with Tim Laker. He and I were like one dude,” Anderson said of the former catcher. “It was like we shared the same brain…which is scary. It was absolutely amazing how well we worked together. He was excellent to work with and that helped too.”

With Laker as his battery mate, Anderson posted a 3.37 ERA in 16 outings. The honeymoon with his personal catcher and the reunion with the Tribe did not last long, however, as Anderson was traded on August 25 to the surprising Kansas City Royals for two minor leaguers and cash. Despite being dealt, Anderson still looks back on his return and smiles.

“I had some success and had a good run here and then they traded me,” Anderson said. “I ended up getting traded to Kansas City, but it was awesome to come back. We had a rough year as a team, but coming back and getting a chance to pitch at home is always special.”

Anderson finished the ’03 season strong with Kansas City, but struggled in both 2004 and 2005 with the Royals. Injuries started taking their toll and Anderson never pitched again after six games in ’05.

“In ’04 I got hurt and pitched hurt all year—that’s when things went haywire. In ’05 it got to be too much and I couldn’t pitch anymore.”

Anderson’s career ended with an 82-83 record and a 4.74 ERA in 291 games and 245 starts. Despite a sub-.500 record, Anderson still looks back with no regrets.

“It didn’t help that when I was pitching that everyone was juicing—a 4.50 ERA was pretty good back then. Now if you look at a guy with a 4.50 ERA, he’s halfway out of the game.”

Since leaving Kansas City, Anderson has spent most of his time up in the broadcast booth.

“Broadcasting is basically it,” Anderson said. “I tried to make a comeback in ’08 with the Rays after having two Tommy John’s and it blew out for a third time, so I obviously hung it up. I caught on on the coaching staff as an assistant pitching coach to Jim Hickey and did that for a year, but then I got into the TV stuff and in 2011 I became the full time analyst for the Rays.”

In addition to his time spent with the Rays broadcast team, Anderson also spent some time back with the Indians working in the studio on the team’s pregame show. Anderson loves his new gig and finds some thrill in being on the air.

“It keeps you close to the game and keeps you in the game,” Anderson said. “It’s the only thing that I have found since playing—and it’s not nearly at the same level—that gives you that little bit of adrenaline rush. When that red light goes on it’s time to perform. It’s like when you’re on the mound and it’s time to perform. It’s obviously more nerve-wracking, more fun and more everything out on the field, but it’s still the only thing that I’ve found since I stopped playing that gives me that little heart flutter.”

Although he’s well respected and enjoying his time in Tampa, Anderson would never rule out another return to his hometown team should the stars ever align again.

“Absolutely. Who knows what the future holds, but I would absolutely entertain that,” Anderson said of a possible Cleveland return. “That would be something special…its home. If there was ever a place I would hope to end up—it’s here.”

After all, you can’t ever take the Cleveland out of a Cleveland boy.

Photo: Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

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