larry andersen

It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

Photo: Miles Kennedy

It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

It's a half-hour before game time on a Sunday afternoon in Bradenton, Florida. Larry Andersen has just finished going through piles of notes — "big-league prep," he likes to call it — as he gets set to join his friend and partner, Scott Franzke, on his last radio broadcast of spring training. The weather is gorgeous and Andersen steps out of the press box to soak up a little sun. He wants to do more of that this season because he loves the game, the Phillies, the city and, most of all, the fans. The most difficult winter of his life is over. He enters Thursday's season opener — his 22nd as part of the Phillies broadcast team — with a new, brighter perspective on everything.

"But don't you worry," Andersen says as he begins to tell his story. "I'm still going to get on umpires."

While most of us spent the winter with a raging case of Harper-mania, Andersen was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The doctors didn't like what they were seeing in October. The diagnosis confirmed an aggressive form of cancer in November. He had surgery in December and passed the three-month mark during spring training.

"They tell me I'm cancer-free now," he says, a look of relief sweeping over his face.

He talks of all the people who helped him get through the ordeal, people like Vince Nauss and Jeff Boettcher, his friends from Baseball Chapel, he talks about becoming a Christian in 1980 and how his faith has grown since then, how it carried him through the winter. He talks about the love and support of his wife, Kristi, and his baseball and broadcasting friends, like Franzke. He talks about his children, Angie, Tania and Chase, all adults spread out around the country.

"The hardest thing for me was not having them hear my voice crack when I told them," he says.

Larry Andersen first encountered mortality on March 10, 1967. He still remembers his sister, Linda, coming into his bedroom and saying, "Dad's been in an accident." Dale Andersen was a pilot for a small, West Coast commuter airline. His plane crashed shortly after takeoff in a blinding snowstorm. He was just 38. Larry was just 13 when he lost his best pal and backyard bullpen catcher.

Larry went on to become a seventh-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians and pitched 17 seasons in the majors, six with the Phillies. He was a member of two Phillies World Series teams and has gained huge post-playing career popularity for his work in the broadcast booth and his familial connection with fans. He loves to share a laugh with them, maybe even a cold one if you catch him around town. And he loves to share his honest opinions about the game to which he has dedicated his life with them.

"No one has ever wanted this team to win more than me, maybe as much, but never more," Andersen says. "The reason I want this team to win so badly is because of the fans and I've said that forever. Some people might say you're pandering to the fans. I'm not. These fans have been so good to me. I can't put into words what the fans have shown me over the last 25 years in Philly."

Andersen is still standing high above home plate, soaking up the sun, watching Phillies players stretch on the field down below.

He says fans approach him often and thank him for "keeping it real," as the saying goes.

He shrugs pensively and offers that maybe there are times when he keeps it a little too real for some people's liking. He wouldn't say who those folks are.

"I would hope people can separate negativity from honesty," he says.

The game is changing. All sports are changing. Science and analytics and big data have taken their place at the table next to human experience and instinct. In some cases, the former has elbowed the latter from the table and maybe out of the game. Where once old-school baseball men would predict a pitcher like Nick Pivetta is ready for a breakout season because he now has experience to go with a great arm and talent, new-school baseball men predict the same thing by using new-age statistics like fielding-independent pitching, or FIP.

Andersen came up in a time when baseball people kept it real. Once upon a time not long ago, a Phillies general manager talked of releasing a player because "he has a hole in his bat." That probably would never happen in today's game, where a premium is kept on keeping the environment ultra-positive. There is really no right or wrong answer in all of this. Times change. Methods change.

A cancer scare at age 65 with a lot of life still to live can make Larry Andersen change.

"This thing has done a lot for my faith," he says. "I look at it and trust this is the Lord's plan. This is another way of saying, 'Get your act together, you're not going to be on this Earth forever.'

"It's also helped me from the perspective of stop worrying about stuff that's out of your control, stuff that's trivial. Don't let stuff bother me so much. I look back to my broadcasting, to last year. I know I was critical of the team. I was critical of a lot of things that I didn't agree with and Scott Franzke, my partner over 10 years, at the end of the season gave me some great advice. He said if you disagree with something, just disagree without anger.

"I'd see our young pitchers be compared to (Justin) Verlander and (Zack) Greinke because of their FIP and I didn't think it was fair to our pitchers or the fans. Those guys are Cy Young winners and our young guys hadn't even won 20 games in their careers because they hadn't been in the big leagues long enough. Those comparisons bothered me so much and I would try to give my side and it would come out with anger because I'm passionate and I care about winning. But with all of this other stuff happening, I was able to look back and say, 'Why? Why am I letting it bother me so much?'"

So, will Phillies fans be getting a watered-down Larry Andersen this season?

Hell no.

"I'll still be critical," he vows. "But I'm not going to be upset.

"I'll always be honest. You can snow people in San Diego, in Seattle, other places. You can't do that in Philly. You just can't BS the fans in Philly. They're too smart.

"When they're sitting at home and want to pick up a shoe and throw it at the TV, I know what they're feeling. I'm a fan, too. I know I work for the organization, but I'm a fan. And that's where I think I have a rapport with them. They feel frustration in my voice when they're frustrated watching.

"The last few years have been frustrating. It's been hard. But I really like this team. I love what they've done in the offseason. I'm ready to turn the corner and I think the fans are, too."

Opening day is Thursday. Regardless of what the weatherman says, there's sun in Larry Andersen's forecast.

"I'm going to look at things with brighter eyes," he said.

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More on the Phillies

3 Kevins join Phillies' broadcast team

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3 Kevins join Phillies' broadcast team

With popular color man Larry Andersen deciding to scale back his workload, the Phillies needed to add some innings to their radio broadcast team. They have done that by hiring three of their former players to join play-by-play man Scott Franzke on road broadcasts.

Kevin Frandsen, Kevin Jordan and Kevin Stocker, all former infielders with the club, will rotate working alongside Franzke during the 2018 season. Andersen will continue to work with Franzke during home games at Citizens Bank Park.

Andersen completed his 20th season in the booth in 2017. It took three guys to replace the former slider-throwing relief pitcher.

"There’s no doubt that replacing LA is a tough job,” David Buck, the Phillies executive vice president, said in a statement. “His chemistry with Franzke has been outstanding and together they made listening to our games entertaining. But we believe that the unique personalities, knowledge of the game and familiarity with Phillies fans that each Kevin has, will complement Franzke’s role in the booth, making this new lineup of radio talent fun for our fans.”

The three new color men have varying degrees of broadcasting experience.

Frandsen, who played with the Phils in 2012 and 2013, has worked on AM radio in the San Francisco area for the past 18 months. 

Jordan, who played with the Phillies from 1995 to 2001, worked three games in the booth with Franzke last season.

Stocker, the starting shortstop for the 1993 National League champion Phillies, has broadcast college baseball for the past 14 years as a color analyst for the Pac-12 Network and CBS Sports Network. He worked six games with Franzke on Phillies radio the past two seasons.

The Phillies said they would announce the exact radio broadcast schedule at a later date.

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.