The Baltimore Orioles had an off day on June 4, so manager John Oates drove to Virginia to watch his 16-year-old son, Andy, play baseball. "Parents I didn't even know came up to me with their two teenagers," says Oates. "The mother says to me, 'Look at these kids. Look at their sideburns. Do you know where they came from? They've been watching the Orioles on cable, and now they want to look like Brady Anderson.' This is in Hopewell, Virginia, three hours from Baltimore. And they want to look like Brady Anderson. Amazing."
They want to touch Brady Anderson. On June 6, after a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in which he singled, homered and made a terrific leaping catch in left, Anderson stood outside the Baja Beach Club, a bar in downtown Baltimore. He was dressed in his usual way: T-shirt, running shorts, hightop sneakers.
"Hey, Brady, you're going to win the MVP, I'm telling you," said a guy in his early 20's as he shook Anderson's hand.
Two young women approached. "Are you really Brady Anderson?" one cooed. "My brother is growing sideburns just like yours. But you're a lot better looking than my brother."
Three young men walked up. "Keep it up, Brady," said one, patting Anderson on the back. The young man then turned to his companions and said, "Now, if I could meet [Oriole first baseman] Randy Milligan, my life would be complete—because I just met Brady Anderson."
They want to race Brady Anderson. On June 9, after a 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, Anderson and Keith Boeck of the Orioles' public-relations staff stood outside Hooters restaurant in Baltimore. One of Boeck's friends challenged Anderson to a race in the parking lot. Says Anderson, "I asked him, 'You think you can beat me?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Let's go. I'll kick your ass.' The guy said he was the fourth-best sprinter in Pennsylvania. I smoked him. He kept wanting to race. I smoked him four times. He was a stiff. After 30 yards I turned and laughed at him. But I don't want people wanting to race me. So I'm retiring from racing in parking lots."
The legend of Brady Anderson is growing fast in Baltimore. He's a sideburned sex symbol, the city's parking lot sprint champion, and suddenly one of the best players in the American League. Through Sunday, Anderson, the Orioles' leadoff man, was hitting .286 and had already established career highs in homers (10), triples (six), doubles (15), RBIs (42) and stolen bases (19). He was among the league's top 10 in eight categories. Moreover, the 28-year-old Anderson, with his wall-climbing acrobatics in leftfield, has helped make the Orioles the league's best defensive team. He's the No. 1 reason why Baltimore, which lost 95 games in 1991, was on a 98-win pace at week's end.
"He's added a dimension that you don't see in a leadoff man other than Rickey [Henderson]," says Oriole coach Davey Lopes. "He's an impact player in the field, on the bases, at the plate. Right now, he's as good as any player in the league other than maybe [the Minnesota Twins' Kirby] Puckett. He's definitely had as much impact as any player."
Part of his impact has been the sheer surprise of it all. Anderson's 10th home run came in his 210th at bat this year, matching his career total in 1,081 at bats before this season. This is the same Brady Anderson whose lifetime batting average was .219 before this year. This is the same Brady Anderson who has never spent a full season in the major leagues, who was in Triple A as recently as Aug. 31, 1991, his baseball future in jeopardy.
That was the low point in a once promising career. Though he was not drafted until the 10th round by Boston in 1985, Anderson was soon touted as a future Red Sox star. The hype began in '86 when he hit .319 with 87 RBIs and 44 steals for Class A Winter Haven. He opened the '88 season with Boston and went 3 for 5 on Opening Day off Jack Morris. But in June of that year, after a 3-for-36 slump, he was sent down to Triple A Pawtucket. On July 30 the Red Sox, needing a veteran pitcher for the stretch run, traded Anderson and pitcher Curt Schilling to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker. The hype followed Anderson to Baltimore, but except for a big April in '89, he never lived up to that billing.
How low did he go? Last Sept. 2, Anderson, who had just been recalled from Rochester, was traveling on a Toronto freeway in a car driven by then Blue Jay infielder Rene Gonzales, a former Oriole who is one of Anderson's best friends. A massive rainstorm hit, but Gonzales still barreled along at around 60 mph. Anderson looked at him and said, "Gonz, if I wasn't hitting .178, I'd ask you to slow down."
Anderson survived the ride and started hitting, going 20 for 52 (.385) after Sept. 1 to finish the season at .230. That month Anderson also began growing sideburns, which had recently been popularized by Luke Perry of the hit TV show Beverly Hills 90210.
"Look, I've never seen that show," says Anderson. "I'm not trying to look like Luke Skywalker in Beverly Hills Cop, or whatever that show is. I went to my barber in Baltimore—Tracy. She's got this funky 'do, and she's kind of funky, the type of girl you might see in a dark club. The first time, she let a bit of the sideburns grow. I didn't even notice. The next time, she let a little more grow. Before I knew it, they were touching the sides of my lips."
While it may seem that Anderson's sideburns have lent him Samsonian strength, his newfound success with the bat is more likely the result of a mechanical adjustment made in his swing this spring and the eye exercises he began in the off-season, exercises he believes have helped him to see the ball better.
Anderson lived during the off-season in Newport Beach, Calif., with Gonzales, a fellow Southern Californian who now plays for the Angels. Gonzales has lasted eight years in the major leagues, mostly as a utilityman, by getting the most out of his ability. He stressed to Anderson the importance of not wasting his talent and made certain that Anderson realized it was time to redirect a career headed in the wrong direction. He also made sure Anderson relaxed and had fun.
"We'd go to [the University of California at] Irvine, where there would be Olympic athletes," Gonzales says. "We'd go there to run and lift, but before you knew it, we were throwing the discus, the shot, the javelin, and doing the triple jump. We'd go to a sports club and play racquetball and shoot three-pointers, close the place, and then he'd get in his new BMW and I'd get in my new Corvette, and we'd race to see who could get home first. When we got home, we'd look at each other and say, 'Do we have the greatest life in the world or what?' All we did was play. Brady latched on to me because I'm one of the few guys who could get a read on him. But you know, Brady is kind of strange."
Strange? The Baltimore players didn't quite know what to make of Anderson when he arrived from Boston. He was very quiet, and he carried a black bag that contained vitamins and a blender, in which he mixed health drinks. "I always have trouble keeping weight on, so I used that stuff for the calories," says Anderson. "I don't do that anymore. Now I just eat as much as I can."
Strange? In 1985, upon meeting O.J. Simpson for the first time, Anderson opened the conversation by saying, "O.J., loved you in Towering Inferno." In '87 he listed his biggest thrill in baseball as "watching a groundskeeper in winter ball set himself on fire three times" while trying to dry the field. At the end of April '89, when told that he had the best on-base percentage of any leadoff man in the league, Anderson said without hesitation, "I floss more than any leadoff man. I have the whitest teeth of any leadoff man."
Anderson's history of flakiness had some members of the Oriole organization wondering privately if he shouldn't spend the off-season learning to hit the slider rather than romping with decathletes. "What cracks me up is people who think I don't take baseball seriously," says Anderson. "It's the most important thing in my life. They don't know how hard it is for me to get a bad game out of my mind. I still can't, but I'm getting better."
In the past a bad game would foul him up for days. Coaches tried to get him to hold his bat more upright, to hit more balls on the ground to utilize his speed, to stop trying to hit homers, but Anderson never took well to so much advice. "Too much," he says. "When you're going bad, sometimes you need to relax more. I've always been intense. I didn't need to be more intense."
He has also always been stubborn. During his 25 years in baseball, Oates has compiled an alltime stubborn list. Anderson is third on the list. "Gene Michael is first, John Vukovich is second, and Brady is third," says Oates. "Ask Brady to take one bunt and seven swings in BP, and he'll take two bunts and six swings."
Anderson agrees he has been stubborn when it comes to accepting advice on hitting, but he adds, "Maybe I should have been more stubborn. I was trying to do things that I was incapable of doing. They wanted me to hit the ball on the ground, and I'd pop it up a lot. I can't hit the ball on the ground. This year, I'm just hitting the ball [in the air] a lot harder. A lot of my homers have come on line drives. I'm not a slap hitter. They know I'm fast, so they talked about being like [Los Angeles Dodger leadoff man] Brett Butler. He slaps the ball. I can't swing the bat like that. I have a totally different body than he has. If they wanted me to hit homers like Jose Canseco does, I couldn't do that either."
Butler is 5'10", 160 pounds. Anderson is just over 6'1" and weighs 195. "A couple years ago, I had never really stood next to him," says Oates, who is 6 feet, 185 pounds. "And I told him, 'You know, a little guy like you shouldn't be trying to hit homers.' He looked at me and said, 'What do you mean, "little guy" '? Then he stood next to me. He's taller than I am. I couldn't believe it. He's no little guy. But for some reason, look at him on the field and you think he's five-ten. His size is very deceptive."
"He looks a lot stronger now to me," says Toronto reliever Tom Henke. "Before this year you'd think 'Brady Anderson' and you'd think 'slap hitter.' " But this spring Anderson, a lefthanded hitter, abandoned all thoughts of slapping singles to leftfield and changed his batting stance to "the most generic I could find." He held the bat more upright. He stood straighter, instead of hunched over. "I was sick of being in a crouch," he says. "I felt weird, I looked weird. The bat felt weird the way I held it. Now I'm more normal. Now I just go up there, look at the ball and swing at it. That's it."
The mechanical change has obviously helped. So has a lineup change. With two weeks left in spring training, Oates had no obvious leadoff hitter. "So I thought I'd give Brady a shot," he says. "I figured if he could catch the ball, get on base once in a while, steal some bases, I had nothing to lose. I asked him what he thought of the idea of being my every-day leadoff guy. He said, 'I'd love that challenge.' That was enough for me."
Anderson has had his chances before, and he has shown flashes before. The question is, Will he fade again? "I don't think there's an end to this," says Oriole second baseman Bill Ripken. Baltimore reliever Gregg Olson says, "In the past you'd look at Brady and see some doubt. Now you look at him and you see that confidence."
And those sideburns. "He knows he looks like a dork with those sideburns coming out the bottom of his helmet, but he doesn't care," says Gonzales. "If I could grow facial hair, I'd grow them, too." On a dare from Anderson, O's pitcher Ben McDonald grew sideburns but accidentally shaved one off—so he went with only one. "Just to make fun of him," McDonald said. "I know my sideburn looks stupid, but I could grow two, look like Brady and really look stupid." McDonald recently shaved off his solo sideburn but warned Anderson otherwise: "I told him, 'Whatever you do, don't shave, not the way you're going.' "
Anderson wouldn't dream of it. "I'm not shaving them," he says. "I don't mean this season, I mean never. Ever."