"Some of them you remember better than others. Like my third, I
remember everything about that one. Bottom of the ninth. Tie
game. My bat felt light. Line drive, over the scoreboard. Game
A SEASON begins. Next to a player's name there are nothing but
zeros. No at bats. No runs batted in, no runs scored. No hits,
no stolen bases. No home runs. Somewhere in a black day-by-day
planner that Brady Anderson carries with him is a sheet of paper
with a bunch of numbers, Anderson's goals for the season.
Anderson loves numbers; numbers swim in his head nearly all the
time. But there is one category for which the Baltimore Orioles'
centerfielder and leadoff hitter will make no recorded
commitment: home runs.
Last year Anderson did something rash in the Department of Long
Balls, something historic. He walloped 50 home runs, only 19 of
which came in his cozy home office, Camden Yards. Along the way
he became the first player to lead off four consecutive games
with a dinger. For the season he began 12 games with home runs,
which is also a record. Two aspects of his outburst are
particularly odd. First, Anderson is no kid; he turned 33 on
Jan. 18. And he's no Ruth, either (although they were both born
in Maryland). Before last year the most homers Anderson had hit
in a season was 21, in 1992. Now his name is on a list suitable
LEFTHANDED HITTERS WITH 50 OR MORE HOMERS IN A SEASON:
Roger Maris (once)
Babe Ruth (four times)
Johnny Mize (once)
Brady Anderson (once)
April 13, 1997
For most categories Anderson has no trouble writing down goals.
He would like to score at least 100 runs this season. (Last year
he scored 117.) He would like to commit no errors. (Last year he
had three.) He would like to steal at least 40 bases. (Last year
he stole 21; in 1992 he swiped 53.) He has written goals for
batting average, RBIs and total hits. But home runs are where
Anderson draws the line. He won't dare write down a goal, let
alone discuss it. He is not a superstitious man, but he knows
that in baseball, as in life, there are penalties for being too
"Number 7 was interesting. My third leadoff homer in three
games. I had used the same bat for the first two homers. I had
planned to keep using that bat until I broke it. But while I was
on deck, I put it back, took out another bat. You want to know
that it's you and not the bat."
Anderson doesn't look like the leadoff hitter from central
casting. At 6'1" and 190 pounds, he has the build of a light
heavyweight boxer, with a narrow waist, broad shoulders, thick
neck and thighs. (A few years ago, he sparred with 1972 bronze
medalist boxer Jesse Valdez. Anderson, a human perpetual-motion
machine, has also raced against world-class sprinter Marty
Krulee, played tennis against Monica Seles, lifted tons of
steel, run mountains, in-line skated and water-skied.) His upper
arms are immense, with veins that look like swollen rivers
running across them in every direction. He doesn't have that
hunched over stance, that tiny strike zone, that scrappy,
sacrificial lamb, sacrifice-bunt-leadoff-guy look. He looks like
a three hitter, a cleanup hitter, a five hitter.
Then there are his numbers. For a leadoff batter Anderson
strikes out fairly often, 106 times last year and an average of
73.2 per season over his nine-year major league career. He has
slumps more often than the perfect leadoff hitter would. His 21
stolen bases last year were certainly respectable but not
spectacular; same goes for his 76 walks. But he has some other
things going for him, like a .396 on-base percentage, which was
fourth best in the majors among leadoff hitters last season, and
a .637 slugging percentage.
"The thing you have to remember about Brady is that he likes
being a leadoff man," says his manager, Davey Johnson. "He
revels in the fact that he can get us on the board real quick.
There's no rule that says your leadoff hitter can't have power."
The Orioles are built for power. After Anderson, Johnson expects
the next four men on his every-day lineup to be Roberto Alomar,
Rafael Palmeiro, Eric Davis and Cal Ripken.
"Number 8 was a good one. My fourth leadoff homer in four games.
Against Texas. Darren Oliver has me in the hole, two-strike
count. I hang in there, foul off a bunch of pitches. Work the
count to full. Then I hit it out. A good at bat."
Ripken wears number 8; Anderson wears number 9, and their
friendship is close. Johnson says he doesn't know anybody in
baseball more game to play every day than Anderson, except for
Ripken. After Anderson was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the
Orioles in 1988, he became a student of Ripken. Anderson watched
how Ripken took batting practice, how he treated fans, how he
studied pitchers. "I asked myself," Anderson says, "How can he
be so solid in everything he does? We're a lot alike in that
neither of us needs to lean on other people. I guess I consider
it a sign of weakness if you have to rely on other people too
"A lot of them, you don't remember anything. When the ball goes
out, time stops. It's like this is the only moment in my day
when everything in my mind is quiet. The crowd could be going
nuts, but I don't hear anything. You feel relief, contentedness.
Everything is just really still. It's like you're flat-lining.
I'm not happy. I'm not ecstatic. I'm just in my own world."
The most obvious question is the one most difficult to answer:
Where did last year's power surge come from? From 1992 to 1995
Anderson averaged 15.5 homers per year.
Did he suddenly bulk up? No. At Carlsbad (Calif.) High, Anderson
was wiry (though intensely athletic: a basketball player, a
surfer, a hockey player). As a freshman at UC Irvine, Anderson
weighed 145 pounds. But over the course of this decade
Anderson's height, weight and body fat (5%) have remained nearly
Did he make radical changes to his stroke or his stance? They
have been the same for years too. Anderson leans over the
plate--he was hit by 22 pitches last year, the most in the
American League--so there's not a part of the strike zone he
doesn't consider his own. His swing, a compact, quick, brutally
strong uppercut, has looked the same for the past five years.
So how did he do it? How did Anderson, in 1996, more than triple
his average home run total from the previous four years?
Anderson is a career .256 hitter, and a career .356 talker.
(Last year he batted .297; this spring, particularly loose, he
talked .397.) But on the subject of home runs--even
acknowledging that his power surge coincided with a leaguewide
rise in home runs that was often attributed to a combination of
poor pitching and a juiced ball--neither he nor his teammates,
coaches and manager can settle on a single theory, except to say
that his mental game caught up with his physical attributes.
Anderson erased from his mind any lingering thoughts he had of
himself from his many minor league stints as a slap hitter who
should hit the ball on the ground so he could reach first in
order to steal second. His primary purpose at the plate now is
to drive the ball, but that didn't happen over the course of a
single year. His monster season, Anderson says, was the
culmination of 20 years of devotion to the game. You take a big
pot of water, you put it on top of a stove, it simmers and
simmers and simmers for a long time. Then, with no warning, you
have a roiling boil.
Anderson is smart, too smart to say that he can do this year
what he did last. What he believes he can do is continue along
the path he's been paving since 1992. Which is to say, he thinks
he can continue to be one of the best leadoff hitters in
baseball, a valued in-the-thick-of-it presence in the clubhouse
and a highly reliable glove man, too, with a decent arm, superb
speed in the outfield and a .988 career fielding percentage.
"I hit number 30 on the Sunday night before the All-Star Game. I
remember that I was invited to do Meet the Press that morning,
and I turned it down. I won't do anything to upset my schedule
during the season. If I had done the show, my day would have
been completely different. I might never have hit that homer.
Afterward my mother says, 'Brady, are you going to be able to
hit 60 for the season?' I said, 'Mom, are you going crazy like
Anderson is not married, has never been married and has no
children. ("I'd like to blame baseball, as I have in the past,
but that's probably not it, if I really think about it," says
Anderson, who has been dating Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch.)
His mother, Sharon, and father, Jerry, who divorced when Brady
was three, come up in his conversations easily and naturally. He
is close to both, but growing up he lived more with Jerry than
with Sharon. From his mother, Brady learned the art of
thoughtful conversation and the value of friendship. From his
father, Brady learned drive.
One summer when Brady was in college, his father sold his
nursery business and became a financial planner, which required
him to take a job in Los Angeles, a three-hour drive each
morning from Carlsbad. While learning a new profession, Jerry
had to rise at 3 a.m. He averaged four hours of sleep per night.
He never complained about how taxing his life was. He knew it
was a sacrifice he had to make to start a new career. Brady
internalized his father's wordless message: Work hard. Don't
complain about things out of your control. When Brady was in
high school, his father promised him a surfboard if he earned a
3.5 grade point average. Brady's average came in at 3.419. He
said, "C'mon, Dad." His father said, "What was our deal?" No
surfboard. Which is not to suggest that Jerry is an austere man.
Brady says his father is very witty, and Brady is as well. The
other day, somebody was saying to Brady that the birthmark that
covers part of his left hand is identical in color to Mikhail
Gorbachev's famous birthmark. To which Brady said, "True, but
the location of mine is more fortunate." He was grinning, with
his eyebrows raised to the middle of his sloping forehead.
He has an expressive chameleonlike face. In a certain light, in
a certain mood, describing certain things, Anderson has the face
of a roughneck, like one of the ultraviolent thugs in the movie
A Clockwork Orange. The other day Anderson was saying, "I would
rather die, literally die right on the field, than have to come
back after an at bat in which I didn't perform my best because I
was afraid." As he said this, his eyes turned into slits and his
chin retreated into his neck. The tips of his ears became red.
The very thought was making him angry.
Later, he was showing a teammate, Pete Incaviglia, a technique
he uses to improve his ability to visualize. He placed a
baseball on a chair in the clubhouse and moved 20 or so feet
away from it. He stared the ball down. Then he closed his eyes.
He puffed out his cheeks, pursed his lips, furrowed his
forehead. You could see the man thinking. Then Anderson walked
straight to the ball, stopped about a half-foot short of the
chair, picked up the ball in the palm of his hand. If you think
that's easy, try it.
"I hit my 50th in the last game of the season. After it, Davey
[Johnson] says to me, 'Why don't you come out of the game?' We
had the playoffs coming up. I said, 'I'm not coming out.' Davey
says, 'Cal came out.' I said, 'Good for Cal. I'm not coming
out.' I got another at bat, and I doubled. That let me set the
Orioles' season record for total bases, 369. It gave me 37
doubles for the season, my best ever, by one. You've got to give
yourself chances. That's what this game is all about."
NO RHYME OR REASON
Of the 14 major leaguers who have hit 50 home runs in a season,
Brady Anderson's breakthrough year was the most startling, based
on each player's career home run rate (at bats per home run)
entering his first 50-homer campaign. Also, every player other
than Anderson hit at least 22 home runs in the season preceding
his first 50-homer year.
Player First Home Prior HR Rate Entering
50-HR Year Runs Year HRs 50-HR Year
MARK MCGWIRE 1996 52 39 13.2
ALBERT BELLE 1995 50 36 15.9
CECIL FIELDER 1990 51 38* 16.3
WILLIE MAYS 1955 51 41 17.8
JIMMIE FOXX 1932 58 30 18.7
ROGER MARIS 1961 61 39 19.3
JOHNNY MIZE 1947 51 22 19.6
MICKEY MANTLE 1956 52 37 19.9
HANK GREENBERG 1938 58 40 20.0
HACK WILSON 1930 56 39 20.1
RALPH KINER 1947 51 23 21.8
BABE RUTH 1920 54 29 22.7
GEORGE FOSTER 1977 52 29 25.1
BRADY ANDERSON 1996 50 16 45.4
(*Played in Japan)