I’m not asking in a literal sense. Thanks to the interwebs, I learned that the former Baltimore Orioles center fielder is now working as an instructor with the club.
I’m asking because, to me, Brady Anderson represents a level of naiveté that is as ridiculous and out of place in the modern world as it was delightful in the moment. Despite my never being an Orioles fan, or a fan of his in particular, I have to say that I find myself missing him.
Anderson played parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues, the majority with Baltimore. He was always a very productive leadoff hitter and a well above average defensive outfielder.
His original breakout season came in 1992, his first as a full-time player for the Orioles. He hit .271 with 21 home runs, 80 RBIs, 100 runs scored and stole 53 bases. He made the All-Star team and even finished ahead of guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez in the American League MVP voting.
Anderson continued to be a nice player and table-setter for a good Baltimore team, until his true breakout season in 1996.
Out of nowhere, Anderson belted a franchise-record 50 homers.
For a leadoff hitter!
His slugging percentage jumped from .444 in 1995 — respectable — to .637 in 1996 — uh, what? While that’s not even close to an all-time record, consider that only 17 players in the game’s history have slugged at least .700 for a season. So reaching the low-to-mid .600s is still wildly impressive.
While this was occurring, conversations included comments like “Man, Brady is really putting it all together!”
“His combination of power and speed is remarkable!”
“I can’t believe that at age 32, he’s taken his game to another level!”
“This new ‘Macarena’ dance will never wear out its welcome!”
OK, that last one was just to reiterate the time period we’re discussing. Hopefully, that wasn’t really being said.
Anderson jumped from a guy who had hit 62 homers in the previous four years combined — hitting one every 35.3 at-bats — to a guy now slugging one over the wall every 11.6 at-bats.
Yet the most common questions about Anderson had nothing to do with his monumental, historic rise in productivity. They were mostly about his sideburns, who he was dating, or how he should have a cameo on “Beverly Hills 90210.”
I remember reading stories about how he had always felt like a power hitter, but coming up in the Boston Red Sox system, they tried to change him into a prototypical leadoff hitter. He said they were trying to make him Brett Butler.
That mentality had then spilled over into the Orioles’ system after they traded for him — the still amazingly bad Mike Boddicker for Curt Schilling and Anderson swap that haunted Boston fans until 2004.
He said it wasn’t until ‘96 that manager Davey Johnson let him loose.
At the time, all those answers and explanations seemed to make sense. He hit 21 homers in his first full season at age 28; maybe reaching 50 wasn’t so crazy.
In 1997, he fell back to earth from a power standpoint. Replacing the gaudy numbers of the prior season were those that seemed to reflect who he truly was as a baseball player. He hit just 18 homers and saw his slugging percentage fall back to .469. Maybe pitchers were being a bit more careful with him — he received six intentional walks, as opposed to just one during the 50-bomb campaign.
Maybe he was trying to hit the ball out of the park and not letting the good swings just happen naturally.
Maybe the protection he had received behind him in the lineup from guys like Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla and Cal Ripken was lacking in ‘97.
But that wasn’t it. This team was better in ‘97. The O’s went 98-64, winning the American League East after an 88-74 year in ‘96.
No, it was Brady who was different.
He was different — or more accurately, back to normal — for the rest of his career, hitting 18, 18, 24 and 19 homers in the four full seasons after the mammoth 50 spot.
He hit one homer every 27.1 at-bats those years.
He was still good, but the more he played, the more that one year stood out.
Now, I’m not going through all of this to skewer Anderson. I certainly don’t know if he ever took steroids or any performance-enhancing substances that allowed him to become Barry Bonds for one calendar year.
What I do know is that now, looking at a 32-year-old player who instantly triples his power potential and then never duplicates it in any other season, I don’t just chalk it up to the guy being “locked in.”
That’s why I miss Brady Anderson. Because when he was doing what he was doing, we weren’t questioning how he was doing what he was doing.
Nowadays, neither I, nor anyone who follows baseball would be so believing.
I would have loved it if during last season, as Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Bautista was peppering the ball on his way to a league-high 54 home runs, all the discussion had been about his hairdo or that he should be on “Beverly Hills 90210” (the new one).
But that wasn’t the discussion. It wasn’t that innocent. He had never hit more than 16 homers in a season before, so 54 seemed like it had to be manufactured, somehow.
Such has been the thought process for the past decade, and will be the thought process for the foreseeable future.
That’s why I miss Brady Anderson.