July 12, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Brady Anderson


 RYAN PETZAR on BRADY ANDERSON

I grew up 45 minutes north of Baltimore and I was 10 years old, there were two names that mattered when you were talking about the Orioles. There was Cal Ripken Jr. and there was Brady Anderson. Cal Ripken was the elder statesman of the game. He was a dignitary. He was more myth than ballplayer.

But Brady Anderson? Brady Anderson was my hero.

I’ll probably never have a vote for the Hall of Fame. I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. After all, I came of age in the 90s and as such, my ideas of what makes a great ballplayer don’t mesh well with the rest of the HoF electorate. Most of my heroes are now persona non grata around Cooperstown.

It doesn’t matter that Cal Ripken called Brady Anderson “the best athlete I have ever played with." It doesn’t matter than he’s in the Orioles’ own Hall of Fame. Brady Anderson became synonymous with the steroids era of baseball and because of that, he didn’t even get a single vote in his first and only year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2008. Is he a hall of famer? No, probably not. But not a single vote? That just breaks my friggin’ heart.

As a pudgy, white kid growing up in the mid-90s, any time I picked up a bat on a sandlot or at little league, I wanted to hit homers. That was it. Because that’s what baseball was about then: the long ball. I was always stuck as the catcher, the big kid always is, and I wasn’t particularly good. Mostly because I didn’t give a damn about defense. I just wanted to hit, and I wanted to hit HARD.

I always envisioned myself as the game’s best sluggers. I wanted to launch longballs like Brady, not the Big Hurt, Big Mac, Buhner, Belle, or Thome. I didn’t take pitches. I couldn’t tell a ball or a strike. I could only tell if I could reach the ball with my bat and if I could reach it, I swung for the goddamned fences.

But I revered Brady Anderson, who when I was ten years old, hit 50 homers for the 1996 Orioles. The only guy to hit more that year was McGwire and his 52.

In addition to his 50 home runs, Brady also stole 21 bases, hit .297, had 92 extra-base hits, had ten outfield assists, and got hit by a pitch a league-leading 22 times. This all in his age 32 season.

In 1996, Brady Anderson became the first person ever in the history of baseball to lead-off four consecutive games with a home run. On April 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st, Brady started each game off with a shot to deep right field. That’s never been done before. It’s never been done since. In fact, nobody had ever done it three times, let alone four.

To add to the Brady-in-96 myth, his 50th homer came during game 162 of the season. He started the day tied for the Orioles’ single-season home run record with Frank freakin’ Robinson. In the very first at-bat of the game (surprise!) Brady took the Blue Jays’ Pat Hentgen, the man who’d go on to win that year’s AL Cy Young, yard for this 50th of the season. He’d go on to double and draw a walk in the game.

And then there’s the sideburns. Oh, how there were the sideburns.

But we all know how the story ends: Brady’s home run total drop. Just 18 each in ‘97 and ‘98. He hits 24 and 19 in the two seasons after that. In 2001, he hits only 8 home runs in 501 plate appearances. He hits a single homer in 2002 with the Indians before calling it quits 44 games into the season.

We all know the prevailing narrative: he wasn’t a home run guy, then he hit a ton of home runs one year, then he went back to being not a home run guy. When hear the name Brady Anderson, they immediately think ‘steroids’ because the guy was playing at a time when a ton of other people took steroids. He’s always denied it, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do them. It also doesn’t mean he did them.

When considering Brady Anderson, take a step back and think about the numbers: Anderson’s home run totals spiked for just one year. The rest of his stats looked about the same as they did during the rest of his career. His statistics rise and fall pretty much in line with his age. Isn’t it possible, even if it’s a remote chance, that 1996 was the product of a lot of good physical conditioning and a lot of good luck? It certainly seems at least as probable as a guy taking steroids for a single year, them having an immediate impact in only one statistical category, and then him quitting steroids just as suddenly.

In 2004, Anderson was candid about his ‘96 season in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. "Because I only hit 50 home runs once, it was, in fact, an aberration. However, it was not a fluke," he said. “Rather it was a culmination of all my athleticism and baseball skills and years of training peaking simultaneously.”

But maybe, instead of being product of good luck or good chemistry, Brady’s 50 home run season was a product of just how damn good the Orioles were in ‘96 and ‘97. After all, when reflecting on his 50 in ‘96 for The Sun, Brady quipped “Hitting in front of Alomar, Palmeiro, Bonilla and Ripken didn't hurt, either."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Petzar has managed to parlay his hobby of being an obnoxious jackass on the internet into an honest-to-God gig in the Philadelphia sports media. Ryan was a contributor to the don't-call-it-defunct Phillies blog The Fightins, and sometimes does silly stuff for Zoo With Roy. He's a producer for Philly.com Sports and covers the Phillies for 97.3 ESPN in South Jersey.

You can follow Petzar on Twitter at @petzrawr, which, according to his college roommate who was in the midst of an acid trip, is what his name would be if he were a bear, but you can call him "Petz".


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