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Orioles’ Brady Is Whole Bunch Better

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was touted as the next Fred Lynn when he came up to the majors with the Boston Red Sox.

But he was traded to the Orioles, who tried to make him over into Maury Wills.

Then there were those few days back in the minors when he made like Reggie Jackson.

So now he’s able to be himself.

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And look out Roger Maris.

Brady Anderson--certainly the most famous baseball player to come out of UC Irvine--got to the big leagues because of his sprinter speed, but these days he’s perfecting his home run trot. He hit six homers in spring training, set a major league record with 11 in April and hit No. 15 May 4, the earliest date in big-league history.

Anderson, who had a 13-game hitting streak stopped Friday night during the Orioles’ 10-3 loss to the Angels at Anaheim Stadium, trails major league home run-leader Albert Belle by one with with 20.

Not bad for a guy who once had the dubious distinction of being the first outfielder to survive four seasons in the big leagues with a batting average of .231 or lower every year. Those were the dark days, when folks in the Baltimore franchise were trying to turn him into slap-and-sprint specialist who would take the most advantage of that cursed speed.

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His darkest hour might have come in the summer of 1991, when he was making his third trip back to the minors in as many years. But then Greg Biagini, general manager of triple-A Rochester (N.Y.), made the mistake of asking Anderson where he wanted to hit in the batting order.

Without hesitation, Anderson picked the clean-up spot.

Baltimore General Manager Roland Hemond found out after a few days and had his stubborn-but-physically-prototypical leadoff hitter inserted back in the No. 1 spot.

Too late. Damage done.

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“They let me hit there for a couple of days, before they found out, but that’s all it took to get that bunting stuff out of my mind,” Anderson said. “That’s when I decided was going to stand up a little straighter at the plate, be aggressive and do what I do best . . . hit the ball hard.

“I think a big part of it was that I came from another organization and the people in Baltimore, the big league coaches, hadn’t seen me play in the minors when I was mostly a No. 3 hitter. I never really showed them any consistent power and they had this vision of what kind of hitter I should be.”

Before the 1992 season, former Oriole Manager Johnny Oates--who once called Anderson one of the top five all-time most stubborn men in baseball--gave in and gave Anderson the green light to swing away. Anderson responded by becoming the first American League leadoff hitter to have 20 or more home runs (21), 80 runs batted in and 50 or more stolen bases (53) in one season.

Baltimore wanted a leadoff hitter, they got one . . . emphasis on hitter. Anderson already has seven lead-off homers this season, a club record. It took Don Buford an entire season to hit five in 1971.

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But the fleet center fielder doesn’t always completely circle the bases without stopping. He’s managed to reach base one way or another in 40 of 44 starts and he’s hitting .312, which ought to satisfy even a purist’s idea of the quintessential leadoff guy.

Just how hot is this guy? Somebody asked Cal Ripken his thoughts on becoming Baltimore’s all-time home-run leader--he passed Eddie Murray with his 334th Wednesday--and he said: “At the pace he’s going, it’s projected Brady will pass me in a year and a half.”

As for Anderson--who always liked that Fred Lynn comparison, anyway--he apparently isn’t really all that surprised to be on a pace to hit 65 homers this season.

“There are a lot of guys in this league with the potential to hit a lot of home runs when they’re swinging the bat really well,” Anderson said. “I built up a lot of confidence this spring, especially about my power to center. The more you trust that power to center, the more you can stay up the middle and the more consistent you can be.

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“I’m very relaxed right now. I’m balanced between staying aggressive and being selective and I’m getting good swings and consistently driving the ball.”

He’s also getting plenty of air time on the evening highlight shows and a lot more interview requests than in the past. But Anderson--who used to be known for his James Dean sideburns more than his bat--has never been shy. He never rankled at the Luke Perry comparisons and the Beverly Hills 90210 jokes, he still calls just about everybody, “Dude,” and he in-line skates the mile or so from his residence to Camden Yards.

“The media attention I’ve gotten isn’t very extraordinary,” he said, “not after seeing what happened to Cal last year. This isn’t even in the same league. I did twice as many interviews last year talking about Cal than I’ve done this year.”

If he continues turning baseballs into souvenirs at the current pace, reporters who can’t squeeze in with the Brady Bunch may have to go see Cal.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The File on Brady Anderson

Height: 6-1

Weight: 195

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Age: 32

Bats/Throws: L/L

Last season: Hit .262 with 16 home runs, 64 runs batted in and 26 stolen bases.

Previous power: Hit career-high 21 home runs for Orioles in 1992.

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County connection: Attended UC Irvine, where he played the outfield and first base.

Traded: Boston sent him to Baltimore in 1988 with pitcher Curt Schilling for pitcher Mike Boddicker.


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