KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Assistant general manager Doug Melvin got to thinking as the Orioles considered Brady Anderson for the leadoff job this spring. Out of curiosity, he compared Anderson's professional background to that of two younger players, Leo Gomez and Chris Hoiles.
What Melvin found was astounding. Anderson had 1,634 at-bats above Single-A -- only slightly more than Gomez (1,498), and fewer than Hoiles (1,771). Yet, despite his limited experience, most viewed him as fading, possibly washed up, and Gomez and Hoiles as emerging.
The way Melvin saw it, Anderson needed to be judged as a developing talent, not a 28-year-old has-been. He made that point in a report to general manager Roland Hemond, arguing that Anderson deserved the same opportunity for playing time as Gomez and Hoiles.
The report isn't what convinced manager John Oates to commit to Anderson, but it provides as good an explanation as any for the stunning revival of a once-promising career. Anderson, playing every day for the first time in three years, is proving Melvin and Oates right, and a lot of other people wrong.
Deion Sanders, meet your American League alter ego. Anderson had two triples, a stolen base and three RBIs in the first four innings of last night's 10-4 victory over Kansas City. Neon Deion leads the majors with six triples. Shady Brady is now second with four.
He's batting .327 -- more than 100 points above his career average -- with an on-base percentage of .424. He leads the Orioles with 11 RBIs, and is second only to Hoiles in total bases (29-28) and runs scored (11-10). Pretty impressive, considering Hoiles is the AL's leading hitter at .390.
Yes, it's only 13 games, and yes, Anderson got off to a similar start in 1989, only to fade after six weeks. The difference this time is that he's in the lineup for good. Oates is even ignoring his .160 career mark against lefthanders. Anderson faced lefty starters six times in the first 10 games.
The manager sees no other choice. He wants former leadoff man Mike Devereaux batting lower in the order, and future leadoff man Luis Mercedes waiting his turn.
It's Brady or bust. It's Brady, and the Orioles (8-5) are off to their best start since 1983.
This is what Melvin envisioned after reviewing Anderson's career in March. The last time Anderson played a full season with one club was in 1986 at Single-A Winter Haven. He batted .319, stole 44 bases and drove in 87 runs. He also drew 107 walks and reached double figures in doubles, triples and homers.
It was a remarkable season -- "You don't see those types of numbers often in A ball," Melvin says -- and it made him a phenom in Boston. Two years later Anderson opened with the Red Sox. That summer, he and Curt Schilling were traded to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker.
Anderson spent the rest of '88 with the Orioles and had that big start in '89, but that was it. Injuries slowed his progress. Former batting coach Tom McCraw hated his swing. "There were times I struggled and I knew I wasn't going to play and it was justified," Anderson admits.
Yet in Melvin's analysis, he never got a true chance. He didn't last long in the minors, unlike a Devereaux, who had 1,736 minor-league at-bats. And he didn't play regularly in the majors, unlike a Steve Finley, who became a full-time starter after getting traded to Houston.
Not all hitters require 1,500 minor-league at-bats -- Finley had only 884 -- but Anderson never developed properly. Melvin often compares him to a young pitcher with a great arm.
"Maybe his numbers aren't there," he says, "but you hate to give up on him and see him shine somewhere else."
The Orioles wait on pitchers like Jose Mesa and Ben McDonald; why not a Brady Anderson? If Melvin is indeed correct, all he needed was time.
"I've always felt that way," Anderson says. "I came up in a hurry. I know I can keep improving. I think I have improved each year."
"You can't give up on him," Melvin insists. "If he goes into a slump, he's got to make the necessary adjustments. That's what determines whether guys have long careers. And that's been the criticism of Brady in the past -- that he won't adjust."
In other words, the battle is just beginning. The Orioles don't need Anderson to hit .300, they just need him to get on base. Right now, the whole thing is unfolding like a dream. Wouldn't it be something, if all Brady Anderson needed was to play?