Orioles learn hard way, leave hitting to Anderson Leadoff hitter finally gets into the swing

April 28, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took the Orioles more than three years to figure out the best way to coach Brady Anderson was to leave him alone.

Anderson, who for the first month of the season, has been among the most productive hitters in the American League, is doing all the things the club wanted him to do when he came to Baltimore in 1988. He apparently just needed time to figure things out for himself.

"We've coached him for three years -- go the other way, go the other way -- and finally decided he's not that kind of hitter," manager Johnny Oates said yesterday. "I finally told him I don't care where he hits the ball as long as he doesn't play home-run derby. It seems like the minute we stopped telling him to do things, he started doing them."

The results have been impressive. Anderson ranks among the league leaders in several statistical categories and has been a driving force in the Orioles' solid start this year. But he also ranks on a lesser-known list -- the Johnny Oates Stubbornness Index.

"He's fourth on my list of the most stubborn people in baseball," Oates said, half-jokingly. "Gene Michael is first, John Vukovich is second and I'm third. Brady is fourth. He's not going to do that until we tell him he can do what he wants, then he'll do it."

This is news to Anderson, who doesn't consider himself to be the least bit stubborn, unless you insist he trim his Elvis-revival sideburns. He has finally gotten a chance to play regularly and he is taking advantage of it, but he says that he has not drastically changed his approach at the plate.

The turnaround predates the 1992 season. He began swinging the bat better late last season, about the time he went to the minor leagues and spent a week with then-Rochester Red Wings manager Greg Biagini. He had 10 hits in 25 at-bats for the Red Wings and came back to be the Orioles' leading hitter (20-for-52, .385) for the final month of the season.

That may have been the turning point in his career, but Anderson says it was more a turn of fortune than anything else.

"When I went down to Triple-A, I was confident I was going to hit well," he said. "I really didn't change anything. The thing with Greg and Johnny, they give me subtle reminders that make sense, not huge changes. They don't bombard me with ideas."

Oates calls it "reverse psychology." He could see that the more intensive approach taken by former hitting coach Tom McCraw didn't have much of an effect. That's when he put Anderson on his all-stubborn list.

"I don't know if I was stubborn or not," said Anderson, who was batting .191 when he was sent to Rochester last Aug. 20, "but he [Oates] just tries to put you in a position where you're comfortable. He puts you in a position to succeed."

Perhaps its too early to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions, but Anderson looks like he might be the everyday leadoff hitter the club has been looking for since Al Bumbry was released after the 1984 season. He entered last night's game with a .309 batting average and a .410 on-base percentage. The 18 RBI are just a bonus.

If there is room for concern, it is that his success as a run-producer will change his approach at the plate, but Anderson disputes that he has ever tried to swing for the fences.

"I will argue that to my dying day," he said. "Everyone assumes that I am trying to hit the ball out because I pop up a lot, but that's not the case. I'm not a power hitter. I know I'm not going to hit home runs. I'm sure power guys like Canseco try to hit home runs. With me, it's incidental."

Oates was ready to concede that point after Anderson's five-RBI performance against the Yankees on Saturday. He hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, then went the other way against a left-hander his next at-bat.

"I think he's slipping a little bit on my [stubbornness] list," Oates said. "He's going to left field some. But it's only because I told him he didn't have to."

Anderson's top-10 list

The Orioles' Brady Anderson ranks in the AL top 10 in seven major offensive categories (through Sunday):

Category..... ..... Stat..... Rank

RBI.... ..... ..... 18....... tied for 3rd

Steals....... ...... 5....... tied for 6th

Slugging..... ..... .615..... 3rd

Runs......... ..... 12....... tied for 9th

Doubles...... ...... 6....... tied for 7th

Triples...... ...... 4....... 1st

Total bases........ 41....... 3rd

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