Japanese newspapers began printing his picture. Japanese scouts kept following him around North America. All the elements were falling into place, if the Orioles wanted to sell a struggling outfielder named Brady Anderson to the Lotte Orions.
It never happened, and less than a year later, in one of the great baseball turnarounds, Anderson is an All-Star. He could be playing in Japan. He could be playing for another club. "Anyone could have had him," one major-league executive said last night.
Anderson's agent, Dennis Gilbert, said the approval of Orioles general manager Roland Hemond was the only thing needed to complete the deal with Lotte last fall. Hemond claimed the talks never were serious, but admitted, "I didn't discourage them from scouting him."
"Roland Hemond was for it, as was assistant GM Frank Robinson, and Anderson looked forward to making $550,000 over there," Peter Gammons wrote recently in the Boston Globe. "But [manager Johnny] Oates convinced team president Larry Lucchino not to do the deal."
Hemond and Robinson disputed Gammons' version, Oates claimed he talked only to Hemond, and several Orioles sources said the reported salary figure was too high. Whatever the facts, it's clear the Orioles strongly considered parting with Anderson. Indeed, many were shocked they did not.
Japan, it turns out, was but one option. Hemond actively shopped Anderson last winter, but the market was virtually non-existent for a .219 career hitter about to turn 28 years old. Anderson's former team, the Boston Red Sox, actually wanted him back. Of course, they figured he could be stolen.
One source said the Red Sox offered outfielder Wayne Housie, a 5-foot-9 switch-hitter who has batted under .200 all season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Another said they proposed righthander Dana Kiecker, who has been released twice in the past four months, most recently by Cleveland's Triple-A club.
The Red Sox accurately forecast their need for a centerfielder in the event Ellis Burks reinjured his back. Unable to land Anderson, they signed free agent Herm Winningham. Yesterday, with Mike Greenwell also sidelined, they sent lefthander Tom Bolton to Cincinnati for outfielder Billy Hatcher.
Anderson, meanwhile, hit his 15th home run leading off the first inning in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over Minnesota at Camden Yards. He isn't merely setting career highs in virtually every offensive category. He's approaching his career totals from the four previous seasons.
American League manager Tom Kelly said, "He has the whole package working" -- a .287 average, the 15 homers, 28 stolen bases, 40 extra-base hits, 56 RBIs. Cecil Fielder isn't an All-Star. Dave Winfield isn't an All-Star. But Kelly made sure to include Anderson -- Brady Anderson! -- on his team.
Oates deserves much of the credit, for he argued to keep Anderson, then named him the Orioles' full-time leadoff hitter. Yet Oates admitted he might have consented to the Japanese or any other deal, if the club acquired an outfielder of similar ability to provide depth behind Mike Devereaux.
Hemond said it didn't get that far, claiming he never even talked with Lotte team officials, who would have paid the Orioles to release Anderson before signing him to a separate contract. Anderson, however, was under the impression that Gilbert was trying to negotiate a two-year deal.
"It was pretty close, I thought," said Anderson, who is earning $345,000 this season. "They came to watch me play when I was in Rochester [in late August]. I saw the same guys in Toronto [in mid-September]. They'd get to the park real early all the time. I assumed there was a connection.
"I did well that last month," Anderson continued, referring to his .385 September average with the Orioles. "As the month went on, the Japanese wanted me more and more. The Orioles wanted to give me up less and less. My feeling was, if the Orioles want me, that's where I want to play."
The unlikely saga climaxed yesterday, with Oates summoning Anderson to his office and telling him he made the All-Star team. It was a truly special moment, a moment no one thought possible, a moment of absolute truth in a game so cruel, yet so forgiving.
Just the other day, Anderson came across a reprint of the Gammons column in Baseball America. He read the item that described how he nearly went to Japan. He realized, suddenly, how far he had come. "It made me think, oh my god, how beautiful it was that I got to stay here and play."
Brady Anderson, All-Star.
How beautiful indeed.