Brady is 'Little Cal,' a big-time player

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 17, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He's stubborn. He helps the Orioles even when he's not hitting. And he doesn't want to miss a game.

Cal Ripken?

Nope, Brady Anderson.

Call him Little Cal, if a 6-foot-1, 195-pound wall of muscle can be considered little. Anderson, indeed, shares many traits with his more renowned teammate. That's one reason manager Johnny Oates sticks with him, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

It didn't seem like such a good idea last season, when an exhausted Anderson batted .223 in September and October. And it didn't seem like such a good idea in May, when a flu-stricken Anderson descended into a 28-for-174 (.161) slump.

At times, Oates should ease back on the throttle -- that, after all, was his original idea behind making Mark McLemore an outfielder. But the manager is so enamored of Anderson's skills, the only time he rests him is against left-handers on the road.

Last season, Anderson played even more complete games (154) than Ripken (153). This year, he has started every game but two, sitting against David Wells in Detroit and Mark Langston in California. Oates envisions him playing 155 games.

Even when he's not hitting, Anderson is the Orioles' best leadoff hitter, most dangerous base stealer and a Gold Glove candidate in left field. Now that his six-week slump is over, he's re-emerging as one of the most dynamic players in baseball.

Like Ripken, Anderson is a complex package -- hungry to play, distinguished by a monster season, resistant to change. He battled the flu for three weeks in May, but never asked for a day off. "I'm not looking to come out," he said.

Believe it or not, for all his struggles, he isn't far off his remarkable 1992 pace. He's batting 41 points lower (.230), but at this rate, he'll finish with more extra-base hits (70), and nearly as many homers (17), RBI (70) and runs (92).

That last statistic is the one Anderson values most. He knows he probably can't produce another 80-RBI season out of the leadoff spot. If he has a goal, it's to score 100 runs for the second straight season, and further validate himself as one of the game's premier leadoff men.

Regardless, Anderson can always offer defense and speed -- "I guarantee you," he said, "our pitchers want me out there every day." That's why he was useful for four years as a part-time player and why he bristles whenever someone demeans his overall game.

It happened again last week, when Boston general manager Lou Gorman not only denied the Anderson-for-Frank Viola trade rumor, but also took several shots at his former player.

"Brady Anderson is hitting .212 right now; does anybody think of that?" Gorman said. "He had one [good] year last year, but other than that, he's struggled at the plate. He's a good defensive player with some speed, but I don't think you'd want to give up front-line pitching."

Naturally, Anderson was offended.

But not for the reasons you might think.

"All he had to say was, 'No, the rumors were false,' " said Anderson, who is 11-for-30 (.366) since Gorman's remarks were published. "He criticized what I was hitting, which is fine. It was accurate. But he acted like I was just an OK outfielder with some speed.

"That was uncalled for, not to mention inaccurate. He doesn't know what it's like to have a player steal a base on his team. As soon as he gets them, he gets rid of them."

Anderson took similar offense in the spring of '92 when a certain columnist who shall remain nameless wrote that Oates was fantasizing if he thought such an unproven player could steal 50 bases.

The premise was that Anderson wouldn't hit enough to stay in the lineup, making the total unreachable. Anderson, a .219 career hitter at the time, didn't want to hear it. The actual act of stealing 50 bases -- that he could do, no problem.

Obviously, he doesn't own a consecutive-games streak like Ripken, but Oates hates removing him from the lineup just the same. Anderson made Oates look like a genius last season. The manager can't help but be loyal to such a player.

"He's hitting the ball well enough to be hitting .280 right now," Oates said last week -- before Anderson got hot. "But he has hit a lot of line drives right at people.

"Last year, he never hit a ball at anybody. Every ball was in the hole or in the seats. And usually, when it was in the seats, it was late in the game with somebody on. It was just one of those years."

Now, Anderson is again justifying Oates' faith. Little Cal is on a roll. He might never get a day off again.

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