Anderson is in O's rut, and loves it

March 22, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- No one thinks of Brady Anderson as the Orioles' signature player. That distinction belongs to Cal Ripken, for the rest of this century, and probably forever.

Still, this will be Anderson's ninth season in Baltimore. Frank Robinson didn't play for the Orioles as long. Neither did Mike Cuellar nor Don Buford, Bobby Grich nor Don Baylor.

In fact, only 23 other major-leaguers have been with their current teams since the day the Orioles acquired Anderson from Boston for Mike Boddicker July 30, 1988.

Not surprisingly, the list features many of the biggest names in baseball Ripken, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine. To stay with one team so long, you've got to be pretty good.

Real good.

We're talking a combined 103 All-Star selections more than four per player. Anderson, 32, has made only one All-Star team. He was a bust his first four seasons in Baltimore. Even now, he's only a lifetime .250 hitter.

So, in an era of dizzying player movement, how has he stuck with one team?

By surviving on his outfield skills when he wasn't hitting early in his career. By developing into a dangerous leadoff man and Gold Glove-caliber outfielder. And, last but not least, by acting sensibly at contract time.

Anderson signed a three-year, $10.25 million deal with a club option for a fourth year in January 1994. He might have earned more by waiting to become a free agent at the end of that season. But his priority was to stay in Baltimore.

"A player truly is lucky to be able to play for the Orioles," Anderson said yesterday before hitting his third homer of the spring in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I believe that."

He believes it so strongly, he says he'd be willing to accept a lesser salary next season if the Orioles refused to exercise his $4 million option for 1997.

"I'm willing to give up a certain amount whatever that might be to stay in Baltimore," Anderson said.

And if his agent, Dennis Gilbert, objected?

"I make the final call, not him," Anderson said. "I'll make sure I stay here."

To think, he could be taking just the opposite approach, considering that the Orioles have parted with three young center fielders in the past nine months Damon Buford, Curtis Goodwin and Kimera Bartee.

Just the other day, manager Davey Johnson called Anderson the Orioles' best center fielder and best left fielder. His value to the club has never been greater, yet he's talking sacrifice when most players would be talking extension.

What is he, a communist?

Not exactly, at $3 million-plus per year.

Ben McDonald is one mercenary who would have been wise to follow Anderson's lead. Too many players allow their agents to dictate where they play. Too many players suffer after leaving the organizations that know them best.

Anderson emulates Ripken, who emulates Brooks Robinson, who spent his entire 23-year career in Baltimore. Is this so complicated? Life is good with the Orioles Anderson cited owner Peter Angelos, Camden Yards, the fans, even the media.

He remembers the loyalty the Orioles showed him when he was struggling (his only demotions were for 21 games in 1989 and seven in '91). And he recognizes that other clubs might not show the same patience with such a streaky player.

"I get hotter and colder than most players in the big leagues," Anderson said. "I'll take my lumps during the season every now and then. I need to be left in there."

It took the Orioles almost four years to figure that out, and even then, former manager Johnny Oates turned to Anderson only out of desperation. Remember the spring of '92? It was Anderson and Luis Mercedes battling for the leadoff job.

Several club officials lobbied for Mercedes, and one brilliant columnist wrote, "Oates thinks Anderson can steal 50 bases. That's fantasy. Mercedes has won three minor-league batting titles. That's reality."

All right, so we were a little off.

Anderson hit 21 homers, drove in 80 runs and stole 53 bases, one of the best seasons by a leadoff hitter in major-league history. Mercedes, the future batting king, is now out of baseball.

Still, only now is Anderson starting to be appreciated. Phil Regan wanted Goodwin to replace him in the leadoff spot. Initially, Johnson and GM Pat Gillick also talked about dropping Anderson in the lineup. They've since come to their senses.

This will be Anderson's fifth season as the Orioles' full-time leadoff hitter, and he's also returning to center field, the position at which he had the Orioles excited when they acquired him in '88.

"If my career really started in '92, then I'm probably in the middle of my career right now," Anderson said. "Really, I don't see why I couldn't be a center fielder here four more years or wherever they want me to play in the outfield."

He's a fixture, OK?

A fixture, a gamer, and if he has any choice in the matter, an Oriole for the rest of his career.

The fixtures

The 23 major-leaguers who have been with their current teams longer than Brady Anderson has been with the Orioles (he was acquired July 30, 1988), with their number of All-Star appearances in parentheses:

AL

Cal Ripken, Baltimore (13), Roger Clemens, Boston (5), Mike Greenwell, Boston (2), Chuck Finley, California (3), Ozzie Guillen, Chicago (3), Ron Karkovice, Chicago (0), Alan Trammell, Detroit (6), Mark Gubicza, Kansas City (2), Kirby Puckett, Minnesota (10), Mark McGwire, Oakland (7), Terry Steinbach, Oakland (3), Jay Buhner, Seattle (0)

NL

Jeff Blauser, Atlanta (1), Tom Glavine, Atlanta (3), John Smoltz, Atlanta (3), Barry Larkin, Cincinnati (5), Craig Biggio, Houston (4), Darren Daulton, Philadelphia (3), Tony Gwynn, San Diego (11), Robby Thompson, San Fran. (2), Matt Williams, San Fran. (3), Tom Pagnozzi, St. Louis (1), Ozzie Smith, St. Louis (13)

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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