Brady loves to lead just let him do it

April 27, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He's on pace for 66 homers, 147 runs, 118 extra-base hits and 140 RBIs.

That's it, no more questions.

Brady Anderson is a leadoff hitter. Period.

Yes, it's intriguing to envision him batting lower in the order. Yes, it's maddening to watch him when he's in one of his notorious slumps.

But former Orioles manager Johnny Oates figured out the secret with Anderson in 1992, and it's about time everyone else caught on.

Let Brady be Brady.

Vive le difference!

"Six years ago, people wanted me to hit to left field and bunt. Now they want me to bat fourth," Anderson said last night. "There's just got to be some in between. I'm best when I'm let go to play."

That's what Oates did in '92, and Anderson responded with one of the greatest seasons by a leadoff hitter in major-league history.

He had a spectacular April that year (.299, two homers, 18 RBIs), but he's ahead of that pace in every category this season but stolen bases.

"His stolen bases are down," Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina deadpanned, "because he's got too many doubles and home runs."

Anderson joked that his homers shouldn't be held against him.

"That counts," he said. "I'm touching all the bases."

Heck, he not only had a 12-game hitting streak entering last night, he had an eight-game extra-base-hit streak.

Both streaks ended when Anderson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but he also drew a bases-loaded walk in the Orioles' 5-4 loss to Texas.

To think, the day he took over as manager, Davey Johnson said he wanted to remove Anderson from the leadoff spot.

He never did, and probably never will.

"A lot of his problems have come from someone not wanting him to hit leadoff," Johnson said. "He likes it. That's what he wants to do, what he feels he's best at."

Oates, now with Texas, said it might be dangerous to tinker with a player who is so confident in his leadoff skills.

"Brady's a guy you can mess with mentally," Oates said. "I try to see Brady as a No. 6 hitter, but I see him as a guy hitting first. That's all I see him as."

Got that?

End of discussion.

Forget that Anderson leads the league with a .741 slugging percentage, and that he's tied with Cecil Fielder for the lead with nine homers.

"He [Fielder] stole a base," Anderson said, smiling. "When he did that, I bet they didn't talk about moving him to leadoff."

Well, of course not.

Fielder can't bunt.

The thing that impressed Oates last weekend in Texas was the way Anderson worked counts -- two of his four homers in that series came on 3-2 pitches.

Oates said Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez was stunned that Anderson fouled off four balls on 3-2 until he got the pitch he wanted to hit for his home run off left-hander Darren Oliver last Sunday.

"Brady's never worked counts," Oates said, smiling. "That's one of the things we talked about [in '92].

"We said, 'We're not going to overcoach you, just hit the ball as hard as you want.' We tried to get him to bunt. I said, 'Brady, it hasn't worked, do it your way.' "

Anderson's philosophy on bunting can be summed up thusly:

Dude, I'm a 20-jack guy.

And if you need to ask what a "jack" is, you haven't been watching Anderson very long.

"In past seasons, he might have had too much of an uppercut, trying to lift the ball too much," Johnson said. "He's not doing that now."

So, how far can he go?

Anderson finished with 80 RBIs in '92, just five short of the leadoff record set by the late Harvey Kuenn with Detroit in 1956.

That number certainly seems within reach, but the frightening thing is, Anderson is a player who gets very cold as well as very hot.

"It's not frightening to me," he said. "That's just how it is. You might call me streaky, but if you look at the results. . ."

Whoa, there, Bradester.

Even you admit you're streaky.

"I am," he said. "But the results are pretty consistent."

It's true -- his batting average the past four seasons has never been lower than .262 or higher than .271.

Calculating his numbers over 162 games from the two strike seasons in that period, he has averaged 17 homers, 72 RBIs and 105 runs.

"There's nothing wrong with getting a lot of production from a leadoff hitter," Anderson said, as if he needed to defend the point.

"The greatest leadoff hitter of all time is Rickey Henderson. Right now, it's Kenny Lofton. The reason he comes close to Rickey Henderson is that he's starting to hit with a higher slugging average."

Whatever, Anderson wins the debate.

He's a leadoff hitter, no argument.

"I've never felt there should be any question to replace me if I struggled a little, or any need to drop me to an RBI spot if I'm hitting well," Anderson said.

"Just take me for what I am, and leave me in the leadoff spot."

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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