The search for the missing link in Brady Anderson's evolution from slap-hitting leadoff guy to larger-than-life major-league home run leader has turned up an interesting incident in Rochester, N.Y., in summer 1991.
Anderson had been sent to the minor leagues by the Orioles for the third time, and Red Wings manager Greg Biagini was tiptoeing around the subject of where the disappointed young prospect would fit into the Triple-A lineup.
"I think Greg thought I was hacked off at being sent down, so he asked me where I wanted to play," Anderson said. "I told him, 'I want to hit fourth. I want to drive in runs.' So he put me in the cleanup spot for a few days, and I hit the ball well . . . until Roland [Hemond] found out, and then I was back batting leadoff."
It came down to a matter of contrasting perceptions. Anderson envisioned himself as a big-time run producer. He had come up (( through the Boston Red Sox organization touted as the second coming of Fred Lynn, and didn't mind the comparison. General manager Hemond saw him as a leadoff hitter with outstanding speed and some power. Turned out they both were right.
Anderson had no problem embracing the leadoff role, but he never fit the stereotype. The Orioles originally wanted him to bunt more and to slap the ball on the ground to take advantage of his speed. He wanted to be something more, and it took several years to persuade the club to let him become the player who hit his major-league-leading 15th home run of the season yesterday.
It didn't take nearly that long for him to convince himself -- just a few days as a minor-league cleanup hitter.
"That's what it took to get that bunting/slapping stuff out of my mind," he said. "That's when I decided once and for all that I was going to do what I do best, hit the ball hard."
In the five years since, he has had varying success. He had one of the greatest leadoff seasons in history in 1992, when he became the first American League player to have 20 or more home runs (21), 80 RBIs and 50 or more stolen bases (53) in the same year. He could not replicate those numbers the next three seasons, but Anderson continued to hit for power and drive in runs.
Now, he is on the roll of a lifetime, with 15 homers in 29 games, a pace that would carry him into the history books by August. Not that he is chasing Roger Maris -- that would be a little presumptuous five weeks into the season -- but he is chasing away the ghosts of an identity crisis that once inhibited his development as a star-quality major-leaguer.
"It never bothered me being compared to Fred Lynn, because he was one of my heroes growing up," Anderson said. "But it really did bother me when people wanted me to be Brett Butler. I couldn't see that, but I tried it for a while. I thought they might be right."
disrespect intended. Butler is the best bunt/single guy in the game, and he has fashioned an outstanding career doing just what the Orioles wanted Anderson to do before former manager Johnny Oates finally let him be himself in 1992.
The Orioles weren't the only ones to try and make him over. Anderson worked with Hall of Famer Ted Williams when he was in the Red Sox system and found it equally difficult to alter his style, even though Williams was much more supportive of Anderson's desire to drive the ball.
"I grew up my whole life reading Ted Williams' 'The Science of Hitting,' " Anderson said. "One of the things Ted Williams said in his book was not to let anyone change you. Then I met Ted Williams, and, in 10 minutes, he was trying to change me. . . . I couldn't hit like Ted Williams any more than I could hit like Brett Butler.
"I'm not saying anything bad about Ted Williams. He's a friend. He was trying to help me. It was just interesting to me that he could see me as a power hitter and then I could get to the majors and other people would look at me completely differently."
Anderson was in and out of the majors for four years before Oates gave him the green light. He has been one of the most popular -- and productive -- Orioles ever since.
"Johnny was the first guy to say, 'I don't care how you do it, just go out and hit the ball hard and score runs,' " Anderson said. "That was my big chance. I had reached the point in my career when I had become fed up with not being on the field. I realized what was important, and it wasn't just staying around."
That was something of a revelation in itself. Anderson had become resigned in 1991 to being a part-time outfielder. He even seemed ready to concede that he might never live up to the great expectations that had followed him out of the Red Sox organization.
Which brings us back to Rochester in 1991. The club was in negotiations with a Japanese club that wanted to buy his contract and sign him to a two-year deal, and Anderson had reached the point where he was all for a change of scenery if it would mean an increase in playing time.