Jack in batter's box proves ultimate toy for Anderson

July 09, 1996|By John Eisenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- It was Brady Anderson's vision of a perfect world.

The only objective was to hit home runs.

No laying down bunts or working counts or doing any of that dorky stuff the Orioles used to want him to do.

Just jacks, dude!

It was dreamland for Anderson, the Orioles' sudden slugger.

So what did he do in the All-Star Home Run Derby yesterday at Veterans Stadium?

He restrained himself. Is this a great country or what?

The Orioles spent years trying -- and failing -- to teach Anderson patience and turn him into a clever little leadoff hitter, then gave up and let him do what he wanted: swing like Popeye for the fences.

So, after he hit 30 home runs in the first 86 games this season, what did he do yesterday with the rest of the baseball world watching and waiting for him to validate himself as a slugger?

He started taking pitches like a clever little leadoff hitter -- just what the Orioles wanted him to do way back when.

Anderson looked and didn't swing at the first two pitches, six of the first eight and eight of the first 12.

It'll never happen again.

L "Dude," Anderson said, "I just didn't want to get shut out."

In other words, he didn't want to waste any swings on bad pitches. His nervousness was understandable. Most of the other players in the Derby had better power credentials.

"I'm a cruiserweight in a heavyweight contest," Anderson said beforehand. "Do I get spotted three homers?"

Hardly. Leading the majors in homers, Anderson had no shot at getting relief. He had to find a way to hang with the Mark McGwires and Barry Bondses.

He devised a brilliant plan.

"Swing at the strikes and don't swing at the balls," Anderson said. "Pretty clever, huh?"

It worked pretty well.

Carefully selecting pitches, he hit six home runs in the first round, enough to advance him out of the original pool of 10 and into the final four.

There, he watched McGwire hit nine homers and Bonds hit 10 before taking his turn, basically blowing him out of the contest before he even took a swing.

He managed to hit five more "jacks" before using up his allotment of 10 "outs." At one point, he hit three homers in a row and had the big crowd roaring.

Back in the American League clubhouse at the end of the day, having hit 11 home runs in the Derby, he wore a broad smile revealing relief. Bonds wound up winning the event.

"At the start, I felt like a bad golfer teeing off on the first hole of a big tournament," Anderson said. "I was a little out of my element."

But was he? That was the big question during yesterday's workouts in advance of the All-Star Game tonight. Anderson was the hot story, the fresh angle, the outfielder suddenly chasing Roger Maris' single-season home run record after having never hit more than 21 homers in a season.

"Do you see yourself as a power hitter now?" one reporter asked.

"I'm not convinced," Anderson said.

"What is your secret this year?" another reporter asked.

"I'm not swinging any differently," he said. "I think I'm just more consistent."

Q: "How many homers are you going to hit this year, Brady?"

A: "Two hundred, probably."

Q: "Do you think you can break Maris' record?"

A: "What, you want me to hit 32 more? That's mind-boggling. It's a lot of home runs. I'd love to take a shot, but I don't think it's a realistic goal."

So it went, reporters coming at him in waves, asking him again and again to explain his stunning surge and decide, now and forever, whether he had indeed become an Official Power Hitter.

Of course, there is no able explanation for his stunning surge and no one knows whether it will continue. Still, the questions kept coming.

"Would you rather hit .325 with 40 homers or .280 with 50 homers," he was asked.

Anderson paused, rubbed his newly stubbled chin and smiled.

"The 50 homers," he said.

Why?

"Why?" he repeated. "Because I'm a dork."

L More because he loves the idea of hitting his beloved jacks.

At one point, the crowd around his locker was so thick that he couldn't get through. Never was it more apparent that home runs translated into attention.

"It's flattering, but the amount [of attention] is a little stunning, to be honest," Anderson said.

The best part of all the attention?

"A lot of your old girlfriends call," he said.

The worst part?

"A lot of your old girlfriends call."

But seriously . . .

Then the workouts began and the Home Run Derby followed, and Anderson found himself in his vision of a perfect world.

Jackland.

With the rest of the baseball world watching him flex his pecs in between swings.

It was sweet, dude. Who cared that he didn't win? He hit 11 homers, the crowd cheered, bunting was against the rules and )) the whole deal was way sweet.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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