50 homers? Orioles' dude looks like a slugger

September 07, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Both are left-handed hitting outfielders. Both grew up in the San Diego area. Both were signed by the Boston Red Sox.

Which one hit 44 homers in a season, Ted Williams or Brady Anderson?

Here's a hint:

It's not the Splendid Splinter.

That's right, Anderson has already hit more homers than Williams ever did in a single season.

At his present rate, he will finish with 51 homers -- not bad, considering he began the year with only 72 for his career.

Anderson, 32, is primarily a leadoff hitter, but that's not the reason he would be the most unlikely 50-homer man in major-league history.

Here's a guy who was a .219 career hitter in his first four seasons, with only 10 homers in 1,080 at-bats.

Now, he's approaching one of baseball's most hallowed milestones -- and a slugging milestone, at that.

Only 12 players have ever hit 50 home runs in a season. Only four have done it in the last 35 years, since Roger Maris set the record with 61.

The disclaimer?

Seven players already have hit 40 homers in this spectacular offensive season, and nine others have hit 35 or more.

"So what if Brady Anderson has 44 homers?" New York Daily News columnist Mark Kriegel wrote. "Eddie Gaedel could have hit 30 this year."

Funny line, but the point is, only one player has hit more homers than Anderson -- Oakland's Mark McGwire (46).

Dude, I'm a 20-jack guy.

That was Anderson's old line.

Dude, I'm a 40-jack guy.

That's the updated version, subject to further revision.

The New York Mets' Todd Hundley (39) has made the only comparable breakthrough -- he entered the season with a career high of 16 homers.

Seattle's Alex Rodriguez (35) and Montreal's Henry Rodriguez (33) are different, because they're playing regularly for the first time.

Anderson reached his career-high of 21 homers in 1992, then combined for only 41 his next three seasons, in more than 1,500 at-bats.

Maris didn't do it this way.

Neither did Babe Ruth.

Willie Mays didn't do it this way.

Neither did Jimmie Foxx.

For the most part, the sluggers who hit 50 were terrific players from the starts of their careers. None struggled as long -- or as mightily -- as Anderson.

Yesterday, the Orioles' center fielder recalled that former manager Frank Robinson would order him to take pitches on 2-0 and 3-1 counts.

"Nine times out of 10, he'd hit soft fly balls to the outfield," Robinson said. "I said, 'Geez, what's the sense of letting him hit when he doesn't hit the ball hard?' "

Little did Robinson know, Anderson one day would threaten his club record for home runs in a season -- 49, set in 1966.

What happened?

Former manager Johnny Oates gave Anderson the freedom to '' swing hard, and the chance to play every day.

Anderson kept getting stronger through weight training. And he gradually learned more about himself as a hitter.

Still, who could have imagined this?

Joe Stephenson, the scout who signed Anderson for the Red Sox, recalled him yesterday as a gifted center fielder who could run and make contact.

"If I had known he was going to hit 40 homers, we would have drafted him in the first round, not the 10th," Stephenson said.

Anderson left Cal-Irvine for a $15,000 bonus. He wasn't drafted out of Carlsbad (Calif.) High, where he weighed 145 pounds as a senior.

He was a classic late bloomer.

The day he signed, he weighed 172.

Today, he weighs 198.

"I've got a picture -- it's funny, I don't know why I saved it," Stephenson said. "It was the day he signed. He was here with his father.

"In the picture, I would say he weighed about 170. He had a tank top on. He was no picture of power."

That was 11 years ago.

Did Stephenson ever think Anderson could hit 50?

"Of course not -- I put him down for 70," the scout cracked.

And now here's skinny Brady, with a chance to become the first player in history to steal 50 stolen in one season, and hit 50 homers in another.

Can Anderson do it?

Well, Eddie Murray's struggle to hit his 500th homer underscored the pressure a hitter faces as he nears a milestone.

The difficulty of Anderson's quest also is compounded by the Orioles' pennant quest, for even the best offensive teams frequently sputter in September.

On the other hand, the Orioles play six more games against Detroit, a team likely to set the major-league record for homers allowed in a season.

Plus, Anderson is in the middle of another hot streak, with home runs in four of his last six games.

Fifty?

"I know what that is," Anderson said. "I've followed baseball history my whole life. I understand fully the significance of it."

Fifty.

Six homers in the final 22 games.

2& Willie, Mickey and . . . the Dude.

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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