Crunching numbers, hits Anderson: The O's leadoff man believes in the power of hitting statistics. But he's as selective about the ones that matter as what pitches he swings at.

March 22, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Speaking of center fielders, Brady Anderson can tell you why he likes Mickey Mantle over Joe DiMaggio.

Speaking of modern-day baseball, Anderson can make a case why Frank Thomas belongs in the same breath with Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig and why today's hitters deserve more than backhanded credit for facing an era of pitching devastated by two rounds of expansion within the same decade.

Speaking of himself, the Orioles center fielder can describe the power of numbers, not only as a source of satisfaction, but also as a reservoir of motivation.

Numbers, man.

A single guy, Anderson is actually married to his numbers. And why not? As a kid, he made the statistics of Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays a personal science that would later shape his philosophy about the game.

Batting average is overrated. Slugging percentage plus on-base percentage is where it's at.

Strikeouts? No big embarrassment. Runs scored? Huge.

"A lot of people are into their statistics, and that's fine, but I think from a historical standpoint they put things into their proper place," says Anderson, numbers man.

"Look at what Frank Thomas has done. People don't appreciate it. One hundred walks, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored for seven straight seasons. How do you do that in a strike year? That's unreal," Anderson says of the hulking Chicago White Sox first baseman. "People talk about [Ken] Griffey and [Barry] Bonds, and they should, but this guy has done something no one's done since Gehrig."

Anderson's love for statistics partially stems from his having taken so long to achieve any. He needed three years to reach the major leagues, then endured his entire 148 at-bat career with the Red Sox without a home run. Traded to the Orioles in July 1988, he batted .198 and .207 in his first two seasons with his new team, hitting five home runs in 443 combined at-bats.

The Red Sox had tried to instruct him in the ways of hitting coach Walt Hriniak, whose philosophy promoted plate coverage but often at the expense of power.

"I didn't buy into that," he recalls. "That wasn't me."

Crunching numbers, pitches

Anderson, 30 stolen bases short of the Orioles' club record, craves crunch, the kind that brought him 92 extra-base hits in 1996, including 50 home runs.

Mention Tony Gwynn and Anderson speaks of the eight-time batting champion "reaching another dimension" due to last year's .547 slugging percentage and 119 RBIs. Anderson's father reveres Ted Williams. No. 9. Anderson's number. The number worn by Roy Hobbs, The Natural, a left-handed bat. A power number.

Anderson's style as a hitter defies stereotyping. Addicted to the leadoff role, Anderson more closely fits the profile of a power hitter. Big swing. Top hand off the bat. Three straight seasons with 100-plus strikeouts.

"Every time I swing, I try to hit the ball as hard as I can," he says without apology.

Never a .300 hitter, Anderson doesn't use batting average as the leading indicator of a hitter. Instead, he uses a yardstick composed of on-base percentage added to slugging percentage. It's doubtful other leadoff men weigh slugging so heavily.

"I don't measure myself against other leadoff hitters," Anderson says. "I measure myself against other hitters."

Yearning to be Yaz

Anderson's favorite player growing up was the No. 8, Carl Yastrzemski, a man who constructed colossal numbers because consistency and endurance. He finished a 23-year career with 3,419 hits but never had 200 in a single season.

Only 19 men hit more than Yastrzemski's 452 home runs, though he slugged more than 23 in a season just four times. Anderson knows this. Yastrzemski also served as a spring training hitting coach for the young Anderson. Their contact only confirmed the prospect's admiration.

As an idol, Yastrzemski always will have something Anderson says he will never achieve: mammoth career numbers.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is that I'm a guy who had to work and improve to get where I am now. The game was never easy. I had to work at it and improve my skills," Anderson says. "But because of that, I'll never have awesome career stats or rank in some all-time list. That's not my career."

Anderson, 34, sees his career more closely mirroring another No. 9 -- Roger Maris -- another outfielder whose career challenged description because of its relatively slow start but intense acceleration.

Maris produced 354 of his career 851 RBIs from 1960 to 1962. After breaking Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, Maris never again hit more than 33. Anderson has hit 84 of his 140 career home runs in the past three years and has driven in 247 of his 529 career RBIs in the same span.

Asked whether he fears that a fixation with numbers invites accusations of selfishness, Anderson says what many know but refuse to acknowledge.

Judged 'on your numbers'

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