Controversy could center around Anderson next year

July 15, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Brady Anderson has played center field for the past four seasons. He said he plans to occupy that position for the next four as well.

"I've never heard of any dissatisfaction with my play in center," Anderson said before last night's 11-5 victory over Toronto. "And there shouldn't be, either."

Well, his opinion isn't shared by all.

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, while refraining from direct criticism, said yesterday that Anderson plays too shallow in center, and that Jeffrey Hammonds could challenge him at that position next spring.

The Orioles face numerous decisions for 1999, and center field would seem to be a low priority. Indeed, with Gillick likely to depart after this season, the next GM might simply choose to keep the status quo.

Still, the idea of moving Anderson back to left and B. J. Surhoff to right is intriguing. If the Orioles acquired a center fielder superior to Anderson, their outfield defense would become that much better.

"I told Brady when he signed that he would be my center fielder unless someone came along who was better," manager Ray Miller said, referring to the five-year contract that Anderson received last winter.

"He's outstanding in left, too. Obviously, his replacement would have to be a bona fide superstar center fielder who would make you better."

Hammonds doesn't fit that description -- he has never been healthy for a full season. More likely, the Orioles would pursue another center fielder to displace

Anderson, just as they signed Mike Bordick to play shortstop when they wanted to move Cal Ripken to third base.

The identity of that player?

Tough call.

Bernie Williams is the only big-name free agent available, and owner Peter Angelos rejected a Roberto Alomar-for-Williams trade when Anderson was a free agent last winter, fearing that the Yankees' center fielder would command too much money.

Anderson -- like Ripken before Anderson the Bordick signing in 1996 -- is

adamant that no change is necessary.

"I'm an asset in center field," he said. "You want me in center."

Gillick didn't sound as sure.

He said he was "satisfied" with Anderson's defense and described him as "better than average" in center, but questioned his positioning.

"Brady is a very aggressive center fielder," Gillick said. "With the size of this park, I think he plays a little bit shallow. I think he would have to play a little deeper. Some balls get over his head. Not that he can't get to them, but he plays shallow."

Anderson's response?

"If the manager or Eddie [Murray, bench coach] thinks I'm too shallow, they get my attention and move me back. It's not brain surgery. It's very simple. Sometimes, Eddie moves me in. Sometimes, Eddie moves me back."

Doesn't sound like a man ready to move, does it?

Anderson, notoriously stubborn, turns 35 in January. The diving catch he missed on a double by Darrin Fletcher last night was precisely the kind of play that club officials believe he should make.

His offense is an even greater source of frustration. Just two years removed from his 50-homer season, Anderson is batting .223 with nine homers and 32 RBIs, in part due to a sprained sternoclavicular joint that hampered him in April and May.

Last night he popped up on a 3-0 count with Roberto Alomar on second base and none out. He also turned a potential triple into a double by failing to run hard on a ball he hit off the right-field wall, then got doubled off second on a line drive to right by Rafael Palmeiro. He finished 1-for-5.

Offense, defense, it isn't Anderson's year.

Gillick watched Devon White in Toronto. Assistant GM Kevin Malone watched Marquis Grissom and Rondell White in Montreal. They're not accustomed to seeing balls drop in center.

Some within the organization believe Hammonds gets better jumps in center than Anderson. The problem, of course, is that the oft-injured Hammonds can't be penciled in to start 140 games.

"The whole thing with Hammonds is if you can keep him healthy," Gillick said. "I would think if he was healthy it would certainly be a good situation if he could compete with Brady in center field."

Who is the better center fielder?

"Right now, probably because of his experience, Brady," Gillick said. "Certainly, as we've been saying for a long time, Hammonds is a heck of an athlete."

Anderson said that Hammonds prefers to play a corner outfield spot, where there is less wear and tear. Hammonds indicated that he has no preference.

"Right now, my position is right field. Why look at it any other way?" Hammonds said. "There's no controversy. I'm not saying I like it or don't like it. It's not even a concern."

Not for '98 it isn't.

But how long before the Orioles decide to move Brady Anderson?

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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