Anderson defends his '96 power trip, says `it was not a fluke'

Former Oriole answers Palmer's steroid remarks

March 20, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - One cell phone call to Brady Anderson is interrupted because he's running with the track athletes at the University of California-Irvine. Another time, he cuts the conversation short to lift weights, promising to reserve a few minutes later in the day. Nighttime hours are spent feeding his 7-month-old daughter, Brianna, and putting her to bed. And the weekends aren't always good because he's competing in a flag football league.

Perhaps the Orioles' second-most popular player behind Cal Ripken during his 14 years in Baltimore, Anderson has been retired from baseball since the San Diego Padres released him from their Triple-A affiliate in Portland, Ore., in 2003. But no matter how long he's away from the game, no matter how many athletic challenges await him - and he's always looking - the aura of his 50-homer season will continue to exist.

And so will the suspicions.

When Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer suggested earlier this week that Anderson's achievements in 1996 were open to scrutiny because they were such an aberration - the implication being that without a drug-testing program, nobody knows whether he cheated - the former outfielder's name became linked to steroids. And this time, it wasn't just the whispers that envelop any player who has an anomalous season.

The story made national headlines and aired on ESPN. Eight years after Anderson's milestone, he was a hot topic again - and for all the wrong reasons.

"Because I only hit 50 home runs once, it was, in fact, an aberration. However, it was not a fluke," he told The Sun yesterday. "Nothing can be considered a fluke that takes six months to accomplish. Rather it was a culmination of all my athleticism and baseball skills and years of training peaking simultaneously. This was my athletic opus.

"Hitting in front of [Roberto] Alomar, [Rafael] Palmeiro, [Bobby] Bonilla and [Cal] Ripken didn't hurt, either."

Palmer later explained that his remarks, which aired Monday on 98 ROCK (WIYY-FM), weren't meant to suggest that Anderson used steroids. Though he hasn't contacted Anderson, Palmer issued a brief apology through the media.

"I have been alternately amused and perplexed by Palmer's vacillating comments over the last few days," said Anderson, who is raising his daughter with her mother, Sonia Vassi. "I did not respond initially because I sensed he knew he had made a mistake and thought it fair to let him rectify the matter on his own.

"Perhaps what offended me the most was his comment that he knows how hard I trained. How could he possibly know that? Pushing myself to become a better athlete was truly my passion and still is. Many people don't possess the desire to test the limits of what the body and mind can accomplish, and others I'm certain possess the desire but lack the expertise to achieve the desired results."

Anderson never hit more than 21 homers before 1996, and didn't eclipse 24 after '96.

"I know what I accomplished, am proud of it, and know that it was done with integrity," he said. "I'll state this once again: It was 26 more home runs than I hit in any other season, but that's just one more home run per week, just one more good swing. That is the data that simultaneously comforted me and haunted me, the small difference between greatness and mediocrity."

Anderson usually kept a container of Creatine in his locker, but the supplement, which serves as an energy reserve in muscle cells, is legal.

"That's here to stay. It's a legitimate substance. It's found in food," he said. "Taken properly, it can be very beneficial. But it doesn't replace skill or training."

Anderson, who was tested for steroids in the minors last year, said he has received dozens of calls from friends and former teammates since Palmer's remarks made it into print, many of them outraged or confused by the implications.

They remember Anderson as a man obsessed with physical fitness, someone whose training methods were seen as outrageous for a baseball player. They remember him working out privately on the back fields at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, where he would squat 200 pounds while balancing on an exercise ball.

They also observed how his weight never fluctuated much, that his muscular build was the same four years before he hit 50 homers - as evidenced by a poster of him, shirtless, that was a popular sell in Baltimore. They didn't see the violent outbursts common with steroid abusers.

"There was a part of me that regarded the steroid talk as a compliment, sort of like when the Brewers came into town in '96 and were snooping around for my bats to see if they were corked," he said. "Those things weren't upsetting to me."

Players used to tease Anderson for bringing his own blender into the clubhouse, unfamiliar with the concoctions he chugged before or after games.

Said Ripken: "Now protein mixes are an acceptable part of everyone's diet. Brady always had a much more advanced concept of cross-training and plyometrics and his diet. He was just ahead of the curve."

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