Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, and Hank Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season. But guess who did? Brady Anderson.
In 1939, Johnny Pesky signed with the Boston Red Sox for $500 and reported to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Class B, for his first year in the minors. As David Halberstam recounts in his book The Teammates, Pesky, brimming with nervous energy, wanted to impress both his teammates and his manager, while showing the front office that they hadn’t made a mistake in signing him.
Those first days with the team, the diminutive shortstop, who stood at 5′ 9” and weighed 160 pounds, tried to muscle every pitch out of the ballpark.
Manager Heinie Manush noticed, and one day, before a game, he quietly pulled Pesky aside. He praised Pesky for his bat control, and suggested that he try choking up on the bat, which would make his bat control even better. When Pesky protested, citing the loss of power from choking up, Manush brushed it aside.
“Accept who you are,” Manush told him. “Maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses. Don’t try and be what you’re not.”
Brady Anderson, the speedy center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles in the mid-1990’s, was most certainly not a power hitter. But that’s the beauty of performance enhancers: they allow players to be who they aren’t, to transform their weaknesses into strengths, and rake in the fame and fortune that follow.
His 1996 season will go down in lore as the one that sparked it all. Sure, Canseco had been ‘roiding for years. But he had always been huge and hit 33 home runs his rookie season.
Anderson was different. A 6′1″, 170-pound outfielder, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of UC-Irvine in the 10th round of the 1985 draft. After some success in the minors, he broke in with the big league club in 1988, before being flipped to the Baltimore Orioles (with a young, hard-throwing righty named Curt Schilling) for middle reliever Mike Boddicker. By the 1992 season, Anderson had established himself as the Orioles’ starting center fielder. Exhibiting great speed (he stole 52 bases in his first full season) and playing solid defense, he was a serviceable, if unremarkable, major league player.
Then, in 1996, Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs.
Let me put this in perspective: up until this point, in the 100-plus-year history of the game, only 12 players had hit 50 home runs in a season, and the majority of these guys are enshrined in Cooperstown: Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Willie Mays, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, and Mickey Mantle.
Between 1978 and 1996, only two players, sluggers Cecil Fielder and Albert Belle, had hit 50 home runs in a season.
Some names are noticeably absent from this list: Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt.
But in 1996, Anderson, a 32-year-old, career .250-hitter, with 72 home runs to his name, hit 50 in one season.
It was absurd, unheard of. Anderson called it the “culmination of all my athleticism and baseball skills and years of training peaking simultaneously.”
Defending his season, he rationalized that the 50 home runs represented “just one more home run per week, just one more good swing … the small difference between greatness and mediocrity.”
True, greatness may mean one more home run per week. But greatness is not just doing that for one season—it’s maintaining it over the course of a career. And when your body breaks down in subsequent seasons, and you never even come close to attaining that golden number, it’s no wonder that suspicions arise.
It may be wrong to call him the “poster boy” of the steroid era, because he’s never been fingered in any reports, and Anderson himself has wholeheartedly denied ever using performance enhancing drugs.
Some have even rushed to his defense.
But come on—seriously?
Babe Ruth. Mickey Mantle. Ken Griffey, Jr. Willie Mays. Alex Rodriguez … Brady Anderson?
Anderson’s season—which came out of nowhere—ushered in a new era of juiced-up power numbers. Forty home runs became no big deal—just ask Todd Hundley and Richard Hidalgo—while 50 became the new 40.
In the 100 seasons before Anderson’s, only 12 different players hit 50 home runs. In the 14 seasons since, 13 players have done so on 22 different occasions.
More than anything, the players of the steroid era couldn’t accept who they were. Rather than focusing on improving the strengths that had carried them to the big leagues in the first place, they only saw glaring weaknesses—flaws that held them back from the gaudy stats, that bigger contract, those endorsements deals.
It’s a symptom of perpetual dissatisfaction, of never being satisfied in the present moment, of always wanting more.
Performance enhancing drugs certainly may have allowed players like Anderson to put up huge numbers for a short period of time; it’s an option players like Johnny Pesky were never afforded—perhaps for the best. Left to their own devices, they simply improved upon what they had, sometimes with great results.
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 1B: Phil Nevin
- 2B: Bret Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Gary Matthews Jr.
- OF: Jay Gibbons
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- SU: John Rocker
- CL: Eric Gagne
—Photo feeznutz/Photobucket; AP