[Installment #6 of My First Favorite Player comes to us from Albert L. Lang. You can see more of Albert's work at h2h Corner where he writes about baseball + sports with a focus on fantasy. You can also follow him on Twitter at @AlbertLeRoi. Enjoy!]
We’re a Baltimore family. I grew up about 40 minutes from Memorial Stadium. And, since the Colts disappeared and my father was in his teens/20s in the late 60s, we were an Orioles family.
In 1988, my parents bought the Sunday season ticket package (upper deck, third base side) to the Orioles. I was 6. I may be embellishing, but I don’t think we saw a victory all year (the Orioles went 4-11 on Sundays at home in ’88). We also didn’t go to every game. Obviously, the odds we missed all victories is small (especially as two victories were in May), but the overwhelming sentiment was that the O’s were crap.
It was a dismal season. The O’s lost a lot and it was hot. The stands were muggy as heck. We brought our own food to the park which was never as cool as ballpark food. Included were pistachios, but they were the red kind and they got all over your hands. They were yummy though.
The highlight of the ‘88 season was the trade of Mike Boddicker for Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson (who was born in nearby Silver Spring) – at least that is what WTEM told me at the time—I had no idea who this Schilling or Anderson were.
Then, on July 31, 1988, I was present when Brady made his second ever appearance for the O’s. He went 0-4, but, at least, Cal hit a dinger.
Brady didn’t do much for the O’s that season, but he was fast and young. I respected Cal, young fans revered him, but Brady was somehow new, flashy and exciting—the promise of something better.
The following season was different in the history books (they were in the playoff hunt until the end—why not?), but the O’s again had a losing record on Sundays at home.
I knew nothing of pennant races. I understood the O’s were doing better and the stands were generally more crowded (the O’s drew nearly one million more fans in ’89), but the stench of losing didn’t really escape the uniforms for me. We still ate the same pistachios that deliciously and annoyingly covered your fingers.
The highlight of that season should have been the Orioles being relevant for the first time in my conscious lifetime. However, it was an amazing give-away: starting line-up figurines. I’m pretty sure I ended up with a Larry Sheets. I was fine with this until I found out there was a Brady Anderson available.
I was livid. I threw Larry Sheets all over our little area in the upper deck. Thankfully (mercifully) someone around us didn’t care for Brady and I executed my first baseball-related trade. I was happy.
Anderson batted .207/.324/.312 that season, but I didn’t care. On April 23, Brady tripled off Shane Rawley and scored a run. It was amazing and he could do no wrong. My father tried to get me to relax on the Brady promotion but I could not be dissuaded. I eagerly described to anyone around that Brady was the hope for the Orioles, even as he struggled to outhit Mendoza. I witnessed Brady’s breath-catching triple. He had flown around the bases like a god. Case closed.
For the next two seasons, Brady and the Orioles sucked. In 1991, Brady topped 100 games for the first time. It was my first real extended look at him. He didn’t do too well (.230/.338/.324), but he stole 12 bases, so there was that.
Truth be told, I kind of began to forget about Brady in this period because, in ’89, the O’s had the first pick in the draft and selected Ben McDonald. He of the infamous (in my head) Upper Deck Rookie Card with his body turned slightly away from the photo and clear skies behind him—the card projected a sense of confidence, which unfulfilled, transformed into brashness (in my opinion) quickly.
In 1992, McDonald had a fantastic season, but no one was better than Brady. He batted .271/.373/.449 and stole 53 bases. Suddenly, the O’s weren’t a joke and neither was Brady. Each Sunday was marked by sitting on the front half of my seat, hands cupped on edge to keep it from tipping it (and me) back. My nails (if I had any) repeatedly dug into the plastic bottom of the seat when Brady was on first. I wanted my life force to help hurl Brady’s body from first to second before the catcher had a chance. With those 53 steals, I was right to love Brady.
During that 1992 season, I eagerly went back to my 1991 Upper Deck complete Orioles set to find the Brady card with his right leg tilted all the way back and hands held high, poised. Oddly, this set, when sold in CVS or People’s Drug (whichever existed then), always featured Mike Mussina’s rookie card on top. Mussina looked like a nerd. I couldn’t pronounce his name. I didn’t think he was anything, certainly not a Ben McDonald (oh youth).
As the years went by, Brady kept getting on base and swiping bags. Even with the losses, Brady made Baltimore baseball fun and electric.
After the ’95 season, McDonald left as a free agent – no one cared. Mussina was the staff ace, an all-star and perennial Cy Young contender. Everything had built to 1996: Chris Hoiles (who I once correctly predicted would hit a grand slam when I was eating crabs with my grandfather in a dingy downtown Baltimore crab den) and Jeffrey Hammonds were going to come into their own. The O’s had added Roberto Alomar and B.J. Surhoff and would get a full season out of Bobby Bonilla.
Sure enough, ’96 was magical. I listened to the end of games before going to bed each night. If the O’s were on the West Coast, I’d wake up and hope the game ended early enough to make the paper. My father and I would sit on the front porch and read about the O’s heroics. Every day, it seemed Brady hit another lead-off HR. It became comical. It became legendary. You can remember the ’96 season for a variety of reasons. I remember it for Brady once again being godlike, just like when he tripled off Shane Rawley or stole 53 bases in a season.
People might not know this, but in the storied history of the O’s, few put up better numbers for the franchise than Brady. Go to Baltimore’s franchise Baseball Reference page: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BAL/leaders_bat.shtml and search for ‘Brady’ – you’ll find 44 entries.
Of all the lists, Brady is tops in one that really matters: Hit By Pitch – and it’s not even close. As a Little Leaguer, I had no problem leaning into one, stealing second and then third. I was hit four times in one game once and stole eight bases and scored four runs. I even took up switch hitting so I could pretend to be Brady at the plate (or because my dad thought a switch-hitting catcher (Mickey Tettleton?) was cool).
Meanwhile, Brady posted a .271/.378/.470 line and averaged 22 HRs and 29 SBs a season. During that span, he tied for the 34th most HRs (with Ron Gant) and was one ahead of Edgar Martinez. He also stole the 13th most bases. He had the 22nd most fWAR (just behind Bernie Williams…curses). He had more fWAR then Mo Vaughn and David Justice and Chipper Jones and Cal Ripken and Paul O’Neil (the bastard) and Chris Hoiles and Ron Gant and etc.
My father loves numbers and math. Unfortunately for him, during this time, I grew to enjoy writing more than math. But there was always baseball. There were always statistics and numbers and him challenging me to do batting averages in my head. We had that summer of 1996 when the O’s could do no wrong and Brady leading off a game with a single was a disappointment.
My father doesn’t really understand the newfangled statistics. He doesn’t really have to “get” fWAR to know Brady’s place in O’s history. For those of you who aren’t my father: Brady finished his career with the seventh most offensive bWAR in Orioles history (ahead of Frank Robinson). He played the sixth most games in Baltimore history—behind Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Eddie Murray and Boog Powell (each one a Baltimore institution and revered by my father. The only player missing is Paul Blair.). Brady collected the fifth most hits and scored the fifth most runs for the franchise. Brady finished his career with the sixth most HRs (behind Ripken, Murray, Powell, Brooks and Rafael Palmeiro). He finished ninth in RBIs, third in walks and second in SBs.
In short, Brady is a Baltimore great.