Anderson not swinging for Maris yet

The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHILADELPHIA - The home run record is still remote. The questions are already repetitive. Brady Anderson might be bothered by comparisons with Roger Maris, but he's mainly bemused.

''To have 31 to go after you've hit 30 is mind-boggling,'' Baltimore's emerging slugger said Monday. ''It's hard to imagine. I would love to have the opportunity, but I don't think it's a realistic goal.''

Arguments abound why the home run records will fall this autumn. The ballparks get smaller. The pitching gets thinner. The hitters grows stronger. The ozone layer grows more depleted. The major-league baseball, it is believed, is now gravity-proof.

Yet even under optimum environmental conditions, the deed is still daunting. Brady Anderson arrived at the All-Star Game leading the majors with 30 homers - a career season in only three months. Still, to surpass Maris' mark, the Baltimore center fielder must swat 32 more souvenirs in the Orioles' remaining 77 games. He has climbed Everest only to find out it was just a foothill.

''I'm going to hit 32 home runs after the All-Star Break?'' Anderson said, feigning astonishment. ''I've never hit more than 21 in a year.''

Previous power surges are not always an accurate indicator in these matters. Maris had never hit more than 39 homers in a single season before he broke Babe Ruth's record in 1961, and would never again hit as many as 40. Ruth improved his own personal best from 29 to 54 in 1920 before eventually topping out at 60 in 1927.

Brady Anderson is 32 years old, so his track record ought to tell us something. Still, he bats near the top of a loaded lineup in a fly-ball friendly ballpark. Like the standard disclaimer in mutual fund advertising, Anderson's past performance is no guarantee of his future results.

''The difference for me this year is just a matter of consistency,'' he said. ''Before, I could go on a streak where I hit a lot of homers for two or three weeks, but I've never been able to do it for three months.

''The difference between 15 homers and 30 at the All-Star break seems huge, but when you're doing it, it's more subtle. It's 15 more good swings over 300 at bats.''

The difference might be subtle, but its impact resounds. In an All-Star clubhouse filled with the flower of the American League, the crowd was three deep surrounding Anderson's dressing cubicle Monday afternoon. Cal Ripken Jr., baseball's central figure as recently as last August, dressed in an adjoining cubicle in relative anonymity.

So far, Brady Anderson seems inclined to play his newfound fame for laughs. Before he finished third in Monday's All-Star Home Run Derby (behind Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire), Anderson called himself ''the only cruiserweight'' in that competition. He said the best part about his sudden celebrity was that, ''A lot of your old girl friends call.''

The worst part?

''A lot of your old girlfriends call,'' he said.

Brady Anderson might be conning us, but he comes off as a guy glad to make hay while his star shines. He still sees Maris' record as too distant to be discussed seriously, and himself as an unlikely suitor.

''I think the chances are very slim (for anyone in 1996),'' Anderson said. ''I think Mark McGwire has as good a shot as anyone just because of the type of hitter he is. He's a good hitter, and a disciplined hitter. All he needs is the at-bats. He's one guy who could be asked all these questions and it would have been legitimate.''

McGwire stands second to Anderson with 28 home runs, and he has done it in only 211 at bats. The Oakland first baseman might be the preeminent power hitter of his time, but his numbers annually suffer because of injuries. He missed the first 18 games of the season because of torn tissue in his right hand. Otherwise, he might be hearing from all his old girl friends.

''I don't really think there's any pressure,'' McGwire said of the home run record. ''Unless, somebody gets to 50 home runs by September, there's no pressure at all.''

Certainly Brady Anderson isn't feeling any as yet. After an hour of intensive interrogation, he was asked how many home runs he thought he could hit this year.

''I don't know,'' he said, ''couple hundred probably.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published July 9, 1996.