BALTIMORE Brady Anderson is an involuntary free agent looking for a figurative hug.
Unceremoniously cast aside by the Baltimore Orioles after a 14-year run, Anderson already has been contacted by several major league teams in need of an outfielder.
Playing for a winner is not important. Money is not an issue, because the Orioles will pay Anderson $4 million next season regardless of how he spends his summer.
Mainly, Anderson just wants to play for a team that appreciates his talent.
“I had my mind made up to finish my career in Baltimore. Now you want to go where you’re wanted,” Anderson said yesterday, speaking from his California home in his first interview since his release Nov. 16. “I’m coming off my worst season since I’ve been in the big leagues. But now I’m finding that teams want you and will go out of their way for you. It’s a good feeling.”
Because of the numbers he put up in Baltimore, Anderson says he deserved a more stylish send-off than a one-page news release. He’s among the club’s career leaders in 12 categories, including games played, home runs, hits, RBI and total bases.
“Being on those lists meant a lot to me, although I’m not sure where I finished. I didn’t put a dent in any of those numbers last year,” he said.
Anderson, 37, was hampered by inconsistency and injuries the past two years. After he hit .202 with eight homers and 45 RBI in 2001, the rebuilding Orioles opted to eat the last season of the five-year, $31 million contract Anderson signed after the 1997 season.
“I don’t look at it as being wronged or that I deserved better. I don’t think like that,” Anderson said. “If I had a wish, it’s that I had a better year so they would want to keep me.”
Anderson struggled from the start and eventually lost his job as leadoff hitter. He offered no excuses for a dreadful year in which he hit far below his career average and failed to reach double figures in home runs for the first time since 1991.
“I was pretty healthy. Part of that was because I was rested frequently,” he said. “I was throwing better and playing defense as well as I have my whole career. But at the plate there’s a fine line between success and failure. I never really got comfortable. Confidence is a factor, and after my slow start things started to snowball.”
He did, however, remain a positive influence in the clubhouse. Anderson gave bats to appreciative newcomer Luis Matos and offered sound advice as well as his spare Baltimore apartment to pitcher Calvin Maduro.
“Having Brady in the clubhouse is like having Cal Ripken there. Everyone looks up to him,” Maduro said by telephone from Venezuela, where he’s playing winter ball. “When I was struggling, he kept me positive. He told me how to approach hitters, when to go with the fastball, stuff like that. I respected his opinion.”
Anderson, a three-time All-Star, looks back fondly at his 50-homer season in 1996 and his sensational postseason in 1997, when he hit .357 with three homers and seven RBI in 10 games.
“Some people say the 50-homer season was fluke, but nothing that takes six months to accomplish can be considered a fluke,” Anderson said. “That was a great season, but the ‘97 playoffs was my best ever. That was my individual highlight. I feel good that I had a huge part in the most success we’ve had as a team since 1983.”
The Orioles have fallen upon hard times since, but through it all Anderson remained content to be in Baltimore.
“Regardless of my situation or the team’s situation, I never looked for a way out,” he said. “It’s over now, but I don’t have that bitterness in me. Leaving this way is only an insignificant part of what I will take out of my time in Baltimore. It doesn’t faze me.”