A few hours before last Saturday's game in Baltimore, several Brewers scoured the Orioles' bat rack looking for Brady Anderson's 34½-inch, 33-ounce Louisville Sluggers. They wanted to see if Anderson, the major league home run leader, was putting cork in his bats. Their search came up empty, of course, because "I hid the corked ones in the corking room," Anderson said with a laugh.
In the first inning that day, Anderson homered again, for his 15th home run of the season and his sixth leading off a game for the Orioles. According to David Vincent, co-editor of The Home Run Encyclopedia, Anderson became the first player to hit as many as 15 homers by May 4. (The previous best was 13 by Mark McGwire in 1992.) The home run tear was unlike any Anderson had ever had, even as a kid. "I didn't hit any homers in Little League," he says, "so it was actually nothing like this."
Only seven players have hit more leadoff homers in a season than Anderson hit in the first five weeks (Bobby Bonds holds the single-season record, with 11 in 1973). Yet this power surge isn't a total surprise. People who haven't seen Anderson up close think he's a little guy, but he's 6'1" and 195 pounds. "An out-of-town reporter said to me the other day, 'Wow, your shoulders have gotten big. You look strong,' " says Anderson. "I told him I've looked this way for eight years."
Because of his propensity for strikeouts (slightly more than 95 a year over the last four years), Anderson doesn't seem like a natural leadoff man. When manager Davey Johnson took over the Orioles in October, in fact, he said as much, but he changed his mind after studying Anderson's numbers. Compare Anderson's stats for the last four years to those of Atlanta's Marquis Grissom, who is considered one of the best leadoff men in the National League. Anderson had a higher on-base percentage (.367 to .333) and scored almost as many runs (373 to 379). "What amazes me is that last year I scored 108 runs in 143 games, and people still wondered if I should be a leadoff man," he says.
Always popular in Baltimore—especially with women—Anderson has become even more of a hero and heartthrob with his record-breaking binge. Asked whether people on the street are now calling him Babe, he said with a smile, "Yes, but those people don't know anything about my home runs."
Many Happy Returns
The season is young, but already there are three stirring comeback stories.
•Rangers shortstop Kevin Elster, 31, last played anything close to a full season in the majors in 1991, with the Mets. He played just six games at the start of the '92 season before his right shoulder, which had been surgically repaired in September 1990, sidelined him again. After more surgery and rehab, he bounced around the minors for most of the next three seasons. In 1994 and '95 he made brief appearances with the Yankees before ending up with the Phillies, and he hit only .186, with one homer and nine RBIs.
In the first month of this season Elster was the American League's best shortstop. He showed the same sure hands that Mets fans saw from 1986 to '92—and much stronger punch at the plate, which he credits to two years of weightlifting while rehabilitating his shoulder. At week's end he was hitting .262, with seven home runs and 25 RBIs.
During his absence from the majors Elster had what he calls "the greatest experience of my life," when he portrayed shortstop Pat Corning in the 1994 baseball movie Little Big League. He got the part when a friend who was a talent agent asked him to read for it. Elster, who also served as a technical adviser, did so well that, he says, "they even added some scenes for me."