Brady Anderson was a fascinating – and curious – player, most notably for his outlying 1996 season when he hit 50 home runs, a number he never before or again approached in his career. While the performance came under a cloud of suspicion, there was no evidence tying him PED usage.
He now has a fascinating and curious presence in the Baltimore clubhouse, as documented in an excellent profile by Ken Rosenthal .
Anderson is a controversial figure this spring. He holds an unusual sort of hybrid role with the Orioles. Technically employed as a high-ranking member of the front office, Anderson also has a locker in the clubhouse, wears a jersey, and plays roles in coaching, dealing with agents, and in strength and conditioning
The story is well worth a read, but I took away two main points — namely, that (a) we might see more hybrid-type roles in the future, further blurring lines and testing clubhouse sovereignty, and (b) Anderson is yet another voice challenging conventional coaching practices.
It’s true Anderson’s situation is an unusual one due to his cozy relationship with ownership. He operates with little oversight or constraint. But what has become less unusual is the practice of a front office
infiltrating integrating itself in the clubhouse. As front offices have trended in a more analytical direction, they’ve hired more like-minded managers. They’ve hired forward-thinking strength and conditioning staffs. And in Pittsburgh, a quantitative analyst — Mike Fitzgerald — was believed to be the first such employee to be freed of the shackles of an office cubicle in order to travel with a club, complete with his own locker in road clubhouses (although he didn’t wear a jersey). The Pirates viewed Fitzgerald’s role as significant enough that they have hired a former Amherst College shortstop and pitcher, Bob Cook, to fill the role after Fitzgerald departed for Arizona, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry reported.
Anderson, Fitzgerald and Cook are all technically front-office personnel but all have, have had, or will have, lockers in major-league clubhouses — at least road clubhouses. Anderson even chose to wear a jersey. (Why exactly do coaches wear jerseys? Why not a more defined and regal look?)
Rosenthal reports that some Orioles players have “expressed concern “ to the MLBPA regarding Anderson’s role, and that he and Orioles general manager Dan Duquette communicated “different messages” to agents. Former Orioles Matt Wieters is quoted and seems to have been among those expressing the concern:
“A baseball clubhouse is always going to be something that players want to keep locked down as much as possible. That’s where it’s a fine line,” said Wieters …
“Brady was a great player for a long time. He was a member of that clubhouse. At the same time, when you get into the season, the 25 guys in that clubhouse are who you want in that clubhouse.
“It’s just a different situation there. It’s a former player who wants to be on the performance side as well as on the front-office side. It’s tough balancing the two.”
Interestingly, in the latest round of CBA talks, Rosenthal reported the MLBPA proposed to eliminate direct contact between management and players, though those talks apparently went nowhere.
Wieters is correct that there’s a fine line to consider, and that line might continue to blur as front offices look to better control macro and micro goings-on in an organization.
Perhaps more damning is Anderson’s thoughts on the value of many traditional coaching practices. Reports Rosenthal:
[Former Orioles pitching coach Dave] Wallace said Anderson makes no secret that he has little respect for major-league coaches, and added that he has told Anderson that to his face.
Anderson said his desire to see young players “put on the proper path” stems from his frustration with his own development. …
“I don’t think they [coaches] were trying to harm me. I know they weren’t . . . Some of the advice was just so poor. It could have easily ruined my career. I see guys like that all the time.”
Coaching is an increasingly embattled professional in major-league baseball, particularly in light of certain hitters having turned around their careers by working with outside, private instructors, benefiting from teaching that goes against conventional hitting practices. One such hitter, J.D. Martinez, shared some spicy thoughts with me earlier this month on some of the instruction he had been given as a professional.
“I always thought the perfect swing was a line drive [back to] the pitcher,” Martinez said. “I’d go out there and hit the ball perfectly, and it’s [a] single. Why is my perfect swing a single?
“You still talk to coaches… ‘Oh, you want a line drive right up the middle. Right off the back of the [L-screen in batting practice].’ OK, well that’s a fucking single. To me, the numbers don’t lie. The balls in the air play more.”
While there are undoubtedly many coaches adding value in the game, it seems that conventional thoughts, practices and teaching are subject to greater scrutiny. It also seems true that more hybrid coaching/front-office positions will be created. Perhaps one day, we’ll even have a front-office staffer slotted into a type of bench-coach role, having the ear of a manger in real-time during games.
Anderson is a unique case. Few ex-players in an organization have such a relationship with ownership and such an interest in multiple facets of an organization. But Anderson is controversial not just because he has a locker or is wearing a jersey, but also because he presents the threat of change.