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Brad Lesley

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Bradley Jay Lesley
(the Animal, Animal-san)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Brad Lesley was known for his unusual appearance (being 6' 6" with long hair and a large mustache) and antics on the field. Robert Whiting writes, about his time in Japan, that "he would go through an assortment of wild gyrations and flamboyant gestures after every pitch. He would put the hex on opposing batters and when he nailed down the final out of a win, he would violently punch his catcher in the shoulder."

Lesley began his career with the Eugene Emeralds in 1978, going 5-4 with a 5.01 ERA and 97 hits allowed in 79 innings over 13 starts. He moved to the Greensboro Hornets the next year and was 3-7 with a 4.63 ERA in Western Carolinas League play; he allowed 112 hits in 101 innings.

Moving to the bullpen, Lesley established himself in the 1980 Florida State League, as he went 4-2 for the Tampa Tarpons with 5 saves and a 2.01 ERA in 37 outings. He went 8-2 for two clubs in 1981, posting a 0.79 ERA in the Midwest League and a 2.60 mark in the Eastern League.

In 1982 Lesley was 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA for the Indianapolis Indians, earning a call-up to the Cincinnati Reds. He was 0-2 for the Reds with four saves, a 2.58 ERA (144 ERA+), only 27 hits in 38 1/3 innings and 29 strikeouts.

Lesley got the nickname "Animal" but told several versions as to how he got this name. He once claimed that he pushed a car off a cliff in Alaska because it was blocking his way and the owner refused to move it. He later claimed that 1B Johnny Bench had fielded a grounder and when Lesley went to cover first, he yelled for the ball, using a swear word. Bench supposedly told reporters "The kid looked like a crazed animal coming at me!" There was a famous bit about Lesley in The Sporting News at the time. After his first trip to New York City with the Reds, he told a reporter that he did not see anything scary about the city after riding the subway everywhere (these were the days before a major clean-up and anti-crime campaign turned the violence-wracked metropolis into a safe city). The reporter hinted that Lesley's experience may not have been entirely typical: "Who would bother with a 6'6" athlete when there are plenty of little old ladies around ?"

Brad was not as productive in his later limited glances at the majors as he had been in 1982, going 1-1 with two saves and a 5.29 ERA in scattered appearances over the next three years. He did just fine in AAA, going 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA for Indianapolis in 1983 and 3-3 with a 3.25 ERA for the Wichita Aeros in 1984.

In 1985 Brad finished his major league career with the Milwaukee Brewers and was the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Pitcher when he was 3-5 with 17 saves and a 2.24 ERA in 48 games for the champion Vancouver Canadians.

In 1986, Lesley was the first American closer to go play in Nippon Pro Baseball when he signed with the Hankyu Braves. Castigated by some as a typical wild American, he achieved cult celebrity status. He was 5-3 with 19 saves and a 2.63 ERA, even as he allowed over a hit per inning. He only allowed a single homer in 51 1/3 innings, made the Pacific League All-Star team and won the second All-Star game that year. Attendance increased drastically as fans came out to see Lesley. Hankyu used the opportunity for marketing by having Animal yelling contests, Lesley look-alike games, endorsements and more.

The Californian reliever slipped in 1987 and was 2-2 with 5 saves and a 4.08 ERA. Injuries limited him to 18 games and helped end his career. Lesley's antics that year included substituting a pornographic film for a video of Hisanobu Watanabe in a planned pre-game viewing of Watanabe, the opposing starting pitcher.

Lesley assisted on the movie Mr. Baseball. He turned down an offer from the Atlanta Braves to return in 1988. The popular celebrity, known more for being eccentric than necessarily for his skills as a player, joined a popular Japanese comedy show. He appeared on the program for four years, married a local woman and lived in Japan for seven years. He continued acting professionally and appeared as fictional pitcher Blackout Gatling in Little Big League. Lesley remained involved in baseball by joining Dave Henderson in running a Seattle Mariners fantasy camp.

Sources: Remembering Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts, You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting, japanesebaseballdaily.com, 1979-1981 Baseball Guides, 1986 Baseball America Statistics Report, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database

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