SO LONG, ANIMAL
While I was away last week, former Reds reliever Brad “The Animal” Lesley passed away at the age of 54. Reds staffer Stephanie Ben wrote a fantastic piece about it here on Better Off Red. Brad was truly an amazing guy. I’m dedicating my first post back from vacation to “The Animal”….
Brad Lesley’s death last week was announced while the nation was still grieving and shaking off the shock of Boston. Locally here in Cincinnati, where the TV news usually clamors to cover everything from a girl scout bake sale to pot hole repairs, the news of Lesley’s passing came on the same day a serious and unfortunate event occurred at an area high school. Thus, Brad barely got a mention.
Brad was one of the last true characters to play the game; certainly in Cincinnati. We try so hard as fans to manufacture nicknames for our boys, especially since the players themselves rarely come up with good ones anymore. We want our guys to evoke a unique identity that goes beyond jersey numbers and stats. That’s why it was nice to be able to call “The Animal” ours.
Lesley played for the Reds in the 80s when each player had to wear his hair short and his face completely shaven. Players’ uniforms were truly uniform. The Reds darn-near looked like 25 guys related to each other. Personality, at least from an appearance stand point, was at a minimum.
Lesley was an average to decent relief pitcher for three lousy Big Red Machine Hangover teams (101 losses in 1982, 88 losses in ’83, 92 losses in ’84). Tough for Cincinnati fans to find anything worth cheering for during those long summers. But along came the “Animal.”
Brad was a large man with a large personality. His aggressive and ferocious antics on the mound earned him the “Animal” moniker. Fans loved it when he pitched. Since there wasn’t a whole lot of fireworks over Riverfront during those summers, The Animal was the fans’ consolation prize.
I knew him first as the crazy Reds player from the highlight reels, then as the dude from the movies and that Japanese show. I finally actually met him at Reds Fantasy Camp in 2010.
The Animal was a fixture at Reds dream week and the campers absolutely adored him. For as scary as he seemed on the field and in stature, Brad was one of the sweetest and nicest guys I’ve ever met, with an intoxicating smile…exactly why I didn’t mind having to “marry” him during fantasy camp’s Kangaroo Court proceedings. Brad dressed in women’s clothing for the ceremony – which in itself was scarier than how ever he appeared on the mound.
Brad “The Animal” Lesley was a Red. After his playing days in Cincinnati, he remained tight with the organization. He was part of our family.
In a day and age when the game has become so serious (scientific statistical formulas, big business tactics, toxic tweets), its nice to know that an Animal can still make us smile.
RIP Brad Lesley