Former Hankyu Braves reliever Brad “Animal” Lesley, whose outsized personality and antics on the mound made him a fan-favorite and provided the springboard for a second career in Japanese television and later Hollywood, died on Saturday at the age of 54.
U.S. website TMZ first reported the death of the right-hander, who had suffered from kidney problems over the last several years.
Lesley’s ex-wife, Chiho Svimonoff, told the website Lesley had been rushed to a hospital in Marina Del Rey, California, on Saturday night and later died.
Lesley played two years in Japan beginning in 1986, and was 7-5 with 24 saves in 60 appearances for the Braves, who in later years became the Orix BlueWave and ultimately, following a merger with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, the Orix Buffaloes.
Lesley’s best season in Japan was his first, when he finished 5-3 with 19 saves and a 2.63 ERA in 42 appearances.
He was embraced by Braves fans, who took a liking to his enthusiastic celebrations and demeanor. Animal could sometimes be seen playing air guitar in the outfield before games, and would launch into an exuberant explosion of gyrations and screams after saves, sometimes even giving his catcher a hard smack on the mask afterward.
Instead of his surname, he wore “Animal” on the back of his uniform. Lesley also dabbled in music, recording his theme song “Champion Animal” in 1986.
Lesley starred in a few television commercials during his playing days, then transitioned into acting after his career was over. He had a stint on the Japanese show “Fuun! Takeshi Jo,” and later made his Hollywood debut in the 1992 film “Mr. Baseball, “which starred Tom Selleck and centered around a former major leaguer coming to Japan to extend his career.
Lesley’s most famous role may have been as John ‘Blackout’ Gatling in the 1994 film Little Big League. Lesley also had a brief appearance in the movie “Space Jam,” which starred Michael Jordan.
Lesley was born Sept. 11, 1958, in Turlock, California. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds with the ninth pick of the 1978 amateur draft and made his MLB debut July 31, 1982 at age 23.
Animal spent three seasons with the Reds, then joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1985. He played in 54 games in his MLB career and was 1-3 with six saves and a 3.86 ERA, before moving to Japan to join the Braves.