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Relief Pitcher Turned Actor Brad Lesley Dies at 54

Brad Lesley Little Big League - H 2013
Courtesy of Everett Collection
Brad Lesley (left), in "Little Big League."

The colorful big leaguer, nicknamed “The Animal,” appeared in such films as “Mr. Baseball,” “Little Big League” and Space Jam.”

Brad “The Animal” Lesley, who parlayed his short stint as a hard-throwing Major League Baseball relief pitcher into an acting career, died last weekend from kidney failure. He was 54.

Lesley’s ex-wife Chiho Svimonoff told TMZ that he had been living in a nursing home for the past seven months, where he was receiving dialysis. He was rushed to a hospital Saturday night in Marina del Rey.

Lesley pitched for the Cincinnati Reds from 1982-84 and for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1985 before signing with the Hankyu Braves and staying two seasons in the Japanese professional league. Six-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he gained his nickname for his theatrics that included thrusting his fist in the air following a strikeout and stomping around the mound.

The Japanese loved his style. “After they found out it was part of my intensity, an act of intimidation, they loved it," he said in a 1987 interview. “I haven’t toned down any part of my act.”

Lesley soon became a television personality in Japan, playing Ajimaru “Animal” Resry on the game show Takeshi’s Castle, a version of which played in the U.S. on Spike TV. He learned to speak the language and starred as an American hero in a samurai movie titled The Animal Goes to Japan.

In the U.S., Lesley’s first movie role came in Mr. Baseball (1992), starring Detroit Tigers fan Tom Selleck as a washed-up New York Yankees first baseman who continues his career in Japan. The native of Turlock, Calif., also played John “Blackout” Gatling in Little Big League (1994) and appeared as himself in Space Jam (1996) starring Michael Jordan, who reportedly recruited him for the role.

Lesley also worked in the films A Boy Called Hate (1995), Buddy (1997), Big Monster on Campus (2000) and Brother (2000) and on the FX series Son of the Beach (2001).

“Every door I’ve walked through in my life has been a direct result of my success in baseball,” Lesley, while served as a pitching coach for the minor-league Mission Viejo Vigilantes, told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “I can never repay baseball enough for the doors it’s opened for me. I’ve been truly blessed. As much as I try to give back to the game, it’s never enough.”