Brad Keller seems to be OK with being a villain in Chicago.
“I was on Chicago's villain list,” the Royals pitcher said during an appearance on The Charity Stripe podcast. “NBC Sports tweeted it. The list was LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Braun and me and one hockey player. I'm like, 'This is a pretty good list to be on.'”
Keller entered the collective Chicago sports consciousness when he intentionally hit Tim Anderson with a pitch last April, sparking a benches-clearing incident, a couple of suspensions and a resurgence in baseball’s ceaseless debate over unwritten rules and the culture war between old-school and new-school mentalities.
For White Sox fans long bereft of the meaningful baseball that typically stokes heated rivalries, Keller plunking one of the faces of the franchise — not only a strong presence in the community but a guy who since his best friend was killed has not stopped talking about how much fun he wants to have on the field — did the trick.
“It was like the first week of April. I'm not going to say a meaningless game because every game in the big leagues means something. But the 12th game of the season doesn't really define if you're going to make the playoffs or not,” Keller recounted. “This game, I was grinding. I was sucking this game. I was throwing really well, numbers-wise, but I think I was behind every single hitter. I was getting lucky, honestly. I was all over the place. I think I had five walks that game, too.
“Comes around the fourth inning, or whatever it is. Runner gets on second base. And I think the at-bat, he battled me for like nine pitches. It was like a long-ass AB, I remember. Basically, in my mind, I'm like, 'I'm not walking him.' Because he's fast, he can steal bases if he gets on. If there's a single, he's probably going to score from first. So I'm like, 'I'm not going to walk this guy.' So I throw a sinker in, and he turns on it, hits a home run.
“And how he acted afterwards, to me and my whole team, was just over the top. It's like, 'Bro, you hit a homer. Congrats.' This wasn't a Game 7 homer. This wasn't a playoff homer. This wasn't even a homer to win the game. Ultimately, we won the game, 3-2, in the long run, but that gets kind of lost in the whole transaction of everything. It just seemed like, at the time, it was an April home run. 'Why are you throwing your bat to the dugout or whatever?' We had beefs in the past, as far as our teams, and that was just like fuel on the fire, basically, is what it seemed like.
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“I was upset because I was grinding that day and I was already pissed off at myself, and then you pull some shit like that? It was like, 'All right, this is bullshit.' ... I come in, and I'm pissed, I'm hot. And I had other guys on the team like, 'Screw this guy,' basically. Like I said, we (the Royals) had beefs (with Anderson) in the past.
“So anyway, comes down to it. We ended up tying the game up. Comes around the sixth inning, and he had to know it was coming. He was leading off the sixth inning, and he was literally a foot from the dirt when I was on my second warm-up pitch. I've never seen anyone get out to the box that fast in my life.”
Being “over the top” in celebrating an accomplishment doesn’t really seem like the type of thing that warrants having a projectile thrown at you. But that’s what the old-school types think. Keller, it should be noted, is younger than Anderson.
Major League Baseball seems to be supportive of bat flips and celebrations and the like, spending a hefty sum on an advertising campaign trumpeting that style of behavior: “Let the kids play.” After all, baseball’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun.
But bad blood between division rivals must be thicker than any sea change in how a new generation of players is acting on the field.
Keller’s explanation of the event isn’t about to win him any fans on the South Side of Chicago, and he’ll likely stay on that list of villains, at least as long as Anderson remains a White Sox hero. After winning the big league batting title last season and being at the center of a young team on the rise, that could last a long while.
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