“Change the game.”
Tim Anderson became a lightning rod last season when he not so much waded but cannonballed into the endless debate over the old-school and new-school approaches to baseball. He bat-flipped his way into the national-media spotlight and dubbed himself a sort of “today’s Jackie Robinson” with the intention to break the “have-fun barrier” in an interview with Sports Illustrated.
Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, that same debate is still raging, thrust back into the forefront of baseball’s collective consciousness after Fernando Tatís Jr. — yeah, yeah, that guy the White Sox traded who is now tied atop baseball’s home-run leaderboard — had the gall to swing at a 3-0 pitch in an already lopsided game and hit a grand slam.
That someone could be offended by such a thing — a baseball player hitting a baseball in a baseball game; don’t we have, like, a thousand more important things to worry about right now? — is pretty ridiculous in the first place, but alas, Tatís’ outrageous decision to swing in a 3-0 count was frowned upon by both the opposing manager, the Texas Rangers’ Chris Woodward, and his own, the San Diego Padres’ Jayce Tingler, in the aftermath Monday night.
This wasn’t just Anderson getting plunked by Brad Keller. This was two skippers wagging their fingers at one of the game’s best young stars. But the parallels were easy to draw between Anderson and Tatís, who are teammates by now in some alternate universe where there was less temptation for the White Sox to make a go-for-it trade way back in 2016.
Anderson even rushed to Tatís’ defense on Twitter.
Of course, Anderson has been fighting his have-fun crusade this whole time. Tatís might have dragged the same old debate points up again, but Anderson has made it a mantra.
Heck, he just talked about all this stuff Sunday, literally the day before Tatís’ 3-0 salami.
“With all respect, the game is boring. There isn't a lot of excitement, and I think the game is moving to show more guys and show more personality,” he said. “I like the way it's going, but I always just do me. I stay in my lane and just continue to strive and get better and also just continue to grow as myself and learn as much as I can.”
Anderson’s cause has been taken up by the White Sox and Major League Baseball at large, in a way, as they see the obvious value in being able to market personality and excitement. Someone telling you not to swing on a 3-0 pitch in a blowout doesn’t make for a good TV commercial. Ronald Acuña Jr. bat-flipping his way down the first-base line and Nolan Arenado screaming at the top of his lungs while covered in dirt does. And so “let the kids play” was born.
After Anderson took that to a whole new level last season, not only did he become one of the game’s young faces, the White Sox grabbed his “change the game” message as their marketing slogan for the 2020 season.
Heck, they made an Anderson bat-flipping seminar part of the official program at SoxFest back in January. And unsurprisingly, the kids the sport is trying to so desperately lure loved it. They apparently aren't the only ones.
“Definitely great feedback from kids and even some guys that I play against. They say they love the way I play,” Anderson said. “It's also just going out and competing. We're out there to compete, from the beginning to the end. That's my goal.
“I'm not trying to be buddy-buddy with you. You came into town to try to beat me, so I'm definitely wanting to beat you. That's why I play the way I play. Nothing against nobody, we can shake hands outside the lines, but in between the lines, I've got to show you what I'm about and how I go about my business.”
Indeed, as Anderson pointed out, the game is crawling in a better direction. It’s well behind basketball and football in the personality department, sure. But teams and the league, in general, seem hungry for those types of players, not the ones who want to lecture you about why you should shut up and go to first base.
But until it’s all the way there, those latter players are still going to whine about not being able to get someone out. Apparently, those kinds of players have made it to manager’s chairs across the game, too. And it’s not like those guys are ancient. Woodward and Tingler are 44 and 39, respectively. Remember that Keller is younger than Anderson.
Anderson’s got the right approach. He’s going to keep being him. It’s working just fine. He’s got a batting title on his resume. Like Tatís, he hit two home runs in a blowout win Monday night.
As long as those guys, the guys who are bringing fun and excitement — and giving fans of all ages and backgrounds a reason to watch — to the game, keep being themselves, then the old-school approach will be just that: old, out of touch and eventually gone.
In the meantime, anyone getting all irritated about the "unwritten rules" getting broken can take some advice from Rick Renteria, who had this to say after Bat-flipGate a season ago:
"You want him to not do that? Get him out."