Tim Anderson was the talk of April. But that was hardly a one-month moment in the spotlight for one of the emerging cornerstones of the White Sox rebuild.
Anderson made waves and national headlines in the season’s first month when he bat-flipped his way into the Kansas City Royals’ doghouse, sparking a benches-clearing incident and a larger conversation about the direction of the game. He’s branded himself a crusader, invoking Jackie Robinson as he looks to change a game he’s called “boring.”
Months later, he has the cachet to back it all up. Anderson capped a breakout season by capturing the big league batting title Sunday, finishing the regular season with a .335 average, a mark nearly 100 points higher than the .240 average he ended the 2018 season with.
Back in July, Anderson was mentioned in his own clubhouse as an All-Star snub. They don’t give out postseason All-Star honors, but Anderson certainly had an All-Star kind of year, something that makes the words he spoke early in the season carry a little more weight.
“Every last word of it,” Anderson said, asked if his tremendous offensive performance in 2019 backed up the talk. “Everything I said, I went out and did it. Everything I said, I went out and showed you guys.”
Since the death of his best friend in 2017, Anderson has vowed to have more fun with the game. He accomplished that in 2018 and came into 2019 wanting to send that fun outward, inject it into the game himself. Hence the bat flip against the Royals, an exhilarating moment out of dreams of the MLB marketing folks who have blasted “let the kids play” on social media.
But it was also something that irritated the old-school Brad Keller, the Royals pitcher who hit Anderson with a pitch the next time he came to the plate. The benches cleared, Anderson used a racially charged word, and numerous suspensions were handed down. Many folks across the nation — the White Sox aren’t exactly a national TV staple yet — might have been getting their first taste of Anderson, and the old-school fans might have seen him as another cocky pro athlete and celebrated the Royals’ enforcement of the eye-roll worthy “unwritten rules.”
But White Sox fans knew better, and the vast majority of them cheered him for it.
Still, Anderson had to show them something, too. These were the same fans feverishly clamoring for the team to sign Manny Machado last winter, a shortstop, just like Anderson. Anderson stood up for himself during SoxFest, saying that while he’d love to play alongside Machado, “shortstop is mine.” He felt he’d worked too hard for his position to be taken away from him. That didn’t stop fans’ demands, but when Machado opted to play for the San Diego Padres, they got Anderson. It’s a good thing they did.
Anderson has not only had a terrific offensive campaign, but he’s emerged as a clubhouse leader, a key member of the team’s young core, the White Sox energetic heart and a fixture in the community, his status as the team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award a deserved one.
“We know how much he contributes to the community. People kind of take that for granted,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He does a lot. He will continue to improve in all aspects of his game. He will continue to be a guy who helps ignite us. We've got some things that we're going to continue to push to improve upon.
“But he is, if not a star now, a star in the making. I think everybody can recognize that as being real.”
As Renteria mentioned, Anderson still has improvements to make, obviously, as his league-leading 26 errors this season show. But he’s backed up the talk that the White Sox already had a franchise shortstop — with or without Machado in the fold.
“I’ve got to continue to get better defensively and keep growing offensively, as well,” Anderson said. “I think I’m going to keep getting better and continue to have fun. I backed up every last word of it.”
Anderson is one of several young White Sox who had transformative seasons. A year ago, he hit .240 with an on-base percentage south of .300. This season, he’s the big league batting champ. He joins Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito in the same category, three players who have made themselves rebuilding cornerstones with their offseason work.
It all makes the 2020 season a whole lot brighter, a campaign that looks capable of being the one where the White Sox make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. These players have high hopes, and with offseason improvements and the arrivals of more young stars in the making like Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Nick Madrigal, things are moving in a very positive direction.
“We can be dangerous. We’ve got a dangerous lineup,” Anderson said. “(Guys like Moncada and Giolito are) having pretty good years, as well, and I think it’s going to continue to carry on.
“We’re in a good spot right now. We’ve just got to keep the same energy and keep the same focus going into next year. We’ve got a chance to do something special.
“I’m all in as far as changing this thing around. I’m going to give my best shot. We’re going to go out and continue to play hard and keep having fun. And we’re going to see where that leads us.”
But here’s the big question, Tim: Did you accomplish your goal? Did you have fun this season?
“Yeah. It’s showing. I’m enjoying every bit of it.”