There was an awful lot of talk about fun Tuesday.
Tim Anderson, sticking to his mantra, said there needs to be more of it after another seemingly harmless highlight by a young star had certain baseball people launching into criticism mode.
Logic would seem to dictate that the “old-school” approach to the game — the one that deems dangerous retaliation an acceptable thing to do after a guy has the audacity to hit a home run — will become just that: old, out of touch and eventually gone.
But what does the future look like? What does a fun future look like for baseball?
Well, it’s happening right now on the South Side.
The White Sox active roster isn’t made up of 28 Andersons — if it was, considering the hot streak he’s on at the moment, it might never lose a game — and there are guys in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field who have described themselves as “old school,” all while backing their teammate in his quest to bring more fun to baseball. As he put it last year, Anderson wants to be the Jackie Robinson of breaking the “have-fun barrier.”
But while it might not be a unanimous mission for everyone in the clubhouse, Anderson has plenty of allies when it comes to showing personality, producing exciting entertainment and having fun on the baseball field.
“They definitely bring the energy,” Dylan Cease said. “This is the most entertaining team I've ever been on, especially when we hit bombs and everyone freaks out. It's pretty awesome.”
The White Sox had plenty of opportunity to freak out Tuesday, again blistering the visiting Detroit Tigers in a 10-4 win. Anderson got things started with a bang once more, hitting a leadoff homer in his third straight game against the Michiganders. He trotted around the bases with his finger to his mouth, figuratively and literally shushing anyone who dared say what Fernando Tatís Jr. did the night before was wrong.
A little personality. A little swagger. A little fun.
“I think you can do as you please, as long as you're doing it with confidence and swagger, it's only right,” Anderson said during his pregame media session, which almost entirely dealt with his thoughts on the Tatís Jr. situation. “I think that what he did, it looked good and I liked it.”
Dial things back a day earlier, and the White Sox showed why they might be at the forefront of baseball’s have-fun movement. They mashed six homers against the Tigers on Monday, some of them greeted with loud reactions from the White Sox dugout. But outside of just celebrating the hoped-for results, there were other moments of joy.
A group of position players erupted in joking cheers when a replay review determined Edwin Encarnación’s double was fair, not foul, and his 37-year-old legs didn’t do all that running for nothing. Eloy Jiménez, though, stole the show when Luis Robert drifted all the way from center to left to steal another routine fly ball from his teammate. While Robert smiled and caught the ball, Jiménez gave him a joking glare, putting White Sox Twitter to work in creating memes.
Guys like Anderson and Jiménez don’t let their on-field or off-field personalities change with the breeze, of course, but it’s obviously easier to have fun during big wins. Still, these White Sox have never shown a lack of self-confidence, swagger or a desire to goof around. Hitting a bunch of homers just adds to the frivolity.
If those two elements get combined over a long period of time — the White Sox showing they’re a fun team and a winning team at the same time — then maybe they become a team that ropes ambivalent fans into the game, a team that youngsters of different backgrounds gravitate toward. Maybe they become a group people want to watch not just to see good baseball being played but to be entertained at the same time.
“I'm still grappling with the fact that this is an entertainment industry. I still keep thinking about the game of baseball more than anything, first and foremost,” manager Rick Renteria said. “But I get it. I get that people look forward to watching their players, look forward to watching their team that's exciting, that's entertaining.
“I think the entertainment aspect is a byproduct, obviously, because these guys are out there performing. I hope they are proud that people start to see and recognize it's a good group of young men who continue to develop and grow. … It's exciting. I think it's an exciting time.
“Consistency over the long course of a season might create a little bit more human interest in them. A small snippet right now, but hopefully that is something that does happen.”
The kinds of fans the White Sox and the game, in general, are trying to attract by trumpeting “let the kids play” and “change the game” mentalities could be drawn to a team like the South Siders, who could throw a whole bunch of sizzle in with the steak, a metaphorical cut of meat that could be pretty juicy considering the long-term position they appear to be in thanks to this rebuilding effort.
For every one of Robert's highlight-reel home runs, there can be a clip of Jiménez pointing to the ice water in his veins. For every Lucas Giolito strikeout that gets tweeted out, there can be video of Anderson dancing to music blasting over the PA. Encarnación and Dallas Keuchel might be veterans. But parrot celebrations and big beards count as fun, too.
Certainly the White Sox are not alone. There are pregame dance-offs and bubble-gum drum circles and bat flips and 3-0 grand slams across the league. And that’s a mighty good thing as the old-school ways — and the no-fun frowns that come with them — cede to something more exciting and more entertaining.
This is what baseball’s fun future looks like.
“We're having a lot of fun,” Anderson said. “We're grown men. Everybody's got kids, but we're also in the dugout having fun with our teammates, man. I think that's what it's about, especially with baseball because the game is long and some people have a short attention span.
“If you're doing something funny or something that's exciting, show you're smiling and having fun, then it brings some light into their day other than just watching the pitch and the batter hit and just defensive play.
“Bring some fun into it.”