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Brian Anderson won't stay down

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Out of baseball for two years, former first-round pick is back in action with the White Sox

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox signed one of their former outfielders to a minor-league contract on Wednesday, and one without an invitation to spring training. That normally doesn't count as newsworthy, even in mid-January.

This one's different.

Because it's Brian Anderson, it registers. We smile, we smirk, we express bafflement, and some of us bitch and moan, but there's going to be a response, because he's just too familiar to ignore. He's BA. C'mon.

We all know somebody like Brian Anderson, or at least Brian Anderson as we know him. Somebody who fumbled the multiple chances he was given, who couldn't turn dreaming into doing, whose story is a chain of unfulfilled promises.

Yet somehow, Anderson avoided turning others' disappointment into enmity. He debuted as something of a sympathetic figure because he didn't fit in the White Sox clubhouse -- he was too popular with some people, and too unpopular with others -- but the Sox struggled to replace him well enough to cleanly move on. Say what you will about his bat, but he could always catch the ball in center field, while several replacements just couldn't hack it out there.

You can sum up the case for his existence with one critically important September evening. He didn't start the Blackout Game in 2008, but he ended it when he made a diving catch in center for the final out. It was a play that Ken Griffey Jr., wouldn't have made. Neither Nick Swisher nor Rob Mackowiak would have made it, either. That reflected his redeeming side, and he did just enough of that to make his eternal confidence and optimism (not entitlement) seem misplaced (not delusional). He never meant any harm, so you'd rather use euphemisms.

(Plus, he was one of the earliest battlegrounds in the Blog Wars. If we don't honor our heritage, who will?)

He eventually exhausted his chances, and he didn't make the Sox regret moving on. You might have the cousin who dropped out of college six credits short to take up "network marketing" (it's not a pyramid scheme, he insisted). We had the ballplayer who gave up playing the outfield after the 2009 season and killed his MLB career in the process.

He ended up in Kansas City, the last refuge of much White Sox detritus. After failing to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, Anderson rashly switched to pitching, and spent most of the year out of real action.

Here’s the funny thing: Had Anderson sucked it up and played center field in Omaha, he probably would have spent at least half the season in the big leagues. The Royals’ three Opening Day outfielders — [David] DeJesus, Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel — didn’t last through July. And Ankiel missed May, June and most of July with an injury.

It’s not one of the five tools, sadly, but Anderson has an otherworldly knack for putting himself in the wrong position. I imagine he’s got to stick to pitching now, and I wonder if one full season of pitching will be his last best chance. He can’t screw up many more.

Moving to the mound wasn't a get-rich-quick scheme. It wasn't even a get-rich-slow scheme. Yet even as he moved on from the Royals to the Yankees to see this ill-advised path to its end, he wasn't about to admit he made a mistake:

Relearning the craft he believes he was meant for has been exhilarating. "Now that I'm actually pitching," Anderson says, "I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. I couldn't be happier right now.

"It's the best time I've had in baseball."

The best time wasn't a long one. For one reason or another, he pitched just 25 official innings in the minor leagues over 2010 and 2011. He added six more innings for Somerset in the independent Atlantic League, and that was it.

Yet even as he dropped out of baseball -- his Twitter bio and LinkedIn page shows business interests in Vantari Genetics and -- he never lost that trademark confidence and optimism. Scott Merkin (the one uncle who stayed in contact with him) warned us last year that Anderson was back on the scene:

"I'm looking for a team that wants me to come there and possibly earn a fourth-outfielder job and earn my way to more at-bats." [...]

"I don't blame [fans for being dismissive]. If I were a critic or a fan, I probably would not be too fond of me," Anderson said. "Just go away already and be an insurance salesman. But where I'm at mentally is such a better place than where I was at when I was younger.

"It's not just proving the skeptics wrong because there always will be people who criticize you. It's about proving it to myself as well. I know how I feel mentally and physically, and I'm ready for a nice fresh start."

But this year's Merkin missive can't be mistaken for entitlement:

"I'm more excited to sign right now than I was when I got drafted in the first round," Anderson told by phone Wednesday. "Imagine how excited I am."

"After telling him yesterday, he was so excited it was like his first professional contract," said White Sox director of player development Nick Capra of Anderson.

Given that Anderson turns 33 in March, there's no reason to believe this one will end any differently, just like your cousin's new foray into real estate wasn't any more successful than his dalliances with acting and for-profit education. But I don't think anybody wants to live in a world where Anderson loses his indefatigable self-confidence, just like nobody wants to see Juan Uribe down for good. If you and the White Sox can't help but be interested, it's natural, and maybe even right and just.

Hey, he wouldn't be the first 33-year-old to rise again. So let it be written. So let it be done.