The aftermath of the Tony La Russa/Yermín Mercedes/Minnesota Twins debacle last week was not pleasant.
Current players chimed in, former players chimed in, analysts and reporters had things to say, Twitter checkmarks spouted off left and right. Many were curious as to what the lasting repercussions would be for this team after seeing their manager so outspoken against a rookie phenom and in defense of a division rival. “Clubhouse mutiny” was a term thrown around more frequently and openly than ever been before for a White Sox team.
As the dust settled and emotions died down, it became more clear just how much Tim Anderson means to the Chicago White Sox.
When the Chicago White Sox started to put the pieces together and reap the benefits of their multi-year rebuild, Tim Anderson blossomed — not just statistically, but as a leader. At the beginning of the 2019 season, Anderson’s confidence in the White Sox came out in full force when he said, “Ride with us, or get run over.” That phrase marked a turning point, not only in the attitude and personality of Anderson, but for the team as a whole moving forward.
Although the 2019 White Sox went on to finish with a record of 72-89 (good for third place in the American League Central), the sentiment held. The team was starting to gain momentum on their way to becoming an all-around force, in the division and in all of baseball. If you weren’t a fan of the White Sox already, you might find yourself with tread marks across your face as they plow over you.
As the old saying goes, if you talk the talk you have to walk the walk, and as of recently Anderson has done that in spades. Tim’s first three seasons in the majors got progressively worse from year to year, and right as fans were getting ready to admit defeat over the highly-anticipated prospect’s ability to play at the game’s highest level, things changed. It was as if a completely new TA showed up on the South Side of Chicago in 2019. After missing a handful of games at the beginning of the year due to an injury, the 6´1´´ shortstop won the major league batting title with a .335 average.
Watching Anderson lead off the game, or an inning, with a bloop base hit to set the table for the rest of the lineup quickly became a regular occurrence. The team with Anderson looked and operated in a drastically different manner than the team without him. While his defense leaves a bit to be desired at times, Anderson is constantly pushing himself to get better at the plate and in the field.
Anderson’s development over the course of the 2019 season, from hits to home runs, bat flips to smack talk — even his desire to singlehandedly fight the entire Kansas City Royals organization — was a joy to watch. More than his on-field growth, the thing that really impressed a lot of people was his maturation into a clubhouse leader. As far as anyone knows, nobody on the team pushed Anderson into this role, but he stepped into it through his words and actions.
Whenever things went right for the White Sox, Anderson was one of the first to praise his teammates. Even when the Sox were playing poorly, Anderson would still call attention to players who outshined the rest, and then remind people to focus on the positivity. Anderson’s Twitter account is full of positivity and daily reminders to focus on personal growth and success, and that just seems to be the kind of person he is.
When Tyler Duffey of the Minnesota Twins threw behind Mercedes in retaliation for his home run that put the White Sox up 16-2 late in the ballgame last Monday, Anderson was up on the rail of the dugout defending his teammate. Whether you agree with what happened, Team Tony or Team Yermín, is no longer important, but that kind of behavior sets the tone for the rest of the team. The players have each others’ back, and Anderson is leading the charge.
Recently, with the La Russa situation, Anderson climbed another rung on the ladder of White Sox leadership. At first, Anderson joked about the relationship La Russa has with the players, saying, “[he’s like the] dad, we’re like his kids. We’re like the bad kids who don’t listen. But we all get along, so we’re just going to keep pushing and he knows. We’re going to go out and play and have fun. The ultimate goal is to get wins and enjoy the game.”
Addressing controversial issues head-on is such a refreshing change of pace from the way people normally handle situations like what transpired in the middle of the Twins series. Vague answers, ambiguity, cute phrases and analogies, all of these are things we’re used to reading, but Anderson says it like it is. He then went further and said, “Regardless of what Tony said to the media he’s still our manager. We’re getting along just fine. He’s going to put us in the best position to be successful. And that’s what he’s been doing.”
If there was any uncertainty surrounding the White Sox clubhouse and their response to La Russa’s words (and there was), Anderson put it to rest in a way that only a team leader could. It would be one thing if a guy with a smaller role on the team came forward with a statement like this, but for Anderson coming out and stating that the locker room is fine, the team is fine, and that all is well between La Russa and the players carries significant weight.
You very rarely see comments made from players on this team that are as definitive and resolute as the ones that come from its shortstop. If that is by design, then the team is doing a great job of funneling their collective thoughts through the mouth of Anderson. If not, then I guess everyone else is just quiet and Tim feels like if anyone is to say something, who will stop him from being the guy? Regardless of where the needle falls on that scale, Anderson has raised his locker room value to another level.
Though many would argue that first baseman José Abreu deserves the captain’s C on his jersey, it is hard to deny that Anderson is the face of the team and the vocal leader. From his willingness to step up and defend his teammates, to his public statements regarding clubhouse chemistry and the energy he brings on the field, Anderson’s absence from the dugout would be as obvious as his absence from the lineup.
As the 2021 season progresses and the outlook on the team continues to come into focus, do not be surprised if Anderson builds on the foundation he has already laid for himself.
A batting title and national recognition is one thing, but Anderson is out to prove he is the most valuable player on the White Sox and one of the most valuable players in baseball, whether by reputation or award.