First pitch: Does Tim Anderson’s rogue fight impact his future in Chicago?

Jun 30, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (7) jogs on the field before the game against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 30, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (7) jogs on the field before the game against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

Tim Anderson is in the headlines right now for his actions over the last month. But perhaps we need to be looking at more than one time frame to determine his present and future with the Chicago White Sox.

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s hard to get away from Tim Anderson news right now. After starting a fight with the Cleveland Guardians on Saturday night and then being suspended six games for his actions, Anderson is making the wrong kind of headlines right now. Add in there the story that has emerged about an altercation between Anderson and teammate Yasmani Grandal right before the All-Star break and accusations of a lack of rules in the White Sox clubhouse and you have all of the ingredients needed for a toxic stew.

It’s been a season to forget on the south side of Chicago, both for Anderson and the White Sox overall. But flash back with me for a moment to March when there was a sense of optimism about what was to come for the White Sox.

New manager Pedro Grifol had taken the reins of the team and talked in spring training about the importance of playing hard and doing things the right way. Anderson posted a slash line of .333/.381/.500 for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and had people raving about his ability to hold down second base while providing pop at the plate.

Things seemed to be coming into place for Chicago to put behind it a season where it slipped from the top of the AL Central to an 81-81 record, 11.0 games behind Cleveland for the division title. One of the biggest reasons for optimism? A new manager and his words of praise for Anderson, who was entering into the final year of a seven-year, $37.5 million deal.

“He wants to be great. He practices to be great. He’s got a great attitude. He’s a winner,” Grifol said of Anderson when I visited White Sox camp in early March. “He’s got an edge. I admired him from the other side, big time.

“I just think this game needs to be played with an edge and he brings it. He brings that edge. Any time I run into a player like that, I admire the player.”

The problem with that edge, however, is that it’s a thin one and it’s easy to slip off of at times. That includes back in 2019 when Anderson hit a home run against the Kansas City Royals, the team where Grifol was employed at the time as a coach, and tempers flared when he was plunked with a pitch in his next at-bat.

Watch the video above and you’ll hear the White Sox announcers discuss how Kansas City didn’t appreciate the way Anderson had hit home runs and flipped his bat in the past. It’s part of that edge and part of who Anderson is on the field.

“I know K.C. and the White Sox had their deal but, even at that time, I admired him from the other side,” Grifol said.

So here’s the crux of the problem. You can’t berate someone for playing with emotions and on that edge when you’re also admiring the way he plays the game. This is the problem the White Sox now have with Anderson.

Granted, Anderson’s disappointing season has been enough to put him and plenty of others inside the White Sox organization on an edge of their own. A left knee sprain in mid-April caused Anderson to miss around three weeks of play. When he returned, he talked about bringing “positive energy” to the clubhouse. Anderson’s return was part of 11 roster moves made by the White Sox on May 2 in the hopes of kick-starting the team. It didn’t work. Chicago went 15-14 in May, then 13-13 in June. The months since have seen losing records and the White Sox sell in a big way at the trade deadline.

Anderson, however, stayed with the organization, despite rumors of his availability if the offer was right. With a slash line of .242/.285/.290 and a recent history of injury and that “edge,” teams passed on adding him to their roster.

The rest of this season is an unknown for Anderson. Cryptic tweets from Anderson’s Twitter/X account raise some concern about not only what is to come, but also Anderson’s mental state. With Anderson set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the recent altercations being talking points around MLB, the time may be now for Anderson to seek help in softening that edge.

In the middle of his age-30 season, there is still plenty of baseball left inside Anderson. Whether that’s in Chicago or another location remains to be seen. However, knowing Grifol’s admiration for the player and the time and money the White Sox have invested in Anderson since selecting him 17th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, it won’t be a surprise for Anderson to be back on the South Side in 2024 and beyond.

Does this past month impact Anderson’s future in Chicago? Not in a huge way. There’s a line from the musical “Wicked” that goes, “The most celebrated are the rehabilitated.” If Anderson can make his amends and regain his form at the plate, recent events will be remembered as part of his MLB time in the same way that we remember George Brett charging out of the dugout at Yankee Stadium or Nolan Arenado charging Luis Perdomo at Coors Field. Yes, they were moments in a career, but they were not career-defining moments.

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