DENVER — Let’s cut right to it, then.
“I want to be the best to ever play this game,” Tim Anderson said.
Oh, is that all?
It’s easy to shake one’s head at some of the things Anderson says. Big, blunt, bold declarations, more like. The White Sox shortstop has neither fear nor filter when it comes to writing checks with his mouth that the average discerning person might doubt Anderson’s baseball ability can cash.
That’s probably why he was here Tuesday for his All-Star debut and the rest of us are, well, us.
The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native sure is on a roll and riding the flowing tide. Just think of what he has pulled off over the last three seasons.
Heading into 2019 — and coming off a terrible 2018 at the plate — Anderson scoffed at spring training when asked about rumors the Sox might be in big on free agent Manny Machado. The Sox’ 2013 first-round pick said the shortstop job belonged to him.
“I’m about to have a career year,” he said.
And then — wouldn’t you know it? — he won a batting title.
At spring training the next year, Anderson scoffed again when asked about debuting on MLB Network’s Top 100 Players list. He was 95th, 13th among shortstops.
“Man, let me tell you — there’s nobody better than me,” he said. “There’s nobody who can stop me. I’m coming for whatever there is.”
He was 27th — up to seventh among shortstops — on the 2021 list.
Now he’s an All-Star, which he likely would have been in 2019 if not for a sprained ankle that derailed him a few weeks before the break. He flipped the switch after that 2018 mess and will be damned if he’s going to let it get un-flipped any time in the foreseeable future.
“I would say the year I won the batting title, the offseason before was definitely one of those offseasons that I wanted to continue to get better and I wanted to take it to the next level,” he said Monday during a mashup with media across the street from Coors Field. “I wanted to be one of the best hitters to play this game. So I just worked, continued to work and now we’re here.”
Anderson’s ascension at 28 must have something to do with how late he started seriously playing baseball. He didn’t play at all until his junior year of high school and didn’t fully embrace the notion of a future in it until junior college.
“Once I actually locked in on baseball,” he said, “I had a chance to be good at it.”
Even then, his fandom was casual and fleeting. He would watch the Home Run Derby but not the All-Star Game. He dug Ken Griffey Jr., backward hat and all.
“He had that swag, man,” he said. “He had that effect on people. When he stepped on the field, you knew who that [was].”
It’s no wonder that, as the seamheads and wonks gathered for this event talked about things like upcoming rules changes, Anderson had the following suggestion for the best way to change the game:
“I’m taking out the unwritten rules first,” he said. “Just allow players to be themselves.”
For Anderson, that means bat flips, chirping on the field, swag, whatever you want to call it. It also means heart.
After clinching the batting title in 2019, he sat in the clubhouse alone and fought back tears. When he learned in a crowded clubhouse that he’d made this All-Star team as a replacement player, he was deeply touched by the reactions of teammates — especially Jose Abreu, who bounded across the room and jumped on him. Pretty nice for a player who has been around the All-Star block but didn’t make it this time.
“Abreu, man, he was there for me,” Anderson said. “He was there from the start. He knows what I’ve been through. He’s seen me work day in, day out. Definitely a guy I look up to that mentored me, man. Just seeing the way he goes about his business and wanting to be out there every day, I get that from him. And the way he plays the game, I get that from him.
“It was such a special moment, though, just to see Abreu, man, give me that much love.”
Also: lots of talk.
A moment after Anderson spoke of Abreu, a reporter walked up and asked the future “best player ever” if he thought the league-wide crackdown on sticky substances would lead to more hangers over the plate.
“It don’t matter,” Anderson said. “I’ll crush ’em either way.”