Tim Anderson is as good for baseball as he is good at it.
In his third full season in the majors, the 26-year-old shortstop is making his mark — both for how well he’s playing, and for the style with which he’s doing it.
Recall last Tuesday during the Crosstown Classic, when Cubs outfielder Carlos Gonzalez hit a popup behind second base. Anderson ranged to field the ball, and made what appeared to be an easy catch. But the ball popped out of his mitt (“Like a magic trick,” he'd later say), and he played hot potato with it, eventually snagging it in his right hand and flashing a wry smile on the Jumbotron.
Even in those small moments, he's big-screen material.
Anderson has been appointment viewing when he does the big things, too — say, hitting a game-tying three-run homer against the Yankees earlier this month. That was on June 13 in an eventual White Sox win, one in a string of games in which Anderson has been the difference-maker.
A first-round draft pick in 2013, Anderson was called up to the majors in June 2016. But this season, he's having a career year. Through his first 64 games, Anderson is on pace to shatter his career-high home run and RBI totals from 2018, and he’s doing it while batting .320 with an .844 OPS.
“He has a knack for coming through in big moments,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after Anderson’s dinger against the Yankees.
In a league starved for relevance with young people — the average baseball fan's age is 57, according to data compiled by Sports Business Journal — Anderson shushes the cries that the sport is boring. His bat flips alone spark days of hand-wringing on sports radio and TV, and send opposing players straight to Twitter.
Guys are getting a little excessive on pimping HRs, on meaningless HRs too. Act like you have done it before, one time.
— Randal Grichuk (@RGrich15) 17 April 2019
My take. He batflips cool. You take it to the chin and wear it. But next time you face him. Strike him out, and do whatever you gotta do. Fist pump, moonwalk, cartwheel. Do whatever. I’m all for it. Both ways. lol
— CountOnAG (@Amir_Garrett) 18 April 2019
But Anderson hasn't flinched, despite pitchers having started to throw at him. He even took it in stride when the league suspended him in April for using the N-word during a bench-clearing brawl.
"I don’t care what other people have to say about how I play or how I go about my business,” he said more recently. "You’re playing a failing game, so you gotta enjoy those moments that you’re being successful."
Halfway into Anderson's marquee season, it's easy to forget that the White Sox spent the winter pursuing free agent Manny Machado. Up until he signed with the Padres, the Sox were considered a front-runner.
Had they succeeded, Machado likely would have bumped Anderson from his post at shortstop. And months later, Anderson's batting average, OPS, and fWAR are all higher than Machado’s.
Bigger-picture, Anderson is generating buzz that baseball has sorely lacked — the type of energy you might see in the increasingly popular NBA. Seemingly silly extracurriculars like social media feuds give people a reason to tune in, and maybe even head out to a game. Anderson is the White Sox's Javy Baez — young, dynamic, must-see television.
“It’s just the method with which they play — a lot of joy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the two shortstops. “There’s not anything they can’t do on the baseball field, and they’re attractive in the sense that they got that gregarious personality.”
The timing couldn't be more perfect for Anderson to step into the limelight. Jose Abreu, the de facto face of the White Sox, will reach the end of his contract after this season. And while third baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Eloy Jimenez are exciting, the former lacks Anderson's off-field pizazz, and the latter is in the first months of his major league contract.
But does Anderson see himself as a team leader?
“I’m not vocal, but you know I do talk amongst the guys, so I guess you could say that," he said. "I go out and have fun and try to cheer my guys on throughout the game and keep that positive energy.”
His teammates, past and present, agree.
“There’s a lot of value in those guys,” said José Quintana, who played with Anderson on the White Sox until he was traded in July 2017. "You never know when they're going to make something special happen — you know, change the game."
Whether he's circus-juggling a popup or drilling a game-winning homer, there's no denying Anderson is one of those guys.