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Tim Anderson at shortstop. Josh Harrison at second base.
It’s going to be loud up the middle on the White Sox’ infield.
“Between me and him,” Harrison told CHGO during the early days of spring training, “I don’t know if either one of us will ever shut up.”
Harrison has some hitting to do if he’s going to convince White Sox fans that he was the right guy to plug the team’s hole at second base. But what was apparent from his first day in spring camp was how good a fit he is for this team, from a clubhouse-culture standpoint. He’s a gregarious guy who’s earned rave reviews at every stop of his accomplished major league career.
But he’s something else: He’s a “change the game” kind of guy. To the point that Harrison even played a small role in helping that mentality and attitude thrive on the South Side, long before he ever put on a White Sox jersey.
The White Sox have been at the forefront of baseball’s “have fun” revolution, with Anderson as the obvious poster child. The star shortstop set the sport on fire with his bat flip heard ‘round the world in 2019 and said not long after that he wanted to be this generation’s Jackie Robinson when it came to doing away with the game’s stodgy unwritten rules and breaking what he called the “have fun” barrier.
The team’s marketing department saw an obvious opportunity and slapped Anderson’s words, “change the game,” on every billboard, TV commercial and T-shirt. The players did the rest. This roster contains a self-proclaimed “Big Bastard” in the starting rotation, a profanity-spewing closer, a third baseman who has his own music video, a left fielder who doesn’t believe in buttons, a bleach-blonde center fielder and Mr. Bat Flip himself.
Harrison fits right in.
“You could tell they have fun,” Harrison said of playing against the White Sox last season. “I mean, I’m going to be me wherever I go, but I know me being me here definitely feels like I’m at home.”
The White Sox culture is a team-wide thing, and despite the fears that he’d snuff it out, Tony La Russa has helped it flourish, the most repeated compliment he received from his players last season being that he allowed them to be themselves. Anderson was the focal point of all those fan concerns about La Russa, and the shortstop even admitted to not being on board with the hire initially. But the two worked well together, La Russa realizing what a critical element Anderson was to the team’s success and Anderson appreciating La Russa’s willingness to step into the already established culture rather than dictate a new one.
The manager got it right: Anderson is everything about this team and its identity. And though it was building before Anderson flipped his bat and stepped onto baseball’s national stage, that moment made everyone take notice.
Anderson flipped his bat in the White Sox’ extra-inning loss to the Royals on April 17, 2019.
The next day, the team was in Detroit, where Anderson was hit with a suspension for using what baseball called a “racially charged word” while yelling at Royals pitcher Brad Keller, who hit him with a pitch, forcing the benches to clear. The suspension, handed down by the league office, ignored some of the differences in using that word that come with people being from different walks of life, Anderson pointing out then that a lack of diversity in those higher-up positions affected the league’s decision-making.
The entire ordeal – Anderson’s celebration, the Royals’ retaliation and the suspension that followed – had opinions flying, with Anderson in the middle, a role he willingly took on as someone who believed the game needed to evolve. Some shouted him down. Some boosted him up. Everyone was paying attention.
That included Harrison, who was playing for the Tigers at the time. Already a two-time All Star who had spent a ton of time in the game, Harrison saw in Anderson exactly what he is always looking for in a ballplayer.
And he just had to tell him about it.
“I had pulled him aside in Detroit and told him, ‘I love the way you play the game,’” Harrison recounted. “‘Don’t change for anybody. You don’t have to explain yourself to anybody. Because at the end of the day, how you play on the field is an expression of you.’
“Guys come from different walks of life. But as a guy that plays free out on the field myself, it’s encouraging, it’s refreshing to see other people that play with that – I don’t want to call it reckless abandon – but they play with that no fear: ‘I don’t care what you think of me, I’ve got to play how I play the game.’
“You can see it in how he plays. He’s energetic, he talks, he has fun. That’s part of expressing yourself on the field. And that was a conversation I had with him long before we even thought about being teammates. It was, ‘Hey man, I like the way you play the game. You play hard. You have fun. Don’t ever lose that.’”
Anderson had decided long before talking with Harrison that he was going to keep having fun. His entire outlook on life was altered by the death of his best friend in 2017. He decided he was going to enjoy every moment the only way he knew how. It transformed him from a quieter guy in the early stages of a big league career into a big personality and the face of a franchise and a movement within America’s national pastime.
But the chat with Harrison that day in Detroit helped him keep his head high as the talk raged outside.
“(He told me) basically just keep doing me, don’t change a thing,” Anderson told CHGO. “Keep being me and keep playing the way I play, don’t change a thing. That was enough to keep me rolling, and it felt good, especially at a time when I was going through (the post-flip stuff) and everyone was viewing me, what everybody thought about me. It was just perfect timing.
“Especially coming from a guy that looks like me, that has been through the same thing that I’ve been through, he’s been through more than me, so he knows with his experience, he knows everything. So just to get some advice from him like that is huge.”
In the years that followed, Anderson won a batting title, won a Silver Slugger, went to the All-Star Game, hit that unforgettable walk-off home run in the Field of Dreams game and helped take the White Sox from rebuilders to World Series contenders.
Now he’s got one of the guys who helped prop him up during his emergence as one of baseball’s brightest stars next to him on the South Side infield. And the keystone combo is ready to “change the game” all over again, this time as part of what the White Sox hope is a championship formula.
“For him to get over here and see how his personality is a lot more and just see what kind of guy he is, he definitely fits in and is definitely a vet that we need in this clubhouse,” Anderson said. “He’s going to be vocal, and he’s going to tell you what he sees. And that’s what we try to do here, be honest and not sugarcoat anything and make sure everybody’s being held accountable.”
“When they reached out,” Harrison said, “it was, ‘OK, I know what this team has. I got to see them recently. They’re a good team.’ … To have a team of guys who go out there and play hard and do it every day? I think that speaks (volumes) to what they’ve got in this clubhouse. Or I should say, to what we have in this clubhouse. I’m here now.”