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Friday night, Tim Anderson hit into a first-inning double play.
There were boos.
Just as it’s been downright shocking to see the White Sox free fall from title contender to 20 games below .500, it’s been surprising to see Anderson tumble to this point: a one-time batting champ and two-time All Star in a season-long slump, a face of the franchise getting booed on his home field.
But as they say about emerging from long stretches of scuffling, it only takes one swing. And Saturday night, the swing Anderson had been waiting for finally came. He homered for the first time in more than a calendar year.
That it was an absolute bomb to left field was somewhat lost in the moment, Anderson rounding the bases, at one point putting his head in his hands, and returning to an empty dugout before his teammates mobbed him in celebration.
He got to wear that goofy gangster home-run costume for the first time.
“I told them I was going to wear it until I hit another one,” Anderson said.
Getting another one suddenly seems far more realistic as Anderson has done much to emerge from his slump this month. In 25 games played since the final days of June, Anderson has 10 multi-hit games, a .283 batting average and .325 on-base percentage.
Is that the All-Star type? The batting champ? Of course not. But this Anderson looks far more familiar.
“This is the guy I know. This is the guy,” Pedro Grifol said, drawing on his memories of watching Anderson terrorize his longtime employers in Kansas City. “He hits a ball whatever, (429) feet, and then he’ll sprinkle in a few base hits or run the bases and go first to third, make plays in the infield. He’ll show you a plus arm. This is the guy I know.
“The energy that he had in the dugout, the life that he brings, this is the guy that I’ve seen for a long, long time. He’s playing good baseball right now.”
Indeed, Anderson’s energy seemed different after Saturday’s game. He appeared, for lack of a better term, happier. He — and that dugout celebration engineered by his teammates — was far more reminiscent of White Sox teams past, when they were setting the standard for having fun on the field, led by Anderson’s example.
With the losing of the last two seasons, that fun, that energy, that swagger have gone missing. The easiest explanation is the most likely: that it’s no fun to lose. It’s also no fun to be hurt, and injuries dogged Anderson, along with so many of his teammates, in 2022 and 2023. Anderson getting back to normal on the field probably means he’s getting back to normal, physically.
When an ill-advised and poorly located Hanser Alberto throw took Anderson into a Twins base runner in April, he suffered a knee injury that he’s perhaps just now finding himself close to fully recovered from. Is it any wonder that his results at the plate are starting to improve?
“He’s battled some injuries that I truly believe have hampered him not only this year, but last year as well,” Grifol said. “He was feeling good at the beginning. He had a good WBC. He was feeling pretty good, and then he had that injury in Minnesota. That affected his stride.
“He’ll sit here and probably tell you there’s no excuses, but I can talk for him. Sometimes it just throws your balance off, your mechanics off, and you just don’t feel it. But huge credit to his work ethic. People don’t see he gets here early. He’s hitting here at 3 o’clock. He hits for an hour. He comes back in, he’s hitting in the cages. The work that he’s put in just to find himself has been tremendous.”
Anderson’s not one to bemoan not being 100 percent, so Grifol was right in that regard. But even the shortstop acknowledged that he’d been feeling differently than he was used to and that those days are starting to finally get behind him.
“The body feels good,” he said. “You can talk about all the injuries I’ve had, but I’m definitely a step closer to feeling back fully healthy for sure. … You’ve got to get in your legs. It was at a point where I was feeling I wasn’t in them. I kept working, and still working trying to master it. Keep working and get better every day.”
Asked how close he is to feeling like himself, he said, “I’m close. I’m getting there.”
In addition to being “back,” Anderson found himself back in his usual spot in the batting order. Andrew Benintendi — not exactly 100 percent in his own right — had done a nice job at the top while Anderson struggled and was bumped down to the No. 2 spot. With Benintendi getting a day off Saturday, Anderson batted leadoff and blasted that home run. With Benintendi back in the lineup Sunday, Anderson stayed at the top, with Benintendi moving down to the five-hole, and Grifol said the two will stay in these spots for a while.
Something resembling normalcy for Anderson speaks to the kind of course correction he could deliver in the season’s final two months, setting up the potential for the White Sox to head into 2024 feeling like they’ve got their All-Star shortstop back.
That, though, comes with an asterisk, however briefly, as the clock ticks down to Tuesday evening’s trade deadline. Anderson’s name has popped up repeatedly in speculation as a possible trade candidate, given the White Sox’ status as sellers. They’ve delivered on that status so far, pulling off three trades and shipping away five veteran pitchers while stocking the farm system with future help.
Anderson has been lumped in with the more-likely-to-exit pitchers as a potential departure because of his name recognition nationally, his history as an impact offensive player, his recent turn as an igniting force for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic and a guess that the White Sox could be moving in a different long-term direction as his control runs only through next season.
But none of the trades the White Sox made last week did anything to preclude Rick Hahn from taking a whack at assembling a competitive roster for 2024, and if the intention inside the front office is to compete next year — Hahn has yet to declare publicly whether it is or isn’t — Anderson returning to form would certainly increase the chances of doing so, not to mention at a relative bargain of a price for a player of his caliber.
Given all the reasons listed above, though, other teams would probably be interested in Anderson’s services, too, and it’s possible, however unlikely, a package could interest the White Sox enough to move on from the face of their franchise by Tuesday.
Unsurprisingly, Anderson didn’t have much to say on that front when asked about it earlier this week.
“I don’t really worry about anything,” he said. “Control what I can control, and whatever happens is going to happen anyway. It’s out of my control. … It’s a business. That’s the part you look at. Just roll with it. You can’t really speak on a whole lot. Just play and see what happens.”
Playing and seeing what happens didn’t work out too well, from a results standpoint, for much of this season for Anderson. But with his solid July wrapped, it’s looking like the White Sox could still count an All-Star type player among the ingredients for 2024.
That is, if they hold onto him.
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