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It probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
Giving Josh Donaldson the benefit of the doubt, taking him at his word that he was just cluelessly offensive rather than maliciously so, was not necessary after all.
Donaldson’s excuse for calling Tim Anderson “Jackie” on Saturday – that it was a supposed long-running inside joke between the two – was quickly dismissed as “bullshit” by Liam Hendriks, whose experience playing with Donaldson taught him what sort of person the Yankees’ third baseman is.
Turns out that’s exactly what it was. Bullshit.
“In 2019,” Anderson said Tuesday on the South Side, “he did say that. I told him that we don’t ever have to talk again. ‘I won’t speak to you, you won’t speak to me, if that’s how you’re going to refer to me.’ And I know he knew exactly what he was doing. Because I already told him.
“He goes to Minnesota … don’t say nothing to me because I already addressed it. … He felt the need to say it again. He’s trying to provoke me. And he knew what he was doing.
“I know the truth. I know what it is.”
While so much of the fallout from Donaldson’s racially insensitive comment directed at Anderson unnecessarily focused on whether Donaldson meant to be disrespectful, it all should have dealt with the fact that he was disrespectful, whether he meant to be or not. Anderson reminded Tuesday that “nobody else’s opinion really mattered” besides his, the person who was impacted by Donaldson’s choice of words.
Now we know, though, that Donaldson meant to be disrespectful because Anderson had pointed out his feelings three years earlier. Major League Baseball came to a similar conclusion, issuing Donaldson a one-game suspension Monday.
So anyone still splitting hairs can do what Anderson told the booing Yankee Stadium crowd to do after blasting a three-run home run Sunday night.
“It was pretty dope,” Anderson said of the home run. “For me to shut ‘em up. I think you guys saw the reaction and what I said. And it was a great moment, for sure.”
Indeed, as Donaldson showed his true self over the weekend – the guy who has “turned teammates into enemies” and made up parts of a claimed parking-lot confrontation with Lucas Giolito last summer has a track record of acting like this – Anderson showed his.
Anderson’s was vastly more impressive.
“He is a credit to Major League Baseball. He’s exactly what our fans need to see, as far as what a person he is and his dedication to winning,” said Tony La Russa, who couldn’t have been more emphatic in his respect for Anderson while doing an in-game interview during Sunday night’s nationally televised game. “I was around here long enough to slightly get to know Michael Jordan. He’s got that Michael Jordan desire for his team to compete and play for a championship.
“This guy is really special at everything he does. In (the clubhouse), when he’s not here. We’re lucky to have him.”
La Russa has busted out the Anderson-Jordan comparison before, of course, but it remains the highest compliment you can pay an athlete, especially in this town.
The South Side skipper pointed out he knows how “special” Anderson is after being around him for only a couple years. The White Sox organization has known him for much longer. And though no one who’s watched Anderson play needed a reminder of what kind of player and person he is, he gave one this weekend.
“However you want to look at Tim Anderson,” Rick Hahn said, “whether it’s strictly from the most objective evaluations of his physical performance, to his off-the-field comments and how he carries himself, he’s been a fantastic representative of this organization since the day we signed him out of junior college. But he’s matured as a person, as a man, as a teammate to reach the point where, from my standpoint, he’s one of the faces of the game and a face the commissioner should be proud to have, as proud as the White Sox are to have Tim representing us.”
“If you’re looking for the latest example of how special he is just look at that,” La Russa said. “If that’s the first time you’ve been able to see how special he is, then you haven’t been paying attention.”
Those guys are biased, sure, and maybe I am, too, but Anderson has made himself one of the faces of baseball. To echo Hahn, whether you want to say it’s because of his on-field performance (a .359 batting average coming into Tuesday’s game), his fun-loving personality off the field or his knack for huge moments like Sunday’s – or that nationally televised Field of Dreams homer, against those same Yankees – Anderson has made himself must-see TV.
And he’s done so with aplomb, reacting to the death of his best friend a few years ago by dedicating himself to having fun on the field and making it known that the sport should move in a similar direction. He’s always on the top step of the dugout, cheering for his teammates, and his bat flip heard ‘round the world was the epicenter of baseball’s modern “let the kids play” movement, in which the league itself has leaned into personality and away from the stuffy notion of unwritten rules.
Anderson, of course, is the heart and soul of everything White Sox, and his teammates showed how important he is to them by rallying around him Saturday. Yasmani Grandal got in Donaldson’s ear immediately, sparking a benches-clearing incident, during which José Abreu dragged Anderson back to the dugout to prevent him from getting ejected. It didn’t take Hendriks’ past history with Donaldson to motivate him to speak out. And La Russa was so certain of Anderson being on the right side of this that he was the first to call Donaldson’s comment “racist” during his postgame media session.
It was the kind of support his teammates have shown before. In 2020, then the team’s lone Black American player, then-manager Rick Renteria placed his hand on Anderson’s shoulder during a pregame ceremony acknowledging the murder of George Floyd. Abreu asked Anderson if he could organize some of the Latin players to join Anderson in taking a knee that day.
“Tremendously proud of the way that teammates coalesced around TA this weekend, the support that was shown, both on the field and in the clubhouse,” Hahn said. “I think that was remarkable and something this organization, players and staff, should be very proud of.”
“It’s been nothing but love from my teammates, from the coaching staff, from the organization,” Anderson said. “I can say that things got handled the right way, and I feel the support, I feel the love, and I appreciate that, for sure.”
That the White Sox followed Saturday’s events by sweeping a doubleheader against the team with baseball’s best record led plenty to assign the “turning point” label to Anderson’s triumph in the face of Donaldson’s comment. There’s so much baseball remaining that it’s hard to make such a declaration now, as Hahn stated, and the Red Sox jumping all over Dylan Cease on Tuesday night showed how tricky turning things around can be.
“It could be,” the general manager said. “I hope when we look back in October as to what was the galvanizing moment for the 2022 White Sox, it was that, because that means everything going from this point forward is going to be pretty sweet.
“Whether that happens, we’ll have to wait and find out together.”
But Anderson has always made this team go, serving as its “igniter,” as La Russa has so often described him, and it’s not at all crazy to wonder whether he’s strong enough to suddenly make this whole season go.
Obviously, that’ll take a team effort, and the White Sox’ collective pitching success is a surer bet to dig the team out of a middling start to a campaign that started with World Series expectations.
But if we’ve learned anything about Anderson, it’s that he will be the biggest key, in terms of an individual, to getting the White Sox to where they want to go. And he’ll do it while having fun and being himself, no matter what sort of nonsense the Donaldsons of the world throw at him.
“I’m gonna continue to keep playing hard and keep being a great teammate and keep being the best version of myself I can be,” he said.
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