A week after George Floyd was killed, the reigning batting champion of the American League made a statement. He didn’t do it verbally. He did it with pictures. Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson posed next to graffiti that read “A.C.A.B.” and “F*** 12” and “George,” and then he posted the pictures on social media.
Anderson was vocal about issues of racial injustice and equality during the 2020 MLB season, but in this specific instance, he had reasons for expressing himself with pictures.
“Pictures are definitely something that last forever,” Anderson told Yahoo Sports. “Those are moments that I will always remember, and I will definitely remember what it felt like to take those pictures.
“And, you know, [it’s] something for my kids to see when they grow older. I have a lot of explaining to do about those photos, which is a good thing.”
This is Anderson. Whether he’s boldly declaring the White Sox as the team to beat in the American League or shutting down critics who try to tell him how to play, Anderson is going to speak his mind. That trait also applies to issues of racial injustice, where Anderson — one of MLB’s few Black stars — is one of baseball’s most important voices.
Tim Anderson not sugarcoating Black experience in baseball
Players who speak out on race — particularly players of color — have repeatedly met criticism and resistance, or outright abuse, within the game. When former Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones called baseball a “white man’s sport” in 2016, his comment was questioned by current White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time. La Russa also expressed doubt over the sincerity of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.
Anderson knows he opens himself up to bad faith attacks every time he addresses issues of race, but believes being honest is the best way to get people to pay attention.
“I just be as open as I can and try to tell people what I’m feeling,” Anderson says. “You can never turn away from the real. The realer that you be, I think that’s the right way to be. So I just try to give people 100 percent me, try not to sugarcoat anything.”
It wasn’t always this way. As a rookie, Anderson stayed quiet. He didn’t know the other guys on the team and felt he needed to observe and learn from them. It took a few years for Anderson to find himself.
After hitting .258/.286/.411 his first three seasons in the majors, Anderson exploded at the plate in 2019, winning the batting title after slashing .335/.357/.508. He followed that up with another strong season in 2020, which earned him a Silver Slugger and a seventh-place finish in AL MVP voting.
His growth away from the field coincided with his success on it. As he got more experience in the majors, Anderson says he matured, and better understood what he represents, stands for and believes. Now, he’s more comfortable using his platform to speak with conviction about things like racial injustice. Even after the White Sox hired the 76-year-old manager whose previous comments raised concerns about how the two would mesh.
Anderson has already answered dozens of questions this spring about whether he’s on board with La Russa’s hiring.
“I have told people, this is not Tony camp, this is White Sox camp,” Anderson says. “We are going to let Tony manage and we are going to let the White Sox play. But we can’t forget the ultimate goal. You know what the ultimate goal is: To win. And Tony will be a part of that.”
While he initially had trepidation over the hiring, Anderson met with the new manager before camp opened and came away feeling La Russa cared, and that he was going to let him be himself. Anderson feels similar support within the clubhouse, where the team can have open discussions about difficult subjects, like race. Those conversations are made easier by the fact that the team isn’t blind to racial injustice.
“We are all aware,” Anderson says. “I think that’s the biggest part, is just being aware. The clubhouse is aware.”
Baseball still presents barriers to Black players
While Anderson feels support from his teammates, he is the only Black player on the White Sox 26-man roster. In 2020, Black players made up approximately 8 percent of team rosters, per MLB. In 2019, Black players made up 7.7 percent of rosters, according to USA Today.
Anderson isn’t, however, the only player on the White Sox publicly addressing racial injustice issues. Last May, All-Star pitcher Lucas Giolito released a statement about the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In his statement, Giolito urged others to “Stop turning a blind eye, stop refusing to talk about something because it’s ‘uncomfortable.’ Complacency will only allow the scourge of racism to survive.”
It was one of the most comprehensive and in-depth statements on racial injustice from a white player. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto and reliever Sean Doolittle were among the handful of white players to send out similar messages.
Often, however, it falls to the league’s Black players to answer questions about race. Because of that, Anderson is the White Sox player who gets approached about protests, about voter suppression and about La Russa.
The lack of diversity within the game isn’t a new problem. In 2015, Andrew McCutchen detailed some of the challenges young Black players face in baseball, citing cost as a significant issue. Anderson thinks that’s still one of the biggest barriers young Black baseball players face today, but is encouraged by his team’s efforts to address it.
“The White Sox do a great job through White Sox Charities to allow kids to come out and play,” Anderson says. “Also they have sent some kids to school through scholarships. So, I think it’s growing. I think it’s getting in a better situation.”
MLB is attempting to make strides in that area as well. The league and the MLBPA committed $10 million to the Players Alliance in September to “help fund innovative programs to improve representation of Black Americans in all levels of baseball.”
There’s still a long way to go. Until then, Anderson can continue to make his presence felt. In his words and in his actions, Anderson can leave an impression that goes beyond baseball.
He already has. Every time a young Black baseball player sees Anderson flipping a bat or appearing on a video game cover or visiting a memorial for George Floyd, that makes an impact.
And Anderson knows the weight a picture can carry.
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