Far more worrisome than Tim Anderson’s vocabulary were the events leading to it

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist

They rent the game for a few years. They rent their places in it. Then their uniforms go back on the pile, their lockers named for somebody else. Much as they try to convince you -- or, really, themselves -- otherwise, there is no such thing as immortality. There is, at best, some old friends, a few beers and a regular pension check.

All those inches they won along the way, the ones they believed put people in their places, that championed the right way to play, that settled imaginary scores and punished artificial offenses, they go back on the pile, too. The next generation doesn’t benefit from those inches. Rather it is burdened by them, these musty and self-important acts of intimidation and vengeance that are, in reality, only childish and temporary.

Where it ends is with a fistful of jersey and a hollered, bug-eyed threat, young men and old men gaining and losing an inch of turf and superiority that won’t last, that can’t be defended, that isn’t worth the effort or the consequences of it. And then they have the audacity to say you don’t get it.

I mean, when did we start caring so much about the other guy? What he’s doing? What he’s saying? How he’s conducting himself? Who he answers to?

“Let the kids play” has become an anthem for the next baseball generation, a glorious idea in the macro that in the micro will earn a behind-the-neck fastball. So your kids are playful. Theirs are disrespectful. Your kids are expressing joy born of the game, of the neighborhood, of the culture. Theirs need to learn a little lesson in decorum.

There’s no winning that.

And Tim Anderson, the .422-hitting, 25-year-old shortstop for the Chicago White Sox who heaved a bat responsible for a home run, will sit for a game, not because he heaved a bat, but because he defended himself for doing it. Major League Baseball is not the culprit here. The rest of the kids are. The Kansas City Royals, who helped raise this generation before turning on it, which is so roaringly hypocritical but another topic entirely, came en masse for their inch of ground. Anderson called one of the Royals, who is white, the N-word coupled with other modifiers, because, well, who knows, except nobody’s allowed to back up. Ever.

CHICAGO - APRIL 17:  Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox throws his bat as he reacts after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals on April 7, 2019 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Far more worrisome than Tim Anderson’s vocabulary were the events leading to it. (Getty Images)

The phrase barked by Anderson made it into umpire Joe West’s account of the incident. The Royals said, yeah, they heard it too. And both parties insisted Anderson’s words instigated what followed, which was a bench-clearing circus, as though a fastball to the rear end never happened, as though throwing an object at another person is the most normal -- and proper -- thing. As though Tim Anderson had earned it for being incapable of controlling his happiness.

There are, in this instance, layers. Anderson probably shouldn’t be calling anyone words like that, even if, as is wholly possible, no one who actually heard those words was even slightly offended. MLB had to register its disapproval, and did so with a one-game suspension Anderson will not appeal. (In October 2017, Houston Astro Yuli Gurriel was suspended five games for an offensive gesture that appeared to mock Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, even after Darvish said he was unoffended. Others would be, and should be, however, prompting MLB’s action. Besides, it’s just wrong.)

And so, while the national reaction to Anderson’s suspension tended toward exasperation, given the whole let-the-kids-play thing, even given that Anderson must be allowed to protect himself after he was, basically, attacked, there are boundaries, however squishy.

Far more worrisome than Anderson’s vocabulary were the events leading to it. Again. The game can’t seem to get past its notions of self-importance, unless it can’t get past its issues of emotional fragility. The way it’s always been is not a good enough defense. It’s too perfect a game to otherwise lose itself in battles that can’t be won, that have never been won. If they had been, after all, then why would they still be waged? The game resists. Always has, now more than ever.

It was, turned out, simply Tim Anderson’s turn. He’d been in the right place, at the right time, until it wasn’t. Not his fault. He’d earned his inch in the batter’s box with a perfect swing. The Royals wanted it back. Every day, somewhere, right or wrong, it seems, rent comes due. It ends up, like the rest, on the pile, ultimately meaningless.

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