The years since have been hit and miss for the White Sox. La Russa, the manager who defended Anderson in the wake of the Donaldson argument, spent 2022 dealing with health issues that forced him to step away from the team, and officially left his post once the season was over. That meant that when Anderson reported to camp this spring, he was playing for his fifth different manager in less than a decade.
“Is it five?” he asked. I told him that, when you include interim managers, it is in fact five. “That’s played a huge role in my career too. Changing managers and changing the whole staff—I’ve been in the league for seven years, so half of those years I’m getting a new staff. I gotta make an adjustment every year. I can honestly say, this year has probably been the hardest because everything switched.”
Indeed, the White Sox are sputtering again, this time under manager Pedro Grifol. Grifol had never managed in the major leagues before; La Russa’s final season with the White Sox was his 35th as a big-league skipper. Going from one to the other was a major transition for Anderson, just like it was when La Russa was initially hired. That was not without its own controversy. When Colin Kaepernick was kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, La Russa told a reporter that he would, “to the best of his ability,” prevent his players from doing the same, going as far as to question the sincerity of Kaepernick’s actions. With Anderson and notable players of color like José Abreu, Luis Robert Jr., and Eloy Jiménez being big parts of the White Sox roster, the hire felt like an odd fit. Anderson remembers dismissing all of it as mostly noise, believing that it wouldn’t make much of an impact on him at all.
“I was like, ‘It don’t matter.’ He don’t do nothing but make the lineup card. But once the season started I learned. Dang! The manager plays a huge role!” Anderson admitted. The two were a bit of an unorthodox pair on paper, but they ultimately forged a relationship that pundits would have never predicted. “Tony was great for me. It’s still love. Legend. Hall of Famer! He taught me a lot and left little hand-written nuggets in my locker. I still have them. He still texts me. We still talk, not even like manager-player, but as human beings. He understood. He seen it in me, my drive. All that other shit don’t matter to me. As long as he put me in that one hole, at shortstop, I didn’t really care about the rest of it.”
Anderson says people underestimate the power that managers and coaches can have on an athlete’s confidence. “Even just a ‘Proud of you, kid,’” goes a long way, he said. I asked if he’s ever played for a Black manager at any level of baseball. After a very short time spent staring into the middle distance, trying to think of someone, anyone, Anderson responded with a despondent no. “The closest I got was the All-Star Game with Dusty Baker. That was instantly a good vibe, good energy. It’s a super connection.” He cited the 2023 World Baseball Classic—he played for a USA team with three other Black players and a hitting coach, Ken Griffey Jr., who is probably the most famous Black baseball player in the world—as a highlight. “Who the fuck thought I would be playing in the World Baseball Classic?” he marveled. “Shit was crazy. They could have picked anybody else but they picked me.”