White Sox’ Tim Anderson tells it like it is: ‘I’ve got to get better’ on defense

The American League’s All-Star starter at shortstop took a hard look at his own play during the first half of the season. It was far from perfect.

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The White Sox’ Tim Anderson still wants to be the best. It’s going to take a lot of improvement defensively.

The White Sox’ Tim Anderson still wants to be the best. It’s going to take a lot of improvement defensively.

David Berding/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Tim Anderson isn’t here to talk a big game.

It’s kind of a change of pace, if we’re being honest.

Instead, the White Sox shortstop and leadoff man, who will start for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, is taking a hard look at his own play during the first half of the season. It was far from perfect.

“Right when you think you know it all, you don’t,” he said before a light workout and some spirited Home Run Derby watching at Dodger Stadium. “You’ve got to learn and get better.”

Anderson’s .310 average, sixth-best in the AL, is nothing for a 2019 batting champion and 2020 runner-up to apologize about. This is the rare offensive player who rolls out of bed lining a base hit the other way, even if he has slumped to the tune of a .230 average and .278 on-base percentage in July. The whole league knows by now: Anderson is elite with the bat.

But what about the rest of it? Once you start needing both hands to count a player’s base-running blunders, something is amiss. And then there’s Anderson’s defense, which at times is no issue at all but at others is about as smooth and painless as a shingles outbreak. He has 11 errors in 253 chances, the kind of failure rate that says, “You know, somebody around here might want to think about moving me to second base.” Not that there’s any chance of that happening — nor should there be — but it’s a backward step after Anderson had only 10 errors (in 432 chances) all last season.

“Fielding,” he said, “I’m still learning how to do that. I’m still growing in that aspect.”

Confidence is a major component of Anderson’s game, but there’s always room for honesty like that. Anderson needs to tighten things up and get better, and simply must be better if the Sox — .500 and in third place in the AL Central — are going to be better. He’s the guy who makes them go.

He’s also the guy who listened to speculation about the Sox possibly bringing in Manny Machado to play shortstop in 2019 and clapped back by all but guaranteeing he’d have a career year. Hello, batting title.

And the guy who said at spring training in 2020, before the pandemic shut things down, “There’s nobody better than me. There’s nobody who can stop me.”

And the guy who said during last year’s All-Star festivities in Denver, “I want to be the best player to ever play this game.”

There were no proclamations along those lines a day before his second All-Star Game and first All-Star start. He was low-key about his place in the current pantheon of big-time big-leaguers.

“I never imagined being a starter or even being in an All-Star Game,” he said, “so it’s definitely a blessing and I’ll always be thankful for it.”

And he was low-key about if and how the Sox can save their season, choosing not to predict a division title explicitly.

“It was challenging, not being able to play to the max of what your potential is,” he said. “It definitely can be frustrating sometimes. But it’s also part of the process of learning and growing. Now that the first half is over, we can go back to the drawing board and understand what we did wrong in the first half [and be] better for the second half. …

“Hopefully, we can make the fans and you guys happy at the end of the day.”

Meanwhile, let’s not overlook Tuesday. Don’t forget, Rays manager Kevin Cash didn’t find an at-bat for Anderson during last year’s game. Cash wasn’t the only one who was bummed out about it afterward.

“Hopefully, I can get two or three at-bats and really be here for the memories and experience,” Anderson said.

Before his breakout in 2019, Anderson was a question mark — a hitter and defender with obvious athletic tools but little reliability in either area. People didn’t see him as a future All-Star, Anderson knows. They didn’t see his potential, he says. He’s not even certain that he saw it.

“I was playing just to play,” he said.

Wanting to be the best led him to take the game more seriously than he had before. Midway through a backward season with the glove, he’s of a mind to redouble his efforts and tell it like it is.

“If you’re the best at something,” he said, “you really don’t have any room to get better because you know it all. I don’t [know it all]. But it’s good to struggle sometimes, because that’s how you learn.”

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