Tim Anderson's fall has been as dramatic as his rise

The former White Sox batting champ was recently designated for assignment by the Marlins.

SHARE Tim Anderson's fall has been as dramatic as his rise
Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez’ suspension for fighting with the Chicago White Sox’ Tim Anderson was shortened to two games.

Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez lands a punch on then-White Sox star Tim Anderson during an Aug. 5, 2023, game in Cleveland.

Sue Ogrocki/AP

I’ve always been fascinated and saddened by elite athletes who suddenly lose the thing that made them great.

One day, it’s there, the way it has always been, and the next, it’s not. Sometimes there’s an obvious reason for the desertion. Sometimes there’s not. Either way, it strikes me as the ultimate cruelty.

Tim Anderson’s fall has been as dramatic as they come. In 2019, he won the American League batting crown with a .335 average. It was the first of four consecutive .300-plus seasons for the White Sox shortstop.

But then, seemingly out of the blue, the ability to hit a baseball where fielders weren’t left him. Last year, he hit .245 with only one home run. This from a man who could be counted on for 15 to 20 homers a year. The Sox declined a $14 million club option after the season, making him a free agent. He signed with the Marlins for $5 million, hoping a change of scenery might help him get back to what he once was.

Instead, he hit .214 with only three extra-base hits in 234 at-bats. Last week, the Marlins designated him for assignment, which is baseball for “there’s the door.’’

It was stunning news, especially in Chicago, which had watched him grow into an excellent hitter and a crusader against the old-school, unwritten rules of baseball. More than anything, he was fun, a born entertainer who wasn’t afraid to speak what he perceived as the truth, some of it having to do with how good he was.

A sprained left knee, suffered in April 2023, was partly to blame for the dropoff at the plate. The injury to his front leg affected his ability to swing consistently.

But there were other events that might have had an effect on his on-field performance. In 2022, a woman announced on social media that she was pregnant with Anderson’s child. Anderson, who was married with two children, admitted to the affair on “The Pivot” podcast.

‘‘I made a couple of decisions that probably shouldn’t have been made along the way,’’ he said. ‘‘But I’m open to dealing with them and growing with them. This is what it is. I’m willing to take whatever smoke comes with it, and I really want to be honest.’’

Then there was the fight with the Guardians’ Jose Ramirez during a game in Cleveland last August. Anderson had tagged out Ramirez at second base and had stood over him for a beat too long. Ramirez got in his face, Anderson threw a punch and Ramirez dropped him with a right hook. If you had given Anderson 10 chances to guess which city he was in after Ramirez’s punch, I’m not sure he would have picked the right continent. It was that bad.

In the days afterward, he made matters worse by not acknowledging that Ramirez had punched him out. Laughing about it might have allowed him and everyone else to move on. Instead, he withdrew into himself. He never seemed to recover from the embarrassment of the punch.

A couple of things might explain how someone as talented as Anderson could fall into such a deep hole. One has to do with the player, the other with the sport of baseball.

How Anderson felt about life affected how he played. That’s true of a lot of athletes but perhaps more so for the former Sox star. After spending much of his youth pursuing basketball, he had worked hard to make himself into a baseball player. There were struggles early for a raw talent, but when he started figuring the game out, there was no stopping him. There was also no shutting him up. He’d tell you he was great, and then he’d go out and prove it. He was living those “Life is Good’’ T-shirts.

When the storms came, they seemed to wash out his career. He couldn’t recover.

The vagaries of baseball make things that much worse for someone in an emotional tailspin. To put it another way: This isn’t basketball. Great three-point shooters know what their shot feels like. It’s part of them. Defenders can get hands in their face, but great shooting isn’t an eyesight thing. It’s a feel thing. That feeling generally isn’t affected by anything, on or off the court.

In baseball, there are so many variables involved for a hitter. It’s not just a man with a bat. There’s a pitcher across from him who can throw a ball 95 mph and make it dive upon command. Hitting a baseball when everything is right is difficult enough. Hitting a ball when life is kicking you around raises the degree of difficulty even more.

I hope another team will give a 31-year-old former batting champ a shot to prove he still has it. It’s in there somewhere. It just needs to be surrounded by health and happiness.

There is good news. Anderson and his wife, Bria, are still together. They welcomed a third child, Timothy Devon Anderson III, in April.

The Latest
Just before 2 a.m., the man, 42, was sitting in a parked vehicle in the 9800 block of South Ellis Avenue when he was shot in the head, Chicago police said.
Too often, insurers deny coverage for genetic tests that have been established as a standard of modern health care and can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
Her boyfriend’s family watched him pop the question, and woman’s aunt is hurt that she wasn’t invited too.
Some Democrats issued statements of strong support for the vice president, others stayed mum, for now — with just weeks to go before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Chicago on Aug. 19.