You think of the damnedest things at times, in the immediacy of controversy. When Tim Anderson checked in at the plate in the top of the eighth Sunday, in the second game of a Yankee Stadium doubleheader, his uniform number suddenly seemed very large and very, very vivid.
Seven. The number retired by the Yankees in honor of their Hall of Fame center fielder Mickey Mantle. A player whose off the charts performances and record were equaled only by his off the charts flaws as a man who finally told the world, as he battled cancer by way of a liver transplant, “This is a role model: Don’t be like me.”
Seven. Now on the back of the White Sox’s shortstop, a black man who declared three years ago that he wanted to be the Jackie Robinson of bringing and keeping fun in the actual playing of professional baseball, in front of a crowd that roots for the team whose third baseman didn’t know when what he called a joke wasn’t funny anymore.
By Josh Donaldson’s own admission he’d first needled Anderson by calling him “Jackie” shortly after that 2019 interview, and that Anderson and himself shared a laugh over it. By Donaldson’s further admission, he’d pulled the joke a few times since, right up to Saturday’s game. He said he intended nothing racial by it. Pardon the expression, he may be a minority of one.
The White Sox took the first game 3-1 Sunday and led 2-0 in the nightcap, on a pair of two-out RBI singles from Andrew Vaughn and Reese McGuire, when Anderson checked in against Yankee reliever Miguel Castro.
Every time Anderson batted Sunday the Yankee Stadium boo birds hammered him with boos and jeers, which you’d just about expect in any ballpark when a particular field or plate antagonist on the visiting team shows up and goes to the serious work of play. But Anderson was also hammered with more than a few noisy chants of “Jac-kie! Jac-kie!” during the twin bill.
Such is the lack of class for which particular fans are known to be particularly shameless. Yankee fans are no strangers to the loutish among them who would do such things as taunt an opposition pitcher during his pre-game warmups over his known battles with anxiety and depression. They may not love such louts among them, but they never seem in too big a hurry to thwart them, either.
That lout contingency would hardly reject a chance to hammer an opponent taunted by one of their own with a particularly nasty racial reference during a game the day before, a reference that led in due course to a sharp exchange of words behind the plate and the benches and bullpens clearing, with Anderson needing to be restrained from potentially tearing Donaldson apart.
Even Donaldson’s own manager demurred from defending his man entirely after Saturday’s incident. “I don’t believe there was any malicious intent in that regard,” began Aaron Boone. “But you know, this is—just in my opinion—somewhere he should not be going.”
Donaldson went 0-for-4 at the plate during the doubleheader’s opener, which the White Sox won after busting a one-all tie in the ninth inning thanks to A.J. Pollock sending one into the left field seats and Adam Engel sending Vaughn home with an RBI double. He sat out the nightcap, during which the Yankees could summon up a measly three hits to no avail against three White Sox pitchers.
Now, in the top of the nightcap eighth, with first and second, on 1-1, Castro threw a slider that hung up just enough for Anderson to drive it the other way into the right field seats for what proved the final 5-0 score.
A Yankee fan wearing the jersey of retired Yankee first baseman Mark Teixiera threw the ball back onto the field on a no-doubt line, perhaps blissfully unaware that Teixiera as a player (and now a broadcaster) had too much class to applaud such depths. Unlike the Toronto fan in Rogers Centre who handed an Aaron Judge home run ball to a young fan wearing a Judge jersey, this fan probably wouldn’t have shown that kind of character if there’d been an Anderson fan adjacent to him.
A young White Sox fan wearing a replica of the team’s mid-1980s game jersey snapped a photo with his cell phone as Anderson continued his travels around the bases. When Anderson stepped on the plate it was as though planting an exclamation point at the end of an emphatic sentence.
As he took a few steps toward the White Sox dugout, Anderson put his index finger to his lips as he looked toward the crowd, just as he had rounding third. He didn’t talk to reporters after the game but a hot microphone courtesy of the game’s broadcast aboard ESPN captured his no-doubt explanation: “Making [maternal fornicators] shut the [fornicate] up.”
Anderson probably knows in his heart of hearts that it’s easier to pass the proverbial camel through the eye of the proverbial needle than to shut the worst of Yankee or any other fans the fornicate up. Not even the evidence that Donaldson hasn’t exactly been a friendly opponent to Anderson and other White Sox in the recent past would convince them otherwise.
“[I]n this clubhouse,” said White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendricks before Sunday’s doubleheader, “we have TA’s back in everything. It’s like having an inside joke with a guy you are a nemesis with, I guess you could say, but yeah, that’s not how it went down in this clubhouse and I don’t understand how, if [Donaldson] ever thought about [his “Jackie” taunt] like [a joke], it’s straight delusional.”
Anderson sent a message back on enemy territory in the best way possible. If only it could have been as joyous as the one he sent in the bottom of the ninth in last August’s Field of Dreams Game, against most of these same Yankees.
“The game’s never over,” Anderson said after that one. “And once [Yankee reliever Zack] Britton walked [White Sox catcher Seby Zavala], I knew there was a chance to start something real dope.”
That was then, this was Sunday. The hankering to know just what MLB’s reported investigation of the Saturday incidents determines heightens. But now Anderson finished something real dope under unwarranted provocation from a real dope.