Recent seasons has seen somewhat of a shift to players being able to express themselves more freely without then being the subject of retribution. There of course have been exceptions to that, and among them involved Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.
He emerged as a prolific bat-flipper in 2019, chucking his bat across home plate while watching home runs fly. One of those celebrations led to Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller throwing at Anderson in his next at-bat.
Anderson charged the mound in retaliation, sparking a bench-clearing brawl that resulted in suspensions for both Anderson and Keller.
Major League Baseball was criticized for how it handled the incident, as the league office suspended Anderson even after its social media platforms enthusiastically shared highlights of his home run and bat flip. Though, MLB claimed the suspension was due to a racial slur that Anderson, who is African-American, yelled at Keller during the brawl.
Anderson himself criticized MLB’s lack of African-American players and drew a parallel to Brooklyn Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson in bringing change to the sport, via Sports Illustrated:
“I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson,” he says. “That’s huge to say. But it’s cool, man, because he changed the game, and I feel like I’m getting to a point to where I need to change the game.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Anderson criticized MLB’s approach to diversity and said the differing approaches to him from their league office and social media accounts left him confused. He hoped topple a “have-fun” hurdle in the same way Robinson broke the color barrier.
Robinson, of course, received much worse upon his debut for the Brooklyn in 1947, making him the first African-American in the MLB. Death threats against him, his family and even fellow Dodgers were constant and have been well-documented.
Today, the entire league honors the anniversary of Robinson’s April 15 debut by issuing special game jerseys bearing Robinson’s No. 42, which has been retired league-wide.
Robinson’s career paved the way for thousands more in baseball and beyond. For instance, former United States President Barack Obama credited Robinson, among other civil rights leaders, for helping create the opportunity for Obama to become the first African-American to ascend to the highest office in the country.
With respect to Anderson and some of today’s younger players, MLB has begun to market them more aggressively and embraced the show of emotion. That was evident with the league’s “We Play Loud” marketing campaign that debuted at the start of the 2019 postseason.