Like Mike: La Russa says TA fuels Sox like MJ did Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
"I hate to do this to him."
Tony La Russa realized in the moment what dropping a Michael Jordan comp means in this town.
But talking about Tim Anderson, he figured he would do it anyway.
"I had the great pleasure, when I was in Chicago earlier, to watch the Bulls play and practice. And that's what Michael had his whole career, and it carried over to his players, too. That's the way Tim is," La Russa said. "He's committed every day. And it's fun."
Much like Jordan used to single-handedly lead the Bulls to victories, that's what Anderson pulled off Saturday, smacking a grand slam and making some wizard-like defensive plays at shortstop in the White Sox 7-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.
Anderson's four-run dinger in the second inning was the game. He made Cleveland starting pitcher Triston McKenzie for walking a whopping four batters ahead of the 2019 batting champ.
La Russa's described Anderson as an "igniter" before, a spark plug at the top of the White Sox lineup that gets the team going. Saturday he didn't start things, he ended them.
But La Russa wasn't comparing TA to MJ just because they're both good Chicago athletes. It wasn't difficult to understand the impact Anderson has on these White Sox watching from afar. He was a batting champ in 2019, he was an MVP candidate in 2020, he's grown into the face of this franchise and one of the faces of the game.
It was showing up and watching Anderson in person on a daily basis that really wowed the Hall of Famer.
"He's the same every stinking, wonderful day," La Russa said. "He brings effort, he brings a commitment to the practices, to the competition, and he does it because he enjoys competing.
"I haven't seen him have one day yet where he's not the same inspired kind of 'let's go make something happen' person and player. I'm going to take bets (that) between now and October he'll be that way every day. He's got that gear, man. Actually, it's a commitment."
It was brought up to Anderson in his postgame media session, the offseason talk that he and La Russa would clash, the guy who called baseball boring having to follow the supposed old-school rules of one of the winningest managers the game's ever seen.
Even though Anderson was among those who were skeptical, that really does seem like the distant past at this point. He's going out there and doing the same thing he's done since taking his game to the next level. It hasn't just been a relief for White Sox fans to see Anderson be Anderson, it's been a joy for La Russa — and absolutely essential for the White Sox as they chase a World Series title.
"Tony allows us to do us," Anderson said. "I think that's how you max out, you get the most out of each individual is being yourself. Having fun while doing it. Enjoying those moments. The game is tough as it is. It's OK to enjoy those home runs and enjoy those plays. You are grinding every day, so you've got to have some fun with it."
Anderson being himself? That's all it took to lift up these White Sox.
"You're looking at a guy that has slowed the game down by just doing him, being him, being what he's about," White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn said of Anderson. "I think when you come up in this game, you try to do so many things to prove that you belong. Tim said, 'You know what, I belong and this is who I am and this is what I'm going to be about. And if you don't like it, so be it. I'm good enough to be here, and I'm good enough to play at a high level.' ... And when you see guys do that, it's extra fun. Especially when they're your teammates."
Anderson's individual journey has been so fun to watch. He went from a quiet rookie who struggled to hit above .250 to a swag-tastic batting champ dominating Major League Baseball's marketing campaigns.
But it's what he does for his team that is the truly important thing as the White Sox try to cap their rebuilding project with a trophy. La Russa and Lynn gushed about his impact on his teammates, and we heard about it firsthand from Billy Hamilton, who described how Anderson has helped him reframe how he thinks about himself as a player.
Add in the energy, the cheerleading, the pure fun, and being an "igniter" means so much more than just leading off games with base hits.
Jordan will always be remembered as one of the best athletes to ever play in this town or any other. His on-court excellence is what sticks in the minds of fans who watched him play. But as everyone found out last summer during "The Last Dance," it's what he was doing both during games and behind the scenes that fueled the Bulls' dynasty.
The White Sox need to win one ring before trying to match Jordan's six. But they've got their own championship fuel thanks to what Anderson brings every day.
"I'm definitely sold out to the game," Anderson said. "I'm going to do it the right way and give 1,000 percent. Guys like Michael Jordan, and LeBron (James), as well, they give me the blueprint to be the best. Those are guys I look up to. ... I practice like it. I think like it. And confidence is always at an all-time high.
"When I step on that field, I know I'm the best, I believe I'm the best. It's just a matter of continuing to work.
"Everybody is pulling from the same string. Just have fun. And really just give everything you got that day and you go home and you come back again and do it again. You try to just refresh each and every day."