Sox ink Pierzynski–“Most Hated” Opponent in MLB


Ben Cherington covered the Starting Catcher box on his 2014 BINGO card by signing controversial veteran A. J. Pierzynski—the most hated man in MLB—to a 1-year deal, reportedly worth $8.25 million.

Pierzynski is a lefthanded hitting, free-swinging, non-walking, slow-footed catcher ,who can hit and can still crush the ball.  He is a gap-to-gap contact hitter, will be a tick above Salty on defense and at least as productive on offense.

Being on the offensive is his reputation.

Cherington, who has worked his magic before with veterans on short contracts, must feel that this misfit may be the perfect fit for the Red Sox:  a combative, aggressive, grinder, who can mash.

On June 13, 2012, Pierzynski was rated the most hated player in Major League Baseball. Pierzynski’s “jacket”—he’s a needling, chirping, constantly carping instigator who has become a lightning rod in major-league clubhouses.

Pierzynski was once referred to as a “clubhouse cancer.”

Pierzynski ranked 9th on GQ’s list of the 10 most hated athletes in all of sports in 2006.

Pierzynski’s reputation for being the “Most Hated Player in MLB” requires explanation.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless posted on Twitter: if you know his story you would know that everyone says about the same thing , you absolutely hate his guts if he is not on your team but love him if he is.

His style of play is aggressive, even combative, and he specializes in irritating opponents. His wife Lisa, who has known A.J. since high school, believes it’s her husband’s two strongest qualities that get him in the most trouble — his intensity and competitiveness.

He’s one of those guys who when you play against him, you absolutely can’t stand the guy. He drives you nuts. But on your team, you love it. He fits in here. ”
— White Sox pitcher Jon Garland

No wonder that Pierzynski is annually among the league leaders in getting hit by pitches.

Like his backup catcher, David Ross, A. J. has a reputation for being a good game caller.

His former manager, Ozzie Guillen, summed up the situation as,

“If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”Guillen also acknowledged Pierzynski’s value to the club, despite being relatively high-maintenance: ”

A.J.’s been great for me. He’s worth the work because he always shows up for you.” Guillen says, “I don’t think he’s a smartass. I think he’s an ass–without the smart.”

Former White Sox team mate catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., “I don’t really know him, but ask me in a month—when I knock him out.”

A. J. says the media focus too much on his style; if he were a Sports writer he says:

“I’d write about baseball,” he says. “I’d write about how I play to win, how I’m a winner. It would be nice to read about baseball.”

“You can say you don’t like me as a person, but when you start calling me out as a professional, that’s different,” A. J.  says. “I take pride in coming to the ballpark every day and being a professional. When you question that, we’ve got trouble.”

Former team mate, pitcher Brett Tomko, who got into a verbal kerfuffle with Pierzynski:

“There are things that come out of his mouth that are shocking sometimes. He’s a great player. He can hit. It’s just all that negativity that’s around him all the time. Sometimes it takes away from what he can do as a ballplayer. When it comes down to it, I don’t think A.J.’s a bad guy.”

During practice, when a ball just dropped in front of outfielder Jermaine Dye, Pierzynski wouldn’t let his friend hear the end of it. “Don’t you know how to run?” he yells to Dye. “We run here.” Dye mumbles his rebuttal, but the catcher has one of his own. “What’s that Jermaine? I’m sorry — we don’t speak Ebonics,” he says jokingly. “I can’t understand you.”

Then again, in his first month with the Giants Pierzynski was hit in the groin by a foul ball during a spring training game, Pierzynski reportedly kneed trainer Stan Conte in the groin when Conte asked him how he felt. “Trainer Stan Conte rushed to the scene, placed his hands on Pierzynski’s shoulders in a reassuring way, and asked how it felt. “Like this,” said Pierzynski, viciously delivering a knee to Conte’s groin.

It was a real test of professionalism for the enraged Conte, who vowed to ignore Pierzynski for the rest of the season until Conte realized how that would look.” [Bruce Jenkins,]

Former Manager Ozzie Guillen: “Say what you want, but A.J. does whatever is within his power to win.” When the Giants released Pierzynski in December of 2004, finding a new team wasn’t easy. The Sox especially had little interest in Pierzynski and his baggage. When Pierzynski’s agent called White Sox GM Kenny Williams, he simply said, “No.” When Williams asked Guillen for his opinion, the manager concurred.

“I told him, ‘Hell no,'” Guillen said. “‘I don’t want that headache on my team.'”

Pierzynski spent 10 hours on the phone with Williams, convincing him that he wasn’t the person the rumors made him out to be. Williams and Guillen did their research and talked to colleagues around the league.

Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson suggested the team give Pierzynski a shot. “Hawk said, ‘You’re going to love this kid. He’s a gamer. He’ll do everything he can to help you win games,'” Guillen said. “Hawk was right.”

“Gamer” example: “Go back to Game 2 of last year’s ALCS, and one of the most disputed calls in postseason history. It led to the winning run, and kickstarted the White Sox on their way to winning the World Series.

The scene: ninth inning, two out, two strikes, and Pierzynski has just flailed clumsily at a Kelvim Escobar split-finger. He starts to the dugout, one step is all, and then thinks, It hit the dirt.

“I didn’t care if they called me out and I looked stupid. I heard two sounds”—here he gives a quick one-two slap on the table—”and to me that meant the ball hit the ground.”) And so he runs to first as catcher Josh Paul rolls the ball to the mound.

Doofus, everyone watching thinks.

Doofus, some of his teammates think. Safe, the umpires decide. If you watch closely, you’ll see he rounded first and took two steps toward second. Paul was off the field and first baseman Darin Erstad was off the field and second baseman Adam Kennedy was headed for the dugout. As Pierzynski turned toward second, he saw shortstop Orlando Cabrera hold his ground and third baseman Robb Quinlan pick up the ball.

So, the moment lost, he retreated to first. That’s the core and essence of A.J. Pierzynski. The Angels were pissed he ran to first. And he was looking to take second.” [Tom Keown,]

Pierzynski is “offensive” at bat too:  slash line: .283/.322/.428.Pierzynski, .290 batting average against RHPs and a career .322 hitter at Fenway Park.

In 2013 Pierzynski, 36, was a Texas Ranger last season, hitting .272 with 17 home runs, 70 RBI and 48 runs scored in 134 games. In 2012 he hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI with the Chicago White Sox; that was his career high in HRs, and it tied his career high in RBI.

Pierzynski holds the AL record for consecutive errorless chances with 962, breaking Yogi Berra‘s previous record of 950, set in 1959.

“He needles teammates and annoys opponents, and he does it with a sideways grin and a tongue-in-cheek manner that doesn’t always translate well into baseball’s militant code of ethics. And although he’s had problems with teammates in the past, his personality seems to get more appealing the closer you get to it.” [Tom Keown,]

When makes an out, he’ll often take the opportunity to jog across the mound on his way back to the dugout. Pitchers, as a rule, don’t like this. Or, as he’s running across the infield at the end of an inning, he might refuse to alter his course, even if it means nicking the shoulder of an opponent. Or maybe he’ll accidentally-on-purpose step on the first baseman’s foot as he crosses the bag.

Buehrle laughs and says, “Why does he do that stuff? I wonder that all the time. It’s not dirty, and he doesn’t really mean anything by it, but in a baseball sense it can be kind of a big deal.”

When Pierzynski left Minnesota, Manager Gardenhire said he thought Pierzynski’s grating ways cost his pitchers strikes with the umpires.

After a Pierzynski home run propelled the Twins to a division series victory over Oakland in 2002, A’s outfielder Terrence Long said, “I wouldn’t want 90 percent of players not respecting me, and that’s what he’s got working now.”

A’s teammate Billy Koch, now out of the league, called Pierzynski a “jackass.” “You hit a ground ball, he’ll step on your bat running down first base behind you,” former teammate Aaron Rowand said during last year’s playoffs. “He’ll give you an elbow at first base. He’s just like that. Playing against him, you don’t like it too much, but when he’s on your team, that’s a completely different picture.”

Although Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski had similar production in 2013, and Saltalamacchia is eight years younger, according to Jon Heyman, the team “was always hesitant to do a very long deal with a catcher as it is has two very good catching prospects, in Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, who could be ready fairly quickly.”

Salty, a 28-year-old catcher, who signed a 3-year deal with the Marlins to return to his home in South Florida, hit .273 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 2013 is currently a free agent, one of the few left at catcher, which should allow him to get his multi-year deal that the Sox were not willing to offer.

Pierzynski made his professional wrestling managerial debut at TNA Turning Point 2005 on December 11, 2005, accompanying Torborg, Sabin and Dutt to ringside for their match against the Diamonds in the Rough.

On October 10, 2006, Pierzynski appeared on ESPN2‘s Cold Pizza, wearing the X-Division Championship belt, and challenged WWE Champion John Cena, who was also a guest that morning, to a Title vs. Title steel cage match whenever Cena wanted to have it. Cena responded asking if Pierzynski got his championship belt out of a gumball machine outside. Pierzynski on Pierzynski:

"“I’m always in the middle of everything,…Story of my career.”"