Earlier this week, it was announced that former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was retiring. This was somewhat refuted but the Braves put him on the disabled list shortly after, essentially ending his career. You don’t need to worry about roster spots in September of a tremendously lost season, so it’s pretty damn obvious that things have finally ground to a halt for the one-time “most hated man in baseball“. The timing will unfortunately likely line up perfectly with a vacancy for the position of White Sox manager, but the chances of that mistake being made are slim to none so we won’t even bother with it. No, the purpose of this article is to appreciate the productive chaos that was Anthony John Pierzynski and why he’s still so beloved to Sox fans.
The only reason the White Sox were even able to sign A.J. was because a faction of Giants coaches and pitchers disliked him enough for the team to cut bait after one mediocre year (thank you, Brett Tomko). This was more important than it might seem at first glance since Pierzynski wasn’t a true All-Star caliber player. But the Sox hadn’t had a consistently useful starting catcher since Ron Karkovice. A steady 2-WARP per year guy behind the backstop was a refreshing glass of cold water in a desert of the likes of Mark Johnson and Ben Davis.
It doesn’t hurt matters that the Sox won Chicago’s first World Series since 1917 in his first season with the team. Geoff Blum, Timo Perez, and Cliff Politte will never have to worry about not being loved on the South Side, and they were just fringe players. A.J. was a starter and a good one! And he’ll forever have one of the most famous moments in franchise history.
And that’s the perfect moment to illustrate his importance and character. This is a man who routinely ran across the pitcher’s mound to piss off opponents. He stomped on Aaron Boone during a pennant race. He got punched in the face for a smart baseball play and got elected to an All-Star Game because of it. He was a living cartoon character who embodied the stereotypically combative and obnoxious South Side attitude while managing to actually be a decent player.
Pierzynski had an OPS+ of 93 and a bWAR of 12.6 and 9.1 WARP over his 8 years with Chicago. Nothing amazing, but pretty useful from a position that was more or less a black hole before his arrival (and hasn’t been much of anything since his appropriately timed departure). He had rough edges and flaws. He didn’t seem to care for rookies and initially helped stall the development of Tyler Flowers, (among other clubhouse issues with younger players). But time tends to smooth things over, especially when the team hasn’t done anything worth fondly remembering in almost a decade.
Every member of the 2005 White Sox is going to be adored for a very long time, but few players had the raw magnetic personality of A.J. He wasn’t the handsome leading man or the brooding anti-hero. He was a puck with a weak jawline. A roguish foil to divisional counterparts. A skunk wrapped in sandpaper. An insufferable older brother. And with his retirement only two players from the last White Sox championship team remain in the majors (Brandon McCarthy & improbably Juan Uribe). Enjoy your folk heroes while you can.
Lead Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki // USA Today Sports Images