One of the most colorful players in Chicago is gone - A.J. Pierzynski

One of the most colorful players in Chicago is gone - A.J. Pierzynski

May 20, 2006 Cubs-Sox game: Cubs catcher Michael Barrett punches Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. (AP File)
And then there was one…

The 2005 White Sox World Series felt more distant after catcher A.J. Pierzynski agreed to play for the Texas Rangers. Now Paul Konerko is the last player from that World Championship team. It almost feels rather melancholy to think that there will be no more of the colorful and sometimes controversial player behind the plate for the South Siders.

It seemed every year A.J. was anointed as the most hated player in baseball and he loved it. Pierzynski is the kind of player from the outside who seemed like a pain and a difficult person to have on a team. He was to some extent. But what you learn being around him for eight years is he is one of the smartest players in the game. He gets under other people’s skin because he knows all the nuances of the game better than most — and he lets you know it.

After covering him and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, you realize that those types of players are special in baseball. They are perfectionists in a game they love more than you know. Without blinking an eye, they can tell you everything and anything about a play, a pitch, a situation and have no problem explaining it.

Both players are hard-headed, want the game to be played right and would use anything to get an advantage.

It really galled A.J. when some sports talk show hosts were intimating that he was taking performance enhancing drugs last year since he was putting up big numbers at age 35. He may be difficult, but he is a baseball purist and it just doesn’t fit what we know about him.

Here are some of the things A.J. will be remembered for during his tenure with the Sox:

  • Game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels: A.J. claimed first base after a dropped third strike from Josh Paul when the LA catcher rolled the ball to the mound. Although Pierzynski was the focus of the play, he took advantage of an opportunity that any player would. (And then Pablo Ozuna came in as a pinch runner for Pierzynski and scored the game winning run.)
  • The famous Cubs-Sox game when A.J. came home from third on a sacrifice fly, knocked catcher Michael Barrett down, slapped home plate and then was punched in the face by Barrett. He loved it and so did the fans on both side of town.
  • Pierzynski caught Mark Buerhle’s first no hitter and last year’s perfect game by Phillip Humber.
  • He was a vote-in All-Star in 2006 after the White Sox had a campaign to “Punch A.J.”
  • It was A.J., Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand that came up with the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” as the theme for 2005 — they heard it in a bar together.
  • There are other aspects about his career here of annoying pitchers (his own) and managers/coaches. When Ozzie Guillen managed him he called A.J. a pain. But he was good for the team.
  • A.J. helped a Sox pitching staff win a World Series. Don’t underestimate how much he did behind the plate to help that team accomplish a feat that had not been seen in decades in Chicago.

And one last story about the now former Sox catcher:

Last fall, back-up (and now presumed starting) catcher Tyler Flowers was in a bind. His wife left a message that she was in labor and the White Sox were on the road in Baltimore. It was 11 p.m. after a game and Flowers knew he was too late to catch a flight to get back to Chicago for the birth of his first child. A.J. heard about Tyler’s plight and quickly went into action; he got Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Paul Konerko to contribute to a private flight. Flowers told me that Pierzynski didn’t want Tyler to miss this event. It enabled the younger Sox catcher to be at the hospital for the arrival of his daughter Mia.

Now it looks like the White Sox will turn the catching duties to Tyler Flowers, if he was observant, he learned a thing or two from Anthony John Pierzynski. It wasn’t all bad.

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