In Praise Of A. J. Pierzynski

Bronx, NY, USA; Chicago White Sox batter A.J. Pierzynski hits a home run against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

I'm a Cubs fan. And I am going to laud the White Sox catcher. Nope, no catch here, no snarky words. Just praise for someone having the best year of his career.

This isn't going to be your typical A.J. Pierzynski feature, and certainly not the one you'd expect from a Cubs fan.

The White Sox catcher is having by far his best major-league season, and Sunday homered in his fifth straight game, tying a White Sox club record (last accomplished by Paul Konerko last year). He ranks ninth in the American League in slugging percentage, and it's no coincidence that the White Sox are in first place in the AL Central. In addition to his excellent hitting season, Pierzynski has helped settle a very young White Sox bullpen.

It wasn't always this way. Giants fans probably don't want to be reminded of the trade that sent Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to Minnesota for Pierzynski after the 2003 season. (Wow, what an awful deal for the Giants.) A.J. spent an unhappy year in San Francisco, and although the Giants posted a 91-win season with him as their primary catcher, they gave him his unconditional release, likely due to reports like this, where some Giants players called him a "cancer". Whatever happened in San Francisco wasn't repeated in Chicago after the White Sox signed him as a free agent following the 2004 season.

It's been said that A.J. is an acquired taste. This is borne out by things like A.J.'s taking off to first base on a disputed dropped third strike in the 2005 ALCS, an event some credit with helping the Sox win that series, and eventually the World Series. A.J. got the better of the same umpire, Doug Eddings, in a game against the Rays in 2008. He's the guy you wish you had on your team, because he'll do anything and everything to win.

He's been an excellent postseason performer, hitting .300/.372/.520 in 100 postseason at-bats with five home runs, in three playoff years -- 2002 with the Twins; 2005 and 2008 with the White Sox, and they have a very good chance at returning there this season.

Pierzynski is in the final year of a team-friendly contract that paid him just $2 million in 2011 and $6 million this year. With the retirements of Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall, A.J. has caught more games than any other active catcher and has become a White Sox icon, this season becoming the 27th player in team history to play 1,000 games in a Sox uniform.

Despite that, could he move on to another team? Even the other team in Chicago? He says he'd have to think about it:

If the White Sox ultimately choose to go in a different direction, Pierzynski still wants to keep playing. And if Chicago becomes a city where Pierzynski would like to stay, then he wouldn't rule out overtures from the Cubs even after eight years on the South Side.

"Look, if I wanted to keep playing and they were the best option and they were the only option it would be hard to say no to any team," said Pierzynski of the Cubs, who traded catcher Geovany Soto to Texas at the non-waiver Deadline but still have Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. "Would it be weird? Yeah. But at the same time, like I said, if they wanted me and they were the best option at the time, it would be hard to say no."

That wouldn't likely sit well with White Sox fans. They should enjoy the fantastic year Pierzynski is having; he's received MVP votes in just one season (2006, when he finished 30th in AL voting). If he keeps up his pace, he'll likely get more such votes this season. Even as a Cubs fan who's not been fond of him since the Michael Barrett fight, I still admire the way A.J. goes all out for his team. He's someone any team should welcome, because he plays to win with every move he makes on the field.

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