He’s the kind of guy that you hate, unless he’s on your team.
That’s the sentence that seems to have followed A.J. Pierzynski around his whole career. He agitated White Sox fans during his tenure in Minnesota before becoming a beloved member of the World Series-winning team in 2005. He became a mainstay on the South Side, earning the adoration of fans there while continuing to irritate all 29 other fan bases. The plate-slapping, punch-taking saga doesn’t need to be relived again, does it?
But that reputation took a different turn earlier this season, when the “unless he’s on your team” half of that line went away. Pierzynski was cut by the Red Sox earlier this month, and after his departure came a flurry of opinions blaming the veteran catcher for Boston’s poor follow-up to their World Series victory a season ago.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford wrote this on July 10:
“A microcosm of Pierzynski's approach was mentioned by more than one of the backstop's former teammates, who revealed his propensity to spend a significant amount of time looking at his phone while at his locker during games. In one instance, after a particularly rough outing in which the starting pitcher had been pulled early in the game, Pierzynski could be found staring at his phone while the pitcher gave off the appearance of being an emotional wreck just a few feet away. That incident paved the way for at least one complaint to management from a teammate.”
Pierzynski, who was at Wrigley Field on Saturday for his first game in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, didn’t want to even bother trying to defend himself.
“You can’t really defend it, so I’m not going even to try to justify what was said or what was done,” Pierzynski said. “People that play with me and know me know what I’m about. That’s all that really matters.
“I think what they need to do is you actually need to get to know somebody. It’s easy to believe what people write or say outside of people that are on the team. Whatever’s said is said, and it’s a new place. Whatever’s said in the past doesn’t really matter. I’m here for these last couple months in St. Louis, and I’ll do the best I can. And when this year’s over with, what the people in St. Louis and the people in the clubhouse will be saying about me is I try to win games.”
That’s the veteran catcher’s main goal now that he’s put the bad ending in Boston behind him. With Yadier Molina out of service for the Cardinals, Pierzynski becomes a top option behind the plate for St. Louis, a contending team with October plans much different from those of the basement-dwelling Red Sox.
“Of course you want to try to find a team where you can win,” Pierzynski said of his decision to head to St. Louis. “You don’t want to go to the team that’s in last place and you kind of play out the string. I always want to win, and I’ve won before. I like that feeling.
“I got to do the World Series last year (as a broadcaster), work the World Series and got to see (the Cardinals) in that role, which is cool. They always have a good team, they always want to win, they always seem to be there at the end. So that’s something that is intriguing. People always say, players that have played in St. Louis say it’s amazing, it’s an awesome town. I also look forward to that. It’s the St. Louis Cardinals. How can you beat the St. Louis Cardinals? It’s a pretty awesome organization.”
But whether the Cardinals make the playoffs, miss the playoffs, hoist the World Series trophy or watch some other team do it from a St. Louis-based couch, Pierzynski has one other goal in mind in putting on a different jersey midseason for the first time in his career. It’s all about erasing what happened when he departed Fenway Park for the last time, cleansing the taste that’s lingered in his mouth over the past few weeks like a nasty sip of Sam Adams.
“I definitely wanted to play this year because I didn’t want to end with the bad taste in my mouth of Boston,” Pierzynski said. “I definitely wanted to find a place to play. I didn’t want to end like that. I didn’t want to end the season, I didn’t want to end anything like that. I’ve been given this opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. We’re going to take it and run with it.”