Defending A.J. Pierzynski

Eric JohnsonContributor INovember 5, 2009

29 Feb 2000: Catcher A.J. Pierzynski #9 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a studio portrait during Spring Training Photo Day in Ft. Myers, Florida.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After toiling in obscurity for a decade, a young team of nobodies returns their franchise to the playoffs. Led by a well-balanced lineup with just enough punch and a pitching staff with enough solid arms to hold a team down, the nobodies prove talented enough to compete, but underappreciated enough to surprise.

After earning a split through the first four games of the ALDS, the nobodies head to Oakland for a decisive game five—an all but certain on paper loss.

The game moves into the top of the ninth inning, with the nobodies holding a surprising 2-1 lead. With both starting pitchers out, and the nobodies’ bendable and breakable closer waiting, an insurance run or two seems nothing short of necessary.
After a walk to start off the ninth, the nobodies’ catcher comes to the plate.

A player with an ever-growing reputation as an on field agitator, the catcher brings a fire to the team—a necessity for the starless nobodies. The catcher is a good hitter, posting a .300 batting average with modest power, but his swagger, while striking an accord with hometown fans, seems more Marbury than Jordan.

In only his second full year in the league, the catcher is quickly gaining the reputation as the player hometown fans love, and everybody else loves to hate.

He steps to the plate with a runner on first and nobody out. Never one to take a pitch, the catcher swings at a first pitch fastball. The ball scrapes the top of the right field fence as the catcher stands for a moment to admire his work.

The nobodies have their insurance runs.

After adding another run, the nobodies go on to a 5-4 victory (after the bendable and breakable closer gives up three runs in the bottom of the ninth) and a trip to the ALCS.

The catcher’s destiny is set: cult hero.

Who are the nobodies? The 2002 Minnesota Twins.

And the catcher? A.J. Pierzynski.

Seven years have passed since Pierzynski hit that home run. In those seven years, Pierzynski has not only seen his cult crumble, he has become public enemy number one in Minnesota.

Minnesotans hate him. And if the mild mannered Minnesotans are riled up, you must have done something wrong. Defending A.J. Pierzynski in Minnesota is nothing short of blasphemy.

Well, color me a blasphemer.

I remember the first time Pierzynski returned to Minnesota after he was traded for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano. It was opening day 2005, and the Twins were playing the hated White Sox. When Pierzynski made his first Metrodome at-bat as a non-Twin, fans began booing. And it wasn’t just a few fans grumbling, it was a stadium full of people loudly voicing their disdain. The fans had made their decision: Pierzynski must be punished.

I remember sitting in the stands feeling bewildered by the reaction to A.J. (although these are the same fans who embraced Lew Ford, so maybe nothing they do should come as a shock.)





Last time I checked, Twins fans loved A.J. Not only that, but trading him made room for Joe Mauer, and even a Twins fan base that handles the loss of a player about as well as Levi Johnston handles his life, seemed to understand this.

Yet, Pierzynski got booed.

What explanation did the fans give?

He signed with the White Sox.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear right now. I hate the White Sox. I hate everything about the White Sox. They are the enemy.

But how is signing with a team reason enough to hate a player? What’s the difference between an ex-Twin signing with the Angels, and signing with the White Sox? Isn’t it almost completely arbitrary?

And don’t even talk to me about loyalty.

Your team traded A.J. because they had a better option, and you get mad because he signs with your least favorite team a year later? Minnesota hasn’t seen this much misplaced anger since the Chuck Knoblauch hot dog debacle.

Pierzynski signed with the White Sox because they gave him the best offer, the best chance to win, and the most job security. What other factors should he consider when signing a contract?

He made the same choice anyone would.

But Eric, you say, A.J. is such an ass hole.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know, I’ve never met the man. He is certainly a scrappy, hard nosed, win-at-all costs player, but does that really make him an ass hole? Not to go all after school special on you, but if you haven’t met the guy who are you to say what kind of person he is? He may be the nicest guy on the planet.

Yes, I realize he allegedly tried to spike Justin Morneau—twice—while running out ground balls. I was at that game. I believe my direct quote after the second time was, “hit him in the f-ing head.” I was as thirsty for blood as anyone. I wanted A.J.’s head. I even decided in that moment, I would never defend Pierzynski again. He was dead to me.

Well, ever the flip-flopper, I’ve changed my tune again.

A.J. isn’t evil. He is a hard nosed competitor who gets caught up in the moment on the field. He embraces his role as an agitator. He gets punched in the face by opposing catchers, to the delight of fans everywhere. He smirks. He annoys. He drives everyone crazy.

He makes you hate him for the same reason you loved him.

If you were going to hate on him for his antics when he left, however, you never should have rooted for him in the first place. A.J. has always played the way A.J. plays. He is the same player he was with the Twins; he is just doing it for someone else. Worst of all, he is doing it for the White Sox.

You hate on A.J. because he got away. He was interesting, fun, and possessed a compelling sass. But he has moved on to something better, and you can’t get over it. You lash out because you miss him. You lash out because he brought something extra to the table.

You are the jilted lover who still holds a grudge.

A.J. has moved on, so why can’t you?


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