Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski can be described with many colorful adjectives.
Abrasive. Agitating. Antagonistic. Those are fair observations.
Mean? Seems a bit off-base to me.
Sports Illustrated polled 215 major league players, asking them to vote on the meanest player in baseball. Pierzynski garnered 29 percent of the vote to earn him this misnomer.
Over the course of his 14-year career with Minnesota, San Fransisco and Chicago, Pierzynski has earned a well-deserved reputation as a hard-nosed player. He isn't out on the field to make friends. He's out there to win.
We all know guys like Pierzynski—a guy you hate when he's with the opposition, but find yourself pulling for when he's in your dugout.
I came across a lot of guys like this playing recreational softball. We had a second baseman who was loud, intense and ready to play up to the edge of the rules to win.
I played against him several years prior to his joining our team. Hated him on the field. The S.O.B.
We loved the guy on our team. Couldn't wait for him to start pestering whoever we were up against.
Off the field, he was as nice a guy as you'd like to meet. Off the field.
I heard a lot of labels stuck on this player over the years, many that I don't care to print. Mean was never one of them.
Major League Baseball isn't a tea party. Pierzynski is doing what every fan who pays big money to support his or her team wants. Deep down, we want them to win. Not only that, we want them to care about winning.
A.J. Pierzynski cares about winning.
Mean is firing a ball into the stands. Mean is throwing beer on an outfielder. Mean is being rude to kids waiting for an autograph before or after the game.
The way Pierzynski conducts business on the field may be a lot of things. Mean is not one of them.
If SI wants to tab Pierzynski as the player opponents least enjoy playing against, or most competitive, I'm sure he'll cop to that title. I'm sure that's what most of the players polled had in mind.
With all the ways one could describe a tough competitor like Pierzynski, why they would choose "mean" is lost on me.
However they meant it, Pierzynski is at the head of the class in the poll. Truth be told, he's probably pretty satisfied with the results.
Because he won.