Teammates will miss Pierzynski's desire to win
After eight seasons with White Sox, catcher officially signs deal with Rangers
CHICAGO -- It took Rangers manager Ron Washington two sentences to sum up the essence of A.J. Pierzynski as a player.
"I always thought of A.J. as a winner," said Washington, during Wednesday's conference call to announce Pierzynski's one-year deal with Texas, ending Pierzynski's successful, colorful eight-year run with the White Sox. "He plays winning baseball."
That desire to win at all costs is what the White Sox ultimately will miss most about the veteran backstop.
Yes, the left-handed-hitting Pierzynski posted a .284 career average and is coming off his best single-season power effort with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs during the 2012 campaign. But the 2012 Silver Slugger winner is a man who wanted to play 162 games, if he was allowed, at one of the game's most physically and mentally taxing positions.
Praising Pierzynski's competitive desire certainly doesn't put him above anyone else on the White Sox in regard to wanting this team to win another championship or at least capture the American League Central. But if manager Robin Ventura represented the calm leadership of the team, if captain Paul Konerko was the soul of the franchise and Jake Peavy stood as the group's spirit, then Pierzynski was that attitude or edginess needed by winning squads.
"A.J. gets under people's skin for sure. It's his deal," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham told MLB.com of his friend and now former teammate. "But there's not a guy I would rather go play with. The guy wants to win and grind it out. I appreciate that as a competitor.
"He's a tremendous competitor and when things don't go his way or our way, he's not afraid to show it. Love that or hate that, he really does care. I think everybody cares, but he was always physically showing that he cares."
Beckham joked that Pierzynski "always wanted to get under my skin as a rookie" and added that he was still doing it last year. The second baseman had grown used to it by then.
"Really, he has been a great friend to me and helped me out as much as he could," said Beckham, who talked about Konerko and Pierzynski taking him under their wing when he arrived in the Majors back in 2009. "It's tough to see him go: his family, not just him. It's tough when you have a friend for quite a while, to talk with and shoot the bull with, and all of a sudden he's gone.
"White Sox fans and all the players are going to miss him a lot. He's a fan favorite. Fans will be upset. He's done an incredible job for us, with some huge hits. He carried us for a time last year."
Although Pierzynski didn't talk much about his White Sox days during Wednesday's conference call, he reiterated an original desire to finish his career on the South Side of Chicago. That desire was not fulfilled by the White Sox, who have moved on to the combination of Tyler Flowers and Hector Gimenez, while Pierzynski moved on to Texas with "a pep in his step" caused by this career change.
"Did we have any discussions? It's really one of those things where it never seemed like it was going to work out," said Pierzynski, when asked about the White Sox offseason interest and ensuing disappointment in lack thereof on the call. "It just seemed liked it was always ... . They did make calls but it never go to the point where it was, 'Hey let's move on something.'
"At the same time, am I a little disappointed? Any time you spend eight years in a place, you would love to go back and like to finish your career there. But I'm looking forward to a new place and the new challenge."
Flowers praised Pierzynski for the guidance he provided, with a stronger bond forged this past year, even with Flowers looking as if he would be taking over the starting job in 2013. The 26-year-old Flowers never has had more than 136 at-bats in a Major League season, so it's unfair to put up his accomplishments against Pierzynski.
Then again, numerous catchers would pale in comparison to a strong game-caller with Pierzynski's offensive numbers, not to mention 11 straight seasons with at least 1,000 innings caught. His tenure in Chicago certainly wasn't without controversy, and that aforementioned attitude has been known to rub people the wrong way. Beckham believes the Rangers will get to know a different side of Pierzynski as their teammate.
"A lot of people have this bad image of A.J. in general, it seems around the league, but the guy is one of the greatest guys when he needs to be," Beckham said. "It's something nobody sees. He can be a really great friend. He was there for me in tough situations off the field and was a big-time mentor. So, it's tough to see him go."