White Sox fans loved A.J. Pierzynski. They loved him.
They loved him with a ferocity that sought to counterbalance the extent to which the rest of the baseball-loving world wanted to see his knee explode while he jogged out a popup.
That’s worth memorializing and unpacking how to some degree I was roped in too. And not with numbers. Both because “numbers don’t tell the whole story” is a line that every love letter to A.J. includes, and because extolling how valuable it is to have a healthy catcher capable of staving off embarrassment at the plate for eight years lacks the proper romance for this relationship.
There are, of course, many standout singular moments for A.J.’s White Sox career. The dropped third strike, the fight with Barrett, a decisive 9th inning home run off of Ryan Dempster in Wrigley Field was a personal favorite…
But even Mark Kotsay had a few memorable moments. Baseball is a game full of monotony and routine, and nothing was more routine than Pierzynski’s presence.
The vast majority of the time, believe it or not A.J. was not breaking down the game’s ethical code for the sake of delivering his team a victory. It’ll take a while before anyone or everyone realizes that it’s been a while since someone on the White Sox has been plunked seemingly without inspiration, or has snatched an extra base or blown an out in a bizarre manner.
What I will notice immediately in the post-A.J. era is the absence of the constant team barometer, the regular reminders of his presence that penetrated even the most routine situations. Pierzynski, in all of his swaggering and demonstrative bluster, was the perfect window dressing to a winning club. His triumphant clenched first thrust out toward the dugout marked the conclusion of every crucial late-inning with a strikeout. He celebrated his clutch hits with some bizarre hybrid of a clap and a U of Florida gator chomp, but it was better when he was in the dugout, or closer to the field mics, where his audible profanity could be picked up on the broadcast. Hawk was used to it, but it could always be counted on to catch a national broadcaster off-guard, and it was often directed at the opposing team.
Reviewing Pierzynski in this way can be somewhat like remembering the family dog. Not in the way where Pierzynski is an actual dog, but in that all his antics seem amusing now, even they elicited eyerolls at the time, and where you’re astounded realizing how much has changed since when he entered into affairs, and how bizarre it will be to go on without him.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan