Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
If there is one thing Chicago sports fans know how to do, it is hold onto the glory of their teams’ championship seasons like there is no tomorrow. Maybe it’s all of the Bulls 1990s NBA Finals license plates that I see on the streets of Northwest Indiana. Maybe it’s all of the times I have listened to Bears fans talk about Mike Ditka like he is the greatest head coach in NFL History after leading the Bears to their one – yes, ONE – Super Bowl title in 1986. Maybe it’s all of the people wearing Blackhawks Stanley Cup gear who probably didn’t know that the NHL even existed before 2010.
Rounding out the bunch of championship clingers, of course, are White Sox fans. As a die hard Sox fan, myself, I will admit that I am guilty as well. Granted, I am working on this flaw. In fact, the only time you ever will hear me mention the 2005 White Sox in an argument will be when a Cubs fan takes a shot at the Sox franchise history. Other than that, I understand that the 2014 Sox have just one player remaining from the 2005 team.
Nevertheless, the magical season of 2005 holds a firm place in my memory; and in every season since then, I have compared the Sox opening day roster to that of the 2005 squad. Without further ado, SouthsideShowdown introduces you to a brand new feature – 2005 Comparisons – where we will compare and contrast the 2005 Sox roster to the current Sox roster.
Leading off in the list of 2005 Comparisons, we have the catcher position.
2005 Catcher: AJ Pierzynski
When the Sox signed free agent catcher AJ Pierzynski in January of 2005, they considered it a gamble. Pierzynski, once an AL Central division rival with the Minnesota Twins, had earned a negative reputation around the clubhouse in his young career. The San Francisco Giants took a similar gamble with Pierzynski in 2004, trading away promising young pitchers such as Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano to bring AJ to town. After just one season, the Giants released Pierzynski, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t bond well with his teammates.
But from the moment Pierzynski arrived in Chicago, he was a leader on and off the field for the White Sox; and he immediately became a fan-favorite. Sure, he would get in the faces of all of his teammates who were underachieving, but he would also use that same ferocity and desire to provide his team with an emotional edge that led them to a World Series title.
Statistically, Pierzynski was also very serviceable for a catcher, posting a .257 batting average. He also cranked out a then career-high 18 HR and drove in 56 runs. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the championship run, however, was his chemistry with the team’s pitching staff. This is an effort that cannot be seen in numbers, but anyone that is familiar with the 2005 White Sox season will be the first to tell you that AJ knew exactly what pitches to call for in almost every scenario, and he also knew just what to say to his pitchers during trips to the mound.
2014 Catcher: Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley
The White Sox will enter Spring Training in 2014 with their starting catcher role up for grabs…. By default. While some teams are equipped with the luxury of having a catching duo such as a veteran and a youngster or a righty and a lefty, the Sox merely have a duo of two struggling young righties.
On a positive note, both Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley have shown some signs of promise over the last year or two. Flowers came on strong at the end of the 2012 season, serving as Pierzynski’s backup. Phegley took the baseball world by surprise when he was called up to the big leagues last summer, homering in three of his first five games, one of which was a grand slam.
But success quickly turned into failure for both catchers. Platooning as the team’s two primary backstops in 2013, Flowers and Phegley combined to hit an even .200 with 14 HR and 46 RBI. Their power numbers are respectable, but their average is not; and their strikeout total of 135 in 488 plate appearances is equally disappointing.
Bottom Line: It will be tough to ever find a catcher as valuable as Pierzynski was in 2005. With Flowers and Phegley both being so young, their greatest challenge will be to develop respect and confidence from the team’s pitching staff. A glimmer of hope lies in the addition of new hitting coach Todd Steverson. Perhaps Steverson will offer the young catching duo some pointers that his predecessor did not.