I consider it one of the most heads-up plays in baseball. AJ Pierzynski was batting against Kelvim Escobar in the American League Championship Series and apparently was called out on strikes by the home plate umpire, Doug Eddings. Everyone assumed he was out so the Angels started to leave the field. Everyone assumed the game was over except one person, AJ. He ran down to first base and confusion, anger and hilarity ensued. The entire scene has become part of the AJ legend or as most see it the AJ notoriety. “How AJ Stole First Base” is how people usually remember episode, but AJ didn’t do anything wrong. The only person to be faulted in the whole affair was the home plate umpire, Doug Eddings. AJ insisted at the time that he ran because he didn’t hear a call of “out.” I don’t think AJ is calculating enough to just try and run to first in hopes that the hubris of the umpire wouldn’t allow him to tell the player, yes in fact you are out. Where Eddings messed up is that he didn’t call “no catch” seeing how he believed the ball was in the dirt. A call of no catch would have alerted the catcher, Josh Paul, that he needed to tag or throw out AJ and the whole scene would have been averted. The odd third strike call of used by Eddings didn’t help much, where he used his fist to indicate the call, but essentially it was the silence regarding the call that made it so bizarre.
Even so, it is amazing how Pierzynski always seemed to find himself in the middle of such events; getting punched by Michael Barrett, getting a phantom interference call in 2008 and just being plain annoying to anyone and everyone that isn’t a fan of the White Sox. As Dan McNeil of 670 the Score states, AJ is the team representative of the White Sox to the all-Chicago Jerk-Face team. Hard to argue that, he does look like a jerk, I half expect him to say, “sweep the leg” whenever there is an injured player in his midst. He doesn’t help himself either by being involved in pro wrestling. I’ve always found it amazing that Pierzynski gets booed everywhere he goes, not just Los Angeles. People just love to hate the guy.
What gets lost in all of the villainy of AJ is that he was a remarkably consistent player for the White Sox during his time in Chicago. In his eight years with the White Sox he averaged 133 games played. That compares favorably with Joe Mauer, the best AL catcher in those same eight years (NB 129 games for Mauer.) No, AJ wasn’t anywhere close to Mauer in those years especially when one looks at WAR over that period, Mauer with 38.9 and Pierzynski with 14.2. What I did find a little shocking was that WAR of 14.2 ranks AJ as the fifth best catcher in the AL during that stretch from 2005-2012 (with a minimum of 500 PAs.)* I don’t know if I would personally rank him that high during that stretch, but I recall a number of times my baseball spouse remarking on how much AJ sucked. Relatively speaking, he was pretty good for the position he played. I mean sure, I would have sold Pierzynski in a heartbeat during those years for Victor Martinez or Joe Mauer (except that injury year, egad) but overall there wasn’t a lot out there, in the AL anyway that was significantly better. Oddly enough over that same span in the National League AJ’s WAR of 14.2 would have put him at, you guessed it, fifth as well.
I’m sorry to see AJ go, but I also understand it. Honestly, with the year he had in 2012 I was kind of hoping the White Sox would have traded him before the deadline. His stock could not have been higher and I think he would have fetched a decent return. I also don’t begrudge AJ a thing in getting the most money that he can at this point in his career, but I’m glad the White Sox aren’t paying him. The team already has enough potential contract albatrosses to really hamstring them in the near future. So, I look forward to going to his first game back in Chicago with the Rangers and I think, I hope for God’s sake, he will receive resounding cheers for the first time at an opponent’s stadium. Then I hope he hits a homerun so I can boo him like hell. I mean, come on, have you seen his face? Guy’s a jerk.
*WAR numbers come from Fangraphs.