Cleveland, OH, USA; Fans in the outfield seats hold up a sign while chanting at Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski (not pictured) in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
A.J. Pierzynski is known for ... all of that other stuff. But don't forget the surprisingly consistent career he's had so far.
Giants fans don't like A.J. Pierzynski because he came over in one of the most lopsided deals in club history. He also allegedly kneed the head trainer in the groin, and hit into more double plays than anyone in franchise history.
When told that Napoli was a good hitter by a media member, Pierzynski reportedly sniped: "Yeah, if you consider .230 good."
… and in the field (warning: Hawk Harrleson):
Fans in general don't like A.J. Pierzynski for being all, like, A.J. Pierzynskish and looking like A.J. Pierzynski. And it's not just the fans, as a plurality of Pierzynski's peers overwhelmingly voted him the most unlikeable player in baseball.
Great, so we're on the same page. White Sox fans like him lots because that's how it works when a player on your team is despised around the league, especially when he helped break one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history. But when most baseball fans think about A.J. Pierzynski, they don't think pleasant thoughts.
And I'm not going to tell you it's a shame or anything. Baseball needs villains, and I get the sense that Pierzynski likes being one. But if that side of A.J. Pierzynski didn't exist, he'd have another legacy:
That video isn't included to make you pump your fist and whoop a cheerful whoop. It's because that's the only reason A.J. Pierzynski has been put on the disabled list. It seems weird to write this in a season when Pierzynski is hitting better than he ever has, but he's one of the most consistent catchers of his generation. Not one of the best, necessarily. But certainly one of the more consistent. The last time he played in fewer than 120 games, it was 2001, and he was a rookie, platooning with Tom Prince.
Catching is sort of like closing a car door on your knee for a decade. Sometimes to switch it up, you can use the other knee or get a finger in there just so you don't get bored. Catchers are supposed to break down. They're engines with 75,000 miles put on them every year. Is there anything else that catchers are analogous to? Let's see ... catchers are like grown men who have to put on heavy gear and sit in a crouch for several hours for hundreds of days every year. Yeah. That's the one.
There have been 23 catchers with more 100-game seasons over their careers, but a lot of those seasons were non-consecutive, and a lot of those seasons came after the catcher turned Pierzynski's age (35). If you up the parameters to 120 games caught, Pierzynski is one of 15 catchers who has done it ten times. Two have done it in consecutive seasons: Johnny Bench and Brad Ausmus, Pierzynski obviously isn't Johnny Bench at the plate, but he's been much better than the typical catcher, played in this episode by Brad Ausmus.
Pierzynski has been in the second or third tier of offensive catchers -- hovering around with the Terry Steinbachs and Jim Sundbergs, not especially close to Hall of Fame consideration.
Right now, A.J. Pierzynski is known for a few things, mostly having to do with a Pete Campbell-like punchable face and personality. Maybe that's overblown, and maybe it isn't. But in a decade or two, when young, new baseball fans cycle through this weird little world, they'll look at Pierzynski's career and notice that he was as consistent and healthy as catchers get. That'll eventually be his legacy when the rest of us die off. And that's a pretty good legacy.
He isn't finished with that legacy yet, either. He could knee more trainers in the groin. And he could play a few more years, too. Then you get to the part where he's having the best year of his career in 2012. A.J. Pierzynski is a lot of things, but he isn't dull. And he isn't your typical fragile catcher.