AJ Pierzynski was either loved or hated, and it usually depended on what uniform he wore, and whether or not you rooted for said team. From shortly after the time he broke into the Majors with the Twins in the 1998 season as a 21 year old, he became a thorn in the side of White Sox teams that vied with the Twins for the top spot in the AL Central. Pierzynski saw postseason action in 2002 and 2003 with the Twins before being traded to the Giants for the 2004 season.
The 2004 season saw a regression in his stat line as his average dipped to .276 after hitting .300 or higher the previous two seasons. The Giants non-tendered him, and when the White Sox signed him in January of 2005, a report surfaced that Pierzynski kneed a Giants trainer in the groin in a 2004 spring training game, which Pierzynski disputed.
Pierzynski paid immediate dividends for the South Siders, as he hit for a career-high 18 home runs in 2005, helping the Sox go wire-to-wire as AL Central division champions.
He was even better in the playoffs, hitting two home runs in the first game of the ALDS against the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox as Chicago went on to win that game 14-2. But his most memorable moment came in the ALCS.
After the Sox dropped Game 1 of the ALCS, Pierzynski stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with the game tied at 1 and two out. He swung and missed at a low pitch for strike three that was ruled to have hit the dirt before entering Angels catcher Josh Paul’s glove. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings didn’t signal “out” immediately, even though the Angels were heading off the field. Pierzynski did an about face, and ran to first base, and after a brief discussion, he was awarded first base. Pablo Ozuna pinch-ran for Pierzynski, stole second, and came around to score the game-winning run on Joe Crede’s RBI double. The White Sox would not lose again in those 2005 playoffs, and Pierzynski and the Sox won the World Series.
The Sox success stoked the intra-city rivalry with the Cubs, and things boiled over in a May 2006 game at Sox Park. He tagged up from third on a fly ball, and barrelled into Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, dislodging the ball and scoring a run for the Sox. Pierzynski slammed home plate with his hand, then got up to retrieve his helmet, which had falled off in the collision. Barrett thought Pierzynski was coming after him, and Barrett grabbed AJ, and socked him in the jaw with a right hook that would have made any pro boxer proud.
After the bench-clearing brawl, Barrett, Pierzynski, Sox outfielder Brian Anderson and Cubs first baseman John Mabry were ejected. When play resumed, Scott Podsednik got on base to load the bases, and Tadahito Iguchi launched a grand slam to deliver a knockout blow to the Cubs and punctuate a 7-0 Sox victory.
Later that season, Pierzynski would win the AL All-Star Final Vote thanks to a “Punch AJ” campaign started by the Sox marketing department. It was his 2nd All Star nod of his career.
In the 2007 season, he caught his first no-hitter, as he was behind the plate for Mark Buehrle’s no-no against the Texas Rangers. However, he was not catching when Buehrle tossed a perfect game in 2009 against Tampa Bay. The morning of that game, he joked with Buehrle that he should just go out and throw a no-hitter, but Buehrle replied that he had already done that two years prior. Buehrle then told Pierzynski, “Okay, I’ll throw a perfect game.”
As the game wore on, and Buehrle piled up the perfect innings, he went back into the clubhouse to jostle Pierzynski, who was watching the game on a TV there, saying things like “haha, I’m throwing a perfect game, and you’re not catching!”
Pierzynski would catch a perfect game in 2012, as he caught Philip Humber’s perfecto at Seattle on April 21, 2012. He is one of only five catchers in Sox history to be behind the plate for multiple no-hitters.
He continued to be productive both offensively and defensively during the rest of his tenure in Chicago, setting the AL record for consecutive errorless chances by a catcher with 962, besting Yogi Berra’s mark of 950. With the bat, he won the AL Silver Slugger award for catchers in 2012 with a .278/.326/.501 slash line, adding a career-best 27 home runs and 77 RBI.
Pierzynski rounded out his career with stints in Texas, Boston, St. Louis and Atlanta, before retiring following the 2016 season. He has transitioned seamlessly to the TV booth, appearing on Fox Sports MLB broadcasts as both a studio analyst and a color commentator in the booth. He entered the sports media business after his playing days as no novice, having appeared on Fox Sports Net’s ‘‘The Best Damn Sports Show Period’’ as far back as 2002 while still a member of the Twins. He was also a postseason analyst from 2011 to 2013. Love or hate him as a player, he has proved to be more than capable as a baseball commentator.