It didn’t take long—one at-bat, as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning Wednesday—for the A.J. Pierzynski roadshow, Texas Rangers edition, to roar to life.
After eight seasons with the White Sox, Pierzynski signed with Texas during the off-season, and in facing his old team for the first time was plunked on the right elbow by ex-teammate Addison Reed. Pierzynski didn’t much try to avoid it (indeed, he threw his elbow into it), and was saved from significant discomfort by the pad he was wearing. Reed appeared upset with himself from the moment it became apparent that pitch would connect with batter.
None of it mattered. The catcher started barking toward the mound as he trotted to first, clearly upset with the development. (Watch it here.)
“I was mad,” Piezynski said in a Chicago Tribune account. “(Reed) threw it up and in and shoulder high. It’s fine if you’re going to pitch me in, but don’t come up and in, shoulder high.” (Reed, White Sox manager Robin Ventura and catcher Tyler Flowers all offered standard denials of intent.)
Ultimately it made no difference, coming as it did with two outs in the ninth. Pierzynski did not score, and Chicago won, 5-2. The real reason any of this is of interest is that it’s A.J. Pierzynski, the man about whom his former White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, famously said, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”
In honor of A.J. being A.J., I offer a selection from the original draft of The Baseball Codes, which did not make it into the final edit. It involves Pierzynski, some of the reasons why opposing players hate him, and another pitcher named Reed.
When Pierzynski was catching for San Francisco in 2004, the Giants built a 9-2 lead in the eighth inning of a game at Colorado. With the bases loaded and two out, Pierzynski poked his elbow pad into the path of a Steve Reed fastball, taking a dubious hit-by-pitch and driving in what would be the first of six runs in the inning that turned a Giants romp into a full-fledged blowout. Reed was incensed, saying later that the pitch would have been a strike had the Giants catcher not gotten in its way. There was even some debate as to whether it hit Pierzynski at all, with Reed and Rockies catcher Charles Johnson denying there was contact, and Pierzynski himself going so far as to say he never felt it hit him.
But the only opinion that mattered was that of plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, and when Dreckman sent Pierzynski to first, Reed exploded. He was thrown out of the game during the ensuing argument.
Pierzynski knew he had done wrong—willingly getting hit by a pitch that should not have hit him, in a game in which an extra run did not matter—and that Reed had been ejected as a result. He also knew that there would be a price to pay down the road.
With the game well in hand, Giants manager Felipe Alou offered to pull Pierzynski and save him from imminent retaliatory damage. The catcher, however, understood that if he didn’t get it that day, he’d be waiting—uncomfortably—until the time that the Rockies had a chance to even the score. So he demurred, opting get it over with quickly.
Trouble was, when Pierzynski came to bat in the ninth inning, it was against right-hander Allan Simpson, pitching in just his eighth major league game. With a 7.36 ERA, Simpson was far less worried about sticking up for his teammates than he was about simply getting out of the inning with a minimum of damage. (With Reed in the clubhouse, Simpson may not even have been briefed about Pierzynski’s lack of propriety, or the appropriate response.)
Seeing a pitch to hit, Pierzynski doubled in the Giants’ 16th and final run of the game.
The catcher didn’t start the next day, the final game of the series, and by the time he made a ninth-inning appearance as a pinch-hitter, the 7-5 score was too close for Rockies pitcher Marc Kroon to take any action. (Also, because Pierzynski hadn’t been scheduled to hit, Rockies management may not have given advance notice to Kroon about what they’d like him to do.)
When the teams faced each other a month later, however, Rockies starter Aaron Cook wasted no time. When Pierzynski stepped to the plate for his first at bat, Colorado already held a 6-0 lead, and with little potential downside to allowing an extra baserunner, Cook hit Pierzynski in the leg with his second pitch.
Pierzynski may be insufferable, but he is also among the game’s wiliest players. He knew what was happening and why in 1992, and he likely knew it again on Wednesday. He may also be the only man in baseball to feign annoyance at an incidental action on the chance that such a precedent could help him or his team in the future.
Unless Pierzynski or somebody on the White Sox cares to discuss Wednesday’s events, of course, we’ll never know. The next time he faces Addison Reed, however, it seems likely that Wednesday’s events will be somewhere in the pitcher’s mind.