A.J. Pierzynski is well-aware of the negative perception that surrounds him. He simply doesn’t care.
As Pierzynski gets ready to enter his 17th major league season, the veteran catcher has bigger things on his mind, the most important of which is winning ballgames. It’s part of what drew the ultra-competitive backstop to Boston on a one-year deal.
“It was not an easy decision. It was something that I went back and forth with for a long time,” Pierzynski said Thursday on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan. “I had other offers, I had multiple-year offers on the table. … One thing that led me to Boston was the fact that, ‘Hey, it’s not every day you get an opportunity, one, to play for the Boston Red Sox, and then, two, to play for the defending World Series champions.
“When given that opportunity and from everyone that I spoke to and talked to — people that I trust — the signs pointed to Boston. … At the end of the day, I decided to go to Boston, and I look forward to it. I actually can’t wait for spring training to get started.”
The Red Sox will be Pierzynski’s fifth franchise. He has played for the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers during his lengthy career, ticking off plenty of people around baseball along the way. In fact, Pierzynski was voted “Baseball’s Most Hated Player” in a 2012 poll, adding to his mostly negative reputation.
But as Pierzynski gets set to join the Red Sox, a team that had remarkable chemistry in 2013, and replace catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia, a player who was held in high regard among his Boston teammates, the 36-year-old isn’t too concerned about any preconceived notions.
“It actually makes me laugh at this point,” Pierzynski said of his unpopularity across the league. “I’ve been doing this for so long now, and I said yesterday that I won all of those contests and I won all those polls every year, so when I retire and I decided to hang it up, I feel sorry for whoever is next in line, because they’re going to have a rough foot ahead of them.
“It’s one of those things where I just laugh about it. Why am I not [liked]? I don’t know. I want to win, I play to win and I’ll do anything to win on the field. Off the field, we can be buddies, but I don’t care if I have my best friend on earth pitching against me. I want to get a hit and I want to do damage to him. … It’s about business. It’s about trying to win.”
Pierzynski’s passion is undeniable. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and his outpouring of emotion is what often rubs opponents the wrong way. Many of those who have suited up with Pierzynski view him as a good teammate, though, as there’s an understanding that he’ll go to battle for the good of the team.
“According to all the stuff you read, everyone doesn’t like me. … I’m not worried about that,” Pierzynski said. “I walked into Texas last year and there was a whole bunch of guys that were like, ‘Man, I really didn’t like you,’ and as the year went on, we became great friends.”
Pierzynski, who spent his 2013 season in Texas, said that he heard nothing but good things about Boston, whether it be from former teammate Mark Kotsay (who played with the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009) or Juan Nieves (who served as the White Sox pitching coach for five years before joining the Red Sox staff prior to the 2013 season). Pierzynski even chatted with David Ortiz (whom he played with in Minnesota from 1998 to 2002) and Jake Peavy (whom he played with in Chicago from 2009 to 2012) before joining the Red Sox. (According to Pierzynski, him and Peavy “get along great” despite rumors stating otherwise.)
All of the Red Sox praise clearly won Pierzynski over.
“They want to win and it’s all I want to do. It shouldn’t be that hard to fit in,” Pierzynski said Wednesday during a conference call. “You just try to learn your place in the clubhouse and not step on people’s toes. You find your role on the team and go with it.
“This isn’t my team. This is David Ortiz’s. This is Dustin Pedroia’s. It’s those guys’ team. I’m a piece trying to help them win again.”
If Pierzynski makes good on his promise, he should fit in just fine, regardless of any negative labels slapped on him in the past.