Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
By Jeremy Lynn
Six years ago, A.J. Pierzynski couldn't find a team after being released by the San Francisco Giants.
Now, he'll call Chicago home for at least a couple more seasons - his seventh and eighth on the South Side - after re-signing with the White Sox Friday for 8 million over two years.
"I'm ecstatic, I didn't really think it would work out," Pierzynski said. "I had called my mom and told her I was going to a different team, it was bittersweet. I'm happy a team wanted me as much as (another organization) did, but Rick Hahn called and it was an offer we were looking for."
While it's a happy day for Pierzynski and the White Sox, the veteran backstop was extremely close to adding "former" in front of his current employer.
"When I say we were close, we were literally one phone call away from being done," Pierzynski stated about the negotiation process Thursday night. "At the last second I got a call from Hahn, we were interested and it got done in about 15 minutes.
"I really, really thought it was over. It was hard for me to believe with all we'd been through in Chicago but it worked out and it feels right, which is all I can ask for as a player."
Pierzynski, who turns 34 on Dec. 30, struggled at the plate last season with his impending free agency on his mind, "I was trying to do too much - get five hits every at bat - to show everyone what I was capable of doing instead of just letting it happen."
Five hits surely wasn't happening, Pierzynski was having trouble getting even one in most game early on. He hit .247 in the first half of 2010 before getting hot in the season's final month to finish with a .270 batting average, down from .300 in 2009, with four less home runs (13 in '09 to nine in '10).
"It was my fault, but you live and you learn and I hope to grow from it," reflected Pierzynski on his early-season slump. "I tried too hard and pressed, and we got off to a bad start. You look up and you're hitting .180 in May and you start pressing. I'm going to try not to let it happen again."
Whether or not Pierzynski's hitting can rebound may not matter as much with Friday's signing of left-handed slugger Adam Dunn, a clear signal the team wants to win just as bad as he does.
"Aren't white Sox always in (win now) mode?" Pierzynski pondered. "One thing about the White Sox, they always want to win and it's a very attractive quality about this organization. They do whatever they can to win - signing free agents and making trades - whether it's Jerry (Reinsdorf), Kenny (Williams) or Ozzie (Guillen) they do everything they can to win. That's why I wanted to come back and be a part of it."
Part of that willingness to win included Williams' signing of Pierzynski before the 2005 season, a move that worked out pretty well for both sides, and could help provide another World Series championship.
"I know people say it all the time, but I had more lucrative offers out there," Pierzynski admitted. "Not to toot my own horn, but I took less money to come back, and if it helps the White Sox win and get better it'll be a great decision. I just want to win and any little thing we can do is great."
Pierzynski was specifically referring to the not-so-little act of him and Dunn deferring money to later years of their contracts to aid in the potential re-signing of Paul Konerko. While Pierzynski has no secret information about the future of his longtime teammate and "good friend," he hopes to see Konerko wearing black and white again next year.
"The one thing (the White Sox) have to do is bring Paul Konerko back. He should finish his career as a White Sox. He's done so much for the team and the community on and off the field, it would be unbelievable for me to take the field as a White Sox and not have Paul Konerko on the field with me.
"I'll do whatever I have to do to help being him back."
Whether or not the Sox's captain returns for 2011 and beyond, Pierzynski is happy with the current roster.
"We have strong guys and strong leadership at the top, it starts with Ozzie and works down," Pierzynski said. "Everyone talks about clubhouse this and clubhouse that... if we're winning, the clubhouse will be great, if we're losing it'll be bad."
For his part, Pierzynski wishes he could play "all 162 (games)," - and while knowing that's not possible - he remains happy with Guillen's willingness to run him out there as often as he can. "That's why I love playing for him.
"You all know I'm not a happy camper when I have to take days off, I'm pretty miserable."
With Pierzynski in place, a new source of power in the middle of the lineup and the potential return of Konerko, there may not be many unhappy days over the next two years for the South Sider's field general.