White Sox

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the fist of Michael Barrett famously hit the face of A.J. Pierzynski, creating one of the most legendary moments in the Windy City Series between the White Sox and Cubs. 

The punch lasted only one second, but speaking with the man who was on the receiving end of that punch, Pierzynski knows he'll be hearing about it for the rest of his life.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Hey, you got to be remembered for something."

Fans won't let him forget it, even if some have forgotten what actually happened that day—which might also include Pierzynski. More on that in a moment.

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First to the play that started it all. It occurred on May 20, 2006. While scoring a run on a sacrifice fly on a ball hit to shallow left field, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett at home plate. The White Sox catcher then moved towards the Cubs backstop to retrieve his helmet. 

If it was anybody else, nothing would have happened. This story you're reading would never have been written.

But this was Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball, the notorious monkey in the middle of everything.

This Sox was about to get socked.

"I went up to get my helmet. He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball (bleep)," recalled Pierzynski. Barrett threw a right hook that hit Pierzynski square in the left cheek, producing an image that has been permanently burned into the minds of Cubs and White Sox fans.

Or so we thought.

A decade later, Pierzynski says he frequently comes across people who have somehow forgotten what actually occurred.

"What's happened now is most people don't remember what really happened. They just know Barrett and I got into a fight," Pierzynski said. "Most people actually think that I hit him. People (say to me) 'Remember that time you punched Barrett and knocked him down?' So, it's kind of funny how it's kind of changed over the years."

But still, many people do remember the punch quite well, especially Cubs fans who relish in heckling Pierzynski whenever he comes to town, like earlier this month when his Braves played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Michael Barrett's coming. Look out!’ And I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Pierzynski said. “Or they’ll yell ‘Hey, you suck! Or I hate you!’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Welcome to the club.’” 

The White Sox won the game that day 7-0, but Cubs fans have had a victory of sorts ever since—the memory of Barrett pelting their White Sox nemesis, a guy who pestered them for years.

But even Pierzynski himself seems to remember the play differently than everyone else. His account of what occurred will probably get under the skin of Cubs fans.

What else would you expect from A.J.?

"He didn't really hit me though, that's the thing," said Pierzynski. "He kind of just pushed me. It was weird, because he grabbed me and we were so close. It wasn't like (Rougned) Odor when he hit (Jose) Bautista where he wound up. I mean, it was so close that he just kind of pushed me off balance. 

"And (third base coach Chris) Speier grabbed me right away and then like 10 guys from the White Sox jumped on top of him. And poor (Cubs outfielder John) Mabry who was my hitting coach in St. Louis. I know we were laughing about it when I was in St. Louis. I think he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and he had nothing to do with it."

Call it a punch, call it a push, most athletes who take a hit like that would be so humiliated they’d never want to talk about it again.

Not Pierzynski.

“I literally laugh about it. It’s funny to me,” Pierzynski said. “Now my kids are of the age to use the internet, so now that’s like the first picture that always comes up, and they’re like, ‘Why did you get in the fight with the guy?’ I tell them the story and they have to explain it to their friends. It’s just one of those things that happens in your life. Hey, at least it happened on national TV and gives people something to talk about.”

Six weeks after the fight, Barrett sought out Pierzynski at Wrigley Field before the White Sox and Cubs resumed the Crosstown Series on the North Side. The two shook hands, made amends and the feud was over.

But the two have not spoken to each other since.

“I haven’t seen him,” Pierzynski said. “I mean, we played a little bit, but I haven’t seen him off the field.”

What would you say to him?

“I don’t know. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I don’t even know what he does anymore.”

Barrett is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful.

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At 39, Pierzynski isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play. He already has enough baseball memories to fill multiple lifetimes. But his recollections of those classic White Sox-Cubs games will never fade.

“I played in Yankees-Red Sox, I played in Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, nothing matched the intensity," he said. "Maybe it was because I was on the White Sox and there was such a dislike for the other team, not only in the fan base, but also kind of the organization. It’s just kind of there. 

"It just brought out the best. It always seemed like it brought out the best in both teams. It was always the one game you circled, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re playing the Cubs coming up in a week. Everyone be ready.’”

Pierzynski was always ready—maybe not for Barrett’s fist—but the face that took the beating that day gave us all a knockout Cubs-White Sox moment, one we will never forget.

Luis Robert leaves Arizona Fall League game with injury

Luis Robert leaves Arizona Fall League game with injury

White Sox prospect Luis Robert headed to the Arizona Fall League to get more playing time after injuries limited to 50 games in 2018.

He just got hurt in the Arizona Fall League.

Robert is playing with the Glendale Desert Dogs in the AFL and left Friday's game with an injury.

It's not clear what the injury was, but Robert walked off on his own power. He also has pulled out of the Bowman Hitting Challenge (a modified home run derby) that will take place Saturday.

Robert, the No. 4 White Sox prospect and No. 44 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was 1-for-3 in Friday's game before exiting. He has hit safely in all four games in the AFL, going 5-for-17 (.294) with a walk and three strikeouts, but no extra base hits.

The 21-year-old is the third youngest player on the team and the AFL is a respected offseason league for prospects. A good showing from Robert would be a sign that he is beginning to develop his talent into playable tools.

The injury could be minor so no need to ring the alarm bells yet, but the AFL season is barely more than a month long. Even a short-term injury could prevent him from making up for some of the lost playing time from the 2018 minor league season.

Sonny Gray is available: Could he be a one-year stopgap for the White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Sonny Gray is available: Could he be a one-year stopgap for the White Sox?

The White Sox have a hole or two to plug in their starting rotation. Could Sonny Gray be an answer?

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Friday that he's looking to trade Gray away from the Bronx this winter.

Gray isn't as attractive an add as he was a few years back, when he was coming off a sensational 2015 campaign that saw him post a 2.73 ERA and log 208 innings. He went to the All-Star Game and finished third in the AL Cy Young vote that year.

Since, he's been less successful. He made just 22 starts with the Oakland Athletics in 2016 and had a 5.69 ERA. The following season, he started with a strong 3.43 ERA in 16 starts for the A's before the midseason trade that sent him to the Yankees, where he made 11 starts with a 3.72 ERA. This season didn't go too well, earning Gray a move to the bullpen. He finished with a 4.90 ERA in 30 games, only 23 of those being starts. He threw just 29.1 innings over his final 10 appearances of the season, three of which were starts. He had a 5.26 ERA with 50 walks in 113 innings as a starter in 2018.

Those numbers won't leap off the page (in a positive way) for anyone, but there's no doubt that a potential deal for Gray would be a low-risk move for the White Sox. For a team looking to add 40 percent of a starting rotation, being able to do so cheaply — be it from a dollar or prospect standpoint — would be a good thing, especially if the strategy ends up being to simply add one-year fill-ins while Michael Kopech recovers from Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease makes his way to the major leagues.

However, Gray's 57-walk total from the 2018 season could be something the White Sox would want to stay away from. After all, White Sox pitchers led the AL with 653 walks this season. They also had five of the top 21 walk-issuing pitchers in the Junior Circuit: Lucas Giolito led the league with 90, James Shields was third with 78, Reynaldo Lopez was fifth with 75, Hector Santiago was 15th with 60, and Carlos Rodon was 21st with 55. Gray slotted in right ahead of Rodon.

But Gray has obviously produced results in the past, and whether the White Sox are looking to simply plug the holes in the 2019 staff or potentially find a sign-and-flip candidate for the 2019 trade deadline — he's slated to hit free agency after the 2019 season — Gray could fit that bill. One thing's for sure: He's available.