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.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

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.

MLB The Show: White Sox fall behind big early, drop second straight to Twins

MLB The Show: White Sox fall behind big early, drop second straight to Twins

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: Twins def. White Sox 10-4
Record: 28-31, 3rd in A.L. Central (4.0 GB of Twins)

W: Rich Hill (4-4)
L: Reynaldo Lopez (5-2)

Game summary: All good things must come to an end. In the case of the White Sox' winning streak, things have come to an abrupt end. A day after the Twins put up 11 runs in the first two innings, Minnesota jumped on Chicago early again.

Reynaldo Lopez failed to make it out of the fourth inning. The Twins harassed him with singles a plenty, including RBI base knocks from Alex Avila and Miguel Sano in the second and fourth innings. Then, the big blow came from Jorge Polanco, whose grand slam gave Minnesota a 7-1 lead before the final out of the fourth. Lopez' day came to an end. 

Yasmani Grandal hit a pair of solo home runs in the third and fifth. Yoan Moncada added a couple more runs on a late two-run blast but the White Sox dropped their second straight to the Twins to fall four games back of the division leaders.

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White Sox lineup

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-3 (.316 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, R (.269 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-4, HR (12), 2 RBI, R (.261 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-4 (.261 BA)
Jose Abreu: 2-4, 2B (.298 BA)
Tim Anderson: 0-4 (.298 BA)
Luis Robert: 0-4 (.232 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 3-4, 2 HR (21), 2 RBI, 2 R (.309 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 0-3 (.243 BA)

Scoring summary: 

Top first

Luis Arraez grounded into double play, Byron Buxton scored. 1-0 MIN.

Top second

Alex Avila singled to right field, Josh Donaldson scored. 2-0 MIN.

Bottom third

Yasmani Grandal homered to left field. 2-1 MIN.

Top fourth

Miguel Sano singled to left field, Eddie Rosario scored. 3-1 MIN.
Jorge Polanco homered to right field, Sano, Max Kepler and Avila scored. 7-1 MIN.
Nelson Cruz homered to center field, Arraez scored. 9-1 MIN.

Bottom fifth

Grandal homered to center field. 9-2 MIN.

Bottom sixth

Yoan Moncada homered to center field, Eloy Jimenez scored. 9-4 MIN.

Top eighth

Polanco homered to left field. 10-4 MIN.

Notable performance: With his two homers on Saturday, Grandal now has 21 on the season, which trails only teammate Eloy Jimenez for the team lead. Grandal is third in the AL in RBIs (49) and leads the league in WAR (4.5). Not too shabby for the eight-hole hitter.

Next game: Sunday, May 31 - Game 60: Twins vs White Sox (Devin Smeltzer, 6-2, 2.42 ERA vs Michael Kopech, 0-0, 3.78 ERA)

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

“Realistically, I don't know if they could be pitching much better than they have.”

By the end of Game 4 of the ALCS, Joe Buck had a different way to summarize things.

“The dominance continues.”

Realistic or not, the White Sox starting rotation was just plain unhittable in the penultimate series of the 2005 season.

First it was Jose Contreras, setting the tone in a losing effort in Game 1 and coming two outs away from a complete game. Mark Buehrle followed with what he called — to that point, before the no-hitter and the perfect game — one of the best games of his career. Game 3 saw Jon Garland take the baton and stifle the Los Angeles Angels. And then it was Freddy Garcia, dealing as the White Sox cruised to a Game 4 win.

And so while the Fox broadcast spent an awful lot of time on supposed controversies, missed calls by the umpires and breaks for the White Sox, let’s face it: Those Angels weren’t hitting that pitching staff.

After the way Game 2 wrapped up, with A.J. Pierzynski swinging, missing and running to first base in a baffling display that for some reason worked, controversy was a storyline. And boy, did it get milked in Game 4.

Now, this isn’t to say that there weren’t missed calls or that the White Sox didn’t experience a couple breaks in this contest. There were. And they did.

After the Angels chopped the White Sox lead to 3-1 on an RBI hit in the second inning, they still had two men on with only one out. But instead of a rally, Steve Finley hit into an inning-ending double play. His bat, replay clearly showed, hit Pierzynski’s glove on the swing, meaning by rule he should have gone to first on catcher’s interference and loaded the bases. Instead, he turned around to argue while running out the ground ball, hence the double play.

He should have learned from Pierzynski and just busted it down to first base, leaving the details to be sorted out later. No call came, and Finley was out, the Angels’ rally stopped.

The White Sox lead back to three runs in the fifth inning, Scott Podsednik — who had a remarkable game, on base four times with two stolen bases and two runs scored — was seemingly picked off at first base. But the call was safe, and he scored later in the inning to extend a tight three-run game to a four-run game.

But did it really matter? Would any of it made a difference?

Garcia was on point, just like his three rotation-mates before him. He allowed just two runs on only six hits, walking one. He did that 2005 White Sox thing where he pitched fast, pitched to his defense and pitched the Angels into a whole bunch of outs.

You can point to the breaks all you want, attempt to stir up controversy. But the White Sox pitchers were so good that nothing was stopping them as they marched to a pennant.

The only thing that could, as we saw in Game 1 of the series, was an equally strong pitching performance on the other side. That’s exactly what Paul Byrd turned in against Contreras in that first game, and a White Sox lineup that slugged against the Red Sox in the ALDS was stymied. A sick Jarrod Washburn did his best in Game 2, with some help from a terrific crop of relievers, only for Pierzynski to flip the series on its head. In Games 3 and 4 in Anaheim, the Angels couldn’t match Garland and Garcia. An awakened group of White Sox bats hung a crooked number on John Lackey in Game 3 and had the same rude greeting for Ervin Santana — a future member of the South Side rotation, however briefly — in Game 4.

The old sports cliche goes that defense wins championships. In baseball, pitching wins championships. It did in 2005. And no amount of supposed controversy was going to change that.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 5 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago.

 

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