A.J. Pierzynski knows what it’s like to be Manny Machado.
Thanks to his cutthroat personality and ornery disposition during his playing career, the former White Sox catcher was Public Enemy No. 1 in baseball stadiums all across America.
So Pierzynski can relate to the Machado hate. He thrived at getting under the skin of his opposition.
But if you want to get under Pierzynski’s skin, don’t play the game hard everyday. Or even worse, publicly admit you don’t, like Machado did when he told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal he’s not going to be “Johnny Hustle” on the baseball field.
“The fact that you’re in the playoffs and you come out and say that you don’t play as hard as you can, that bothers me,” Pierzynski said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I’m fine with him running over the first baseman’s (Jesus Aguilar) foot. OK, you’re mad. I get it. He threw a bat at a guy (Fernando Abad in 2014). OK, I get it. He threw a helmet at a guy (Josh Donaldson in 2014). OK, you’re mad, you’re emotional. I get that. But to come out after the game and say, ‘I don’t play as hard as I can all the time,’ to me as a player, as an ex-player and as a fan of the team that’s going to spend $300 million on a guy, what do you mean you don’t play hard every day? That would bother me more than the other stuff.”
He added, “It’s just called being a professional.”
Pierzynski isn’t the only former player to take offense with Machado’s words and actions. Baltimore Orioles legend Jim Palmer, also a longtime broadcaster for the club, tweeted after Machado didn’t run out the groundball in Game 2 of the NLCS: “Too tired to run hard for 90 feet. But wants the big $$. #pathetic.”
Pierzynski’s response to that tweet?
“Jim Palmer’s in the Hall of Fame. He might know what he’s talking about.”
Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich roasted Machado during the NLCS, calling him “a dirty player.” Pierzynski wouldn’t go that far, but he inched close to it.
“Did (Machado) go outside the rules? Yeah. Did he kick Aguilar’s foot? Yeah. But is he dirty? Was he trying to hurt the guy? For me, the definition of dirty is when you’re trying to hurt a guy. I don’t think he was trying to hurt him. He was more trying to send a message to him like, ‘Get out of my way,’ which I understand. I don’t know if you can call that dirty. I’d just call that dumb,” said Pierzynski, who later backed off the “dumb” comment saying, “I didn’t mean to call Manny Machado dumb at all, but you know the rules sliding into second base. He’s a middle infielder, so he knows what he can do and what he can’t do.”
Brewers fans despise Machado for his actions during the NLCS. Red Sox fans feel the same way after Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia on a slide in 2017. Pedoria has barely played since.
Most people want to be loved. Pierzynski didn't seem to care. He flourished despite the hate. Machado is doing the same thing.
“The old saying is there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Pierzynski explained. “Look, I played different than most people. I had to have an enemy and I had to play with hate. No matter who it was on the other side, that’s the way I had to do it. That’s what got me going everyday. Maybe Manny Machado is that way, and the Brewers lit him up for what he said. Now the Dodgers are in the World Series with Manny Machado and he’s been great ever since that moment.”
And a big payday is coming. Machado is set to be a free agent. He’ll likely sign a contract worth $300 million, possibly lots more.
You also have third baseman Nolan Arenado set to hit the free-agent market next winter. Either player would look great in a White Sox uniform.
If given the money and the choice, who would Pierzynski sign?
“I’d sign Arenado,” Pierzynski said without hesitation. “I wouldn’t give him $300 million, but I’d sign him in a second. I believe Arenado is a better defender. I believe Arenado is more clutch, and I also believe that Arenado hasn’t had the (on-field) issues that Manny Machado has had.”
It’s possible that the White Sox could be in pursuit of Machado this winter. If they ended up signing him, Pierzynski wouldn’t complain.
“Why wouldn’t you sign the guy? He’s as talented as anybody in baseball, maybe other than Mike Trout. His value is off-the-charts, talent wise.”
It’s the other stuff that gives current players and former players, like Pierzynski, pause when talking about Machado.
Pierzynski knows from experience, because he used to be that same guy.
“I’ve been there. Each organization is going to sit down (with Machado). Say the White Sox want to sign him. He’s going to have to sit down with Jerry Reinsdorf, Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams and Ricky Renteria and they’ll say, ‘This is what we need out of you,’ and if he answers the questions right, then maybe the White Sox go for it. Would he look good in a White Sox uniform? Absolutely. But he’d look good in any uniform.”
The opinions about Machado, however, are clearly not uniform.