Only A.J.: From public enemy to fan favorite

May 14th, 2020

CHICAGO -- From 2001 to 2003, was not exactly well received by White Sox fans.

Now, Pierzynski is recognized as one of the more popular figures in White Sox history or at least from the last 20 years, getting standing ovations when he returned to Guaranteed Rate Field as part of the Rangers and Braves. In fairness to Pierzynski, names such as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Brad Radke and Joe Mays could have been substituted for the catcher and the negative White Sox fan reaction would have been the same. They were part of the Minnesota Twins in this early part of the decade, one of the top rivals of the White Sox and a team winning six American League Central titles up through 2010.

Of course, it was the 2005 White Sox who captured the lone World Series title among the two during that time and Pierzynski was a fixture behind the plate on that squad and for eight years on the South Side overall. The transition was admittedly a strange one for Pierzynski but one that clearly worked.

“The White Sox were our mortal enemy with the Twins. There was a lot of trash talking back and forth between the two organizations,” Pierzynski told during a recent phone interview. “I always tell the story when I went to SoxFest the first time, my wife looked at me and I was like, ‘This is just weird.'

“I just was brought up not to like the White Sox. Not for any reason other than I remember them talking so much trash to us almost like we were a little brother. But we would go out and just beat them every time.”

Chicago eventually became Pierzynski’s second home, with his daughter and son being born there. But being raised the Twins way, it was at one time unimaginable to join the White Sox as he did via free agency before the ’05 season.

“You see them 20 times a year, you develop a respect, a very healthy respect for them but also, man, I want to kick these guys' butts,” said Pierzynski of the Twins’ view of the White Sox. “Then I always had Hawk [Ken Harrelson] on the other side saying, ‘It’s not that bad, it’s a great organization. [White Sox chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf is great. You will love it if you ever get over here.’

“The opportunity came so it worked, but yeah, it was just something, I can’t even imagine going from this team to that team. It would be like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox or something like that. It wasn’t that intense nationally but inside the clubhouse I think it was.” ran an article last week listing the Public Enemy No. 1 for each team, basically focusing upon someone fans loved to hate. Hunter was the choice for the White Sox, but fans added a few other names.

Kansas City right-hander Brad Keller was mentioned based on recency bias, as Keller hit Tim Anderson with a pitch last season one at-bat after Anderson had a pronounced celebration following a long home run against Keller. Justin Verlander received a mention, along with Travis Hafner, Mike Sweeney, Dave Stieb, Miguel Cabrera, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and “any soft-tossing lefty,” which represented a wide-ranging take but still was humorously accurate.

But what about other players in the “hated/loved” category among White Sox fans like Pierzynski, who received a few negative nods from White Sox fans for his time with the Twins? Here is a look at a few of those opposing players who made the change.

Jim Thome

To know the Hall of Famer for even a minute is to have the utmost respect for the left-handed slugger as a player and more importantly as a person. Thome came to the White Sox in the 2005 trade with the Phillies, that sent Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia, and hit 134 home runs over parts of four seasons. It was the tale of a local player returning, but prior to this deal, Thome inflicted major damage on the South Siders with 43 career home runs, 117 RBIs and a 1.037 OPS over 144 games. Thome is now a part of the White Sox front office.

Albert Belle

Belle became the highest-paid player in the game when he agreed with the White Sox on a five-year, $55 million free agent deal on Nov. 19, 1996, and the 31 home runs, 86 RBIs and 1.267 OPS produced over 76 games after the 1998 All-Star break quite possibly represented the best second half in franchise history. Belle also hit the White Sox hard on the other side of the field with 20 career homers and 54 RBIs.

Manny Ramirez

Ramirez came to the White Sox via a waiver claim from the Dodgers on Aug. 30, 2010, trying to add an extra boost to a team sitting with a 70-60 record. But before Ramirez’s month with the White Sox, he crushed them as part of the Indians with 25 homers, 91 RBIs and a .983 OPS in 120 games.

Ryan Raburn

Ok, Raburn only played 27 games for Triple-A Charlotte in 2017. But White Sox fans were simply glad not to have to face Raburn, who picked up 20 of his 93 career home runs and 82 of his 358 RBIs when facing the White Sox.