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updated: 8/5/2012 8:25 PM

Pierzynski means so much to the White Sox

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  • A.J. Pierzynski, right, celebrates with Jordan Danks after hitting a 2-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the seventh inning Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.

      A.J. Pierzynski, right, celebrates with Jordan Danks after hitting a 2-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the seventh inning Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.
    Associated Press

 
 

At 10:15 a.m. Sunday, during what was supposed to be a day of rest for him, A.J. Pierzynski was having a grand old time.

With teammates still in the clubhouse, the White Sox catcher played catch with his young son Austin. This was their personal playground, a family Lolla-Pierzynski if you will.

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Pierzynski belongs here now and should for a while. He has worn down critics into understanding his bad-boy image is a valuable commodity.

Let's face it. Pierzynski used to be perceived as more of a sideshow bordering on a freak show. Even if he was a dependable player with character, he seemed to be an unpredictable character.

Pierzynski has outgrown that and done everything the Sox could have asked the past few years.

How much longer the Sox will welcome Pierzynski here always seems to be the question hovering over him and them.

The answer should be much longer, whatever the definition of "much" can be for a 35-year-old playing baseball's most demanding position.

It says here that the Sox shouldn't play contract games with Pierzynski and instead announce that they want him for two more seasons and at least fair market value, if not more.

That's not a knee-jerk suggestion following Pierzynski's 2-run, pinch-hit home run that helped beat the Angels. It isn't even that he has homered in each of his past five games and has a career-high 21 for the season.

No, the reason the Sox should reward Pierzynski is that he deserves their appreciation and respect for what he has come to mean to the franchise. In a way he is yin to Paul Konerko's yang.

Think about all those years when Jason Varitek was a cornerstone of the Red Sox and Jorge Posada was for the Yankees. They were hard-nosed, dirty-uniform, team-oriented catchers who would do everything possible to win.

Pierzynski is as much a winner -- remember his contributions to the 2005 World Series champions -- and he does so much for the Sox even beyond the home runs.

We're talking about a guy who plays more games than most catchers play, and he would play them all if manager Robin Ventura let him. Left-handed-hitting catchers are precious. He provides direction for young Sox pitchers. He improved at throwing out basestealers.

Ventura was asked about Pierzynski's leadership qualities and responded, "He's a catcher. That's a part of the position."

Pierzynski didn't always have leader on his resume. The impression sometimes was that his bosses would prefer to hide him in a clubhouse corner.

Austin Pierzynski looks a little like Dennis the Menace, and the A.J. in his father's name used to stand for A Jerk.

Pierzynski still has that reputation around baseball, as indicated by opponents routinely voting him the most hated man in the game.

Remember when former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen uttered the legendary comment, "If you play against (Pierzynski) you hate him; if you play with him you hate him a little less"?

That was a half-joke. Now it's a nonissue.

The crowd cheered Pierzynski when he came out to pinch hit Sunday, roared when he homered and cheered when he came to bat again on his supposed day off.

Any franchise in any sport is blessed to have a player adored by fans and despised by opponents.

The Sox might as well show him some love, give him big bucks and officially designate the Comiskey Park catcher's box as Lolla-Pierzynski.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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