© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
01/16/05 11:38 PM ET
'Hawk' defends new catcher
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- An All-Star catcher with a career .294 average and the potential to be a top run producer usually doesn't need to have his addition to a respective roster defended. But a small portion of the wildly successful 13th annual SoxFest was spent supporting general manager Ken Williams' decision to sign free agent A.J. Pierzynski. The catcher begins his third straight season with a new team, with his immense talent seemingly counterbalanced by his reputation as somewhat of a clubhouse problem. Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen, current members of the White Sox and Pierzynski himself all spoke of this reputation that has followed the catcher much like a black cloud. Nobody presented a better characterization of Pierzynski, as a person and a player, then White Sox television play-by-play announcer Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson. Harrelson's analysis comes from the fact that he knows Pierzynski better than pretty much anyone in baseball, having watched him compete since he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla. In fact, when Harrelson heard that the White Sox decided to pursue Pierzynski during this current offseason, he arranged a meeting at his home to talk about Pierzynski's past dilemmas. "I said to A.J., 'What the hell have you done?' You've got yourself in a hell of a mess,'" said Harrelson, drawing a big laugh from the crowd in attendance at Sunday's final weekend seminar. "I used to call him Dennis the Menace, and he's like that. "A.J. is the kind of guy that our players hated him in Minnesota, and other players around the league hated him. When other players hate a guy, it usually means he's kicking your back side. That's the kind of player A.J. is. You hated him in another uniform. "I told him that if he came to our ball club, our fans will love you," Harrelson added. Pierzynski's was traded from Minnesota to San Francisco for closer Joe Nathan prior to the 2004 season. His troubles with the Giants last season stemmed from a May article in the Oakland Tribune that quoted anonymous pitchers criticizing Pierzynski's game preparation and handling of the staff. Harrelson argued that the primary pitcher with the main gripe in the article was the same hurler who was hit hard in a game the day before the article was printed. But Harrelson ultimately echoed thoughts put forth by Williams and Guillen that Pierzynski's upside far surpasses any problems that could arise. Ironically, those past problems actually are a symptom of Pierzynski's intensely competitive nature-the main focus of his strongest suit as a player. "He'll get in your face, but all he wants to do is win ball games," Harrelson said of Pierzynski. "He was the best catcher in this league against our team, by far." True grit: The specter of Torii Hunter running over catcher Jamie Burke and the White Sox at the plate on July 26 of last season still lives on. During Sunday's second town hall meeting at the Hyatt Regency, a fan asked Guillen why he didn't respond to Hunter's action by at least knocking down a Twins' hitter late in the game. Guillen defended his handling of the situation, again stopping just short of praising Hunter for his hard-nosed play. Guillen also pointed out that Freddy Garcia hit Hunter during a Sept. road series in Minnesota, a three-game set the Twins swept to all but lock up the American League Central. Instead of criticizing Hunter's action or talking about their anger, Guillen wanted to see the answer given by his team with its equally intense play on the field. "That's where you win games," Guillen said. "You don't win games talking to the media. If you are going to fight, go get him. Don't say you are going to do it." Later in that same game on July 26, a White Sox player had a chance to go in hard at second base and break up a Minnesota double play. It also would have sent a return message for Hunter's action. Instead, this particular player slid as if "his wife was turning the double play," Guillen said to a loud round of laughter on Sunday. Guillen wouldn't identify the player by name, but did say that the team moved him out of Chicago. That comment seems to limit the possibilities. New beginnings: With Milwaukee putting together a solid group of young players, Scott Podsednik was admittedly stunned by his trade to the White Sox. But after the shock wore off, Podsednik's confusion turned toward excitement for the change of scenery. "The good thing is while I don't know the pitchers as much, they don't know me," Podsednik said. "I look at it as a fresh start similar to my rookie season. I want to catch guys off stride and get things going." Podsednik also expects to enjoy playing under Guillen, who he met for the first time this weekend. Guillen is a young manager, much like Ned Yost, Podsednik's leader with the Brewers. "I know he is aggressive, he is outgoing and he likes to have fun," Podsednik said of Guillen. "I think I'll fit in. I like to be aggressive so I think his style of play and my style are pretty similar." Left out? If the White Sox decide to keep 12 pitchers, then Neal Cotts' spot on the roster looks to be a veritable lock. But even if Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper stick with 11, Cotts looks to be a good bet to break camp with the team as the second left-hander out of the bullpen. "I don't know how it will pan out," Cotts said. "It sort of will be the same situation as last year. I'll go in there and compete for it and see how it all plays out. "It's not my decision. I'll just do my part and hope the rest pans out." Cotts, 24, finished his first full season in 2004 with a 4-4 record and 5.65 earned run average over 56 games. He struck out 58 in 65 1/3 innings and hopes to find a bit more consistency in his second year. "I would go in streaks, where I was great for one month and god awful for another few outings," Cotts said. "But I also was put in different situations which helped me build and understand what's going on."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.