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02/24/11 5:03 PM EST
Catch 162: Pierzynski wants to catch every day
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A.J. Pierzynski said he was one phone call away from signing with the Dodgers as a free-agent catcher this past offseason. Now he has this message for White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: he wants to play in all 162 games this season.
"Everyone who knows me knows I like to play every day," Pierzynski told MLB.com on Thursday prior to the White Sox workout at Camelback Ranch. "Ozzie knows he has to send me out there just to keep me from annoying him on the bench. It works both ways, but I can't say he annoys me. That's a bad thing to say. I know Ozzie won't let me play 162, but I'll play as many as he lets me."
Pierzynski, beginning his 11th full season and seventh with the White Sox, is never shy of giving his opinion. He's known far and wide as the player who not only disrupts his opponents, but can also annoy his own teammates.
"A.J. is a competitor and I love to go to battle with him," right-hander Jake Peavy said. "It's no secret that he enjoys getting under people's skin. Ozzie had a quote one time that if you play against him you hate him and if you play with him you hate him a little less."
Guillen reiterated on Thursday that there are days when Pierzynski gets on his nerves. Forget the bench. "Sometimes I wish he wouldn't even come to the ballpark," the manager said with a laugh.
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But really ... "He's very durable," Guillen added. "It depends how we're going to play. Honestly, we need to give A.J. a couple of days off here and there to keep him fresh. But I know he's ready to play every day."
For a moment in time, though, this past offseason, Pierzynski considered taking his talents to Manhattan Beach. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti came calling after that club parted ways with then-incumbent, but injured catcher Russell Martin, who signed with the Yankees after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers.
Pierzynski said he seriously considered the offer and was only a phone call away from signing.
"[The Dodgers] actually offered me more money," Pierzynski said. "It was nothing against them. L.A. is a great place and the Dodgers are a great organization. Ned was awesome to talk to. But in the end I wanted to come back to Chicago."
Thus, Pierzynski signed a two-year contract worth $8 million -- $2 million for 2011 and $6 million for '12. He had myriad reasons for doing it.
"Basically, I'd been here for six years," Pierzynski said. "I like the direction the organization is headed. Obviously, I love Ozzie and I love the guys here. [Paul] Konerko, [Mark] Buehrle, we've been together for a long time. With all our young guys, I think we have a chance. I love the city. That's the biggest thing. It's an easy flight for my family -- Chicago from Orlando where I live. It's just a great place to play."
At 34, Pierzynski now finds himself splitting time behind the plate with Ramon Castro, who batted .278 in 115 games this past season. Pierzynski played in 128 games and hit .270, 30 points lower than 2009. At times, Pierzynski sat as Guillen tried to find the right offensive mix. Guillen said Pierzynski will play about the same amount of games this season.
It didn't make him happy then and it might not sit well now, but he'll live with it.
"I got off to a slow start and Ozzie gave me some days off that I normally wouldn't have gotten," Pierzynski said. "Castro played great and he had to play, too. It was one of those years. But 128 games are not too shabby. I guess I can live with that."
Pierzynski knows as well as anyone, that as a catcher, he's about to reach the outer limits of a productive career that began with a handful of games for the Twins in 1998. He's more fortunate than most. He's played in one All-Star Game and in the playoffs four times, including 2005 when he won the World Series in his first year with the White Sox.
He realizes that this could be his last contract, but then again, it might not.
"I've been very blessed," Pierzynski said. "I've been able to play all the time and be relatively injury free. I thank my parents for good genetics and thank God for being lucky, too, that foul tips didn't hit me in just the right spot. It's good luck and good genes and the fact that I want to be out there, too.
"I'll play as long as I can. It's a one-time thing. You can't go back once you're out. I'll play as long as my body will let me, my wife will let me and somebody will have me, I guess."