The one and only: A.J., playoff hero, rapscallion, Campbell Soup Kid. (YouTube)
Needing catching help, White Sox GM Ken Williams took a gamble and inked catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a free agent contract. A.J., who had a reputation as a “clubhouse cancer,” turned out to be a model teammate and his contributions to the 2005 World Series champs would be incalculable. Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson pitched A.J. to the front office since he had known the catcher for a number of years.
Two of the most memorable A.J. moments took place in 2005. The first came on June 18, when he hit an opposite-field home run to cap a four-run ninth inning, as the Sox beat the Dodgers, 5-3. The Sox were wearing 1959 replica uniforms for the game.
The second and far more important moment came on October 12, the second game of the ALCS. With the Sox down a game to the Angels and tied in the ninth, Pierzynski struck out then started running to first base as former White Sox player Josh Paul, the Angels catcher, rolled the ball back towards the mound thinking the inning was over. A.J. thought the ball hit the dirt and was trapped, which qualified as a dropped third strike and required a putout at first base. Umpire Doug Eddings agreed, and Pierzynski got the base. The play led to the eventual winning run, evening a best-of-seven series that the Sox went on to win in five games to get to their first World Series since 1959.
Another classic A.J. moment came on May 20, 2006 during a crosstown game at U.S. Cellular Field. Scoring the first run by plowing over catcher Michael Barrett on a sacrifice fly in an eventual 7-0 Sox win, A.J. got tangled up with Barrett while moving back to touch home plate. As he was doing so, he bumped Barrett, which resulted in the Cubs hothead losing it and sucker-punching him. Four players wound up being ejected in the ensuing fight.