After eight seasons on the South Side, Pierzynski moved on when his contract expired following the 2012 season, with Tyler Flowers becoming the heir apparent. A struggling Flowers has now given way to Josh Phegley, who is getting the bulk of the games behind the plate.
Pierzynski has no gripe with the White Sox’s decision to go young at catcher, but he thinks they could have done Flowers a huge favor when the season started.
“I was fortunate when I came into Minnesota, I had a veteran guy behind me, Tom Prince, who when things went bad he was there to kind of soften it and say, ‘This is what’s happening,’” Pierzynski said. “And unfortunately, for those guys, they didn’t really have that. Tyler had Hector [Gimenez], who is a good guy but had never really been around [the major leagues].”
Gimenez, who was Flowers' primary backup when the season started, had just 11 games of major league experience on Opening Day. He was ultimately sent down when Phegley was called up on July 7.
“It’s a tough situation and I feel for them,” Pierzynski said. “I don’t know Josh well enough, but I still think Tyler can contribute to a major league team.”
If there is anybody who knows the rigors of catching on the big league level it’s Pierzynski, whose 1,650 games behind the plate lead all active catchers.
“Catching is hard for a lot of reasons,” Pierzynski said. “Obviously, not only the catching part, but the hitting part. And people nowadays expect everyone to be able to come up and jump right in and not have any kind of difficulties.”
And then there is the difficulty of replacing not only a successful player, but a fan favorite. It was a subject Pierzynski felt a little awkward talking about, but he found the words, as he always does.
“What do they say in college football and college basketball? And I don’t want to put myself in this category, but you never want to be the guy replacing the guy, you want to be the guy replacing the guy who was replacing the guy,” Pierzynski said. “You look at a guy like Paul [Konerko]. Whoever comes in and plays first base after Paul is going to have a tough road because Paul did so many good things here. The guy who replaces Mariano Rivera in New York, as soon as he blows his first save, they’re going to be like ‘Hey, we need Mariano back. Can we get him out of retirement?’”
The White Sox stressed defense with Flowers at the start of the season and made handling the pitching staff his top priority. But he ultimately lost his full-time catching gig because he struggled with the bat.
“I think it’s hard and it’s a lot of pressure that is put on people, but this is a pressure-filled game we have -- that is the job we have,” Pierzynski said. “No matter how good you are there is always pressure because whether you put it on yourself or is brought in by outside circumstances, it’s not an easy job that we have, and it’s not something for the faint of heart because this game is hard and it’s a challenge every day.”