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With White Sox sub-.500, A.J. Pierzynski tries to explain ‘one of the strangest years I’ve ever seen’
A day after José Abreu cited “belief” as a necessary ingredient to any late-season White Sox push, it was time for another chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin’” at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Being somewhat familiar with the musical tastes of the 2022 club, I doubt anyone’s going to show up to the clubhouse with any Journey records. Abreu has never stated an affinity for the work of Steve Perry.
This will likely not be a repeat rallying cry 17 years after the 2005 White Sox sang the song all the way to a World Series championship. But the song was again playing over the loudspeakers Sunday, if only because members of that 2005 group were in attendance.
Of course, after more than a decade and a half of “What was it like to win the World Series?” the questions for A.J. Pierzynski, Jon Garland and José Contreras unsurprisingly veered in other directions, chiefly to the South Side’s hottest, if most depressing, topic: Why are these 2022 White Sox so stuck in the mud?
“They haven’t had a cohesive unit together at all,” Pierzynski told CHGO. “It seems like every time they start to get something going, somebody else gets hurt. (Tim Anderson) goes down, then (Luis) Robert goes down, then (Eloy) Jiménez goes down, (Yoán) Moncada goes down. Or a pitcher, they lose Lance (Lynn) at the beginning of the year, then they lose (Michael) Kopech. It’s like, ‘Jeez.’ It’s kind of been one thing after the other.
“Sometimes when that momentum gets going, it’s hard to stop. You’re doing the best you can as a player and as an organization and as coaches and manager, but it just seems like one bad thing after another. Bad break, bad break, bad break.
“It’s been strange. It’s been one of the strangest years I’ve ever seen.”
Fans would likely agree with one of their all-time favorites to come through the South Side, though they’d probably use some different words than “strange” to explain their disappointing team. Not every bugaboo the White Sox have experienced this season can be chalked up simply to bad luck, but a lot more of it probably can than folks are willing to admit or recognize, looking for someone or a lot of someones to blame.
Injuries have indeed taken a whopping toll, and after weathering some early-season maladies, the list of wounded White Sox is piling up once more late in the year, Moncada and Kopech recently joining Anderson on the injured list as Yasmani Grandal nears a return. Meanwhile, Robert and Jiménez are dealing with their own issues that have been deemed playable enough to avoid more trips to the IL but not to the point where they’re in the lineup every day.
But apart from the countless games missed due to injury, this is a team that has hit with an outrageous lack of power, that has failed repeatedly to cash in on scoring chances, that has made numerous mistakes in the field and on the base paths. Maybe a healthy team doesn’t have as many problems. But the White Sox sure do.
“Many people are saying, ‘What’s happening with Chicago?’” Contreras said through an interpreter. “It’s very hard. It’s hard to play baseball. It’s really hard to stay healthy the entire year, and people really don’t understand how difficult that can be across a long season. Abreu is the only one that’s really been healthy all year. They have to understand (the season) is so long and staying healthy is more difficult than people think.”
The 2005 championship group didn’t start its season with the kinds of expectations the current one did, fresh off a runaway win in the AL Central last year and with the fruits of Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project seemingly set to yield a true title contender. The team, you don’t need to be reminded, has spectacularly failed to meet those expectations, even if it’s still technically in the race for the division championship.
It’s through that lens – not the one still fondly looking back on the successes of 2005 – that fans have experienced intense frustration toward everyone in the organization, some even unfurling a banner at Saturday night’s game requesting chairman Jerry Reinsdorf “SELL THE TEAM,” a planned demonstration of fan emotion rather than the relatively spontaneous, though quite frequent, “Fire Tony” chants directed at Reinsdorf’s longtime friend and the team’s current manager, Tony La Russa.
“Tony’s doing the best he can,” Pierzynski said after not just watching the team all year but covering some games as a broadcaster for FOX. “It’s not like Tony’s quit, and it’s not like he’s just mailing it in. I’ve obviously watched a lot of games, he’s doing moves that you would think should be the right moves. I can’t speak for Tony, but it looks like Tony is trying to let the players play, which has always been a Tony thing. He stands up for his guys, he protects them on the field and off the field.
“It’s just strange. It’s just been a strange, tough year. When you go into a season with expectations of what they have and it doesn’t work out, and people start getting injured and it kind of snowballs, it just makes for a really weird year and vibe in the clubhouse because you’re expecting to win and you’re not. It’s just awkward.”
And on those chants? All that fan frustration?
“They go after the manager, they go after players, they go after coaches, they go after the front office, they go after Jerry. Sometimes it’s just nobody’s fault,” Pierzynski said. “(Paul) Konerko used to have a saying: ‘Sometimes even PR guys have bad years.’
“Sometimes it’s just a bad year and it didn’t work out. It’s nobody’s fault.”
As much as White Sox fans love Pierzynski – a number of them advocating for him to replace La Russa as the team’s manager – they’re unlikely to adopt that philosophy, and who could blame them?
In truth, there is plenty of blame to go around, if only because nothing has gone the way it was supposed to in 2022. The buck stops at La Russa’s desk, and Rick Hahn’s, too, even if they’re not the ones swinging at pitches outside the zone and dropping fly balls down the left-field line. The bulk of the responsibility is obviously on the players to execute, but this is, as the GM is often quick to remind, a results-oriented business.
Those same fans chanting and displaying banners? They’ve decided who to blame.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, between Pierzynski’s informed attempt at an explanation and fans’ emotion-fueled, knee-jerk ones.
The World Series winning catcher was undoubtedly right about one thing, though: This has been one of the weirdest, strangest, most awkward seasons of baseball the South Side has seen.
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